It's October 15th, time once again for the "Battle of the Bands (BOTB)," the blogging event originally started by Stephen T. McCarthy and FarAwayEyes back in August of 2013. It occurs twice every month -- on the 1st and the 15th -- and is a fun way to share and discuss music. Each of the bloggers taking part offers their readers a choice of two (or occasionally more) versions of the same song, performed by different recording artists. And the readers get to vote for their favorite rendition.
Last Time, I chose The Last Time and focused on legal battles over copyrights and a controversy about how an original song can maybe really be an unoriginal cover.
Today, I'm staying away from controversy and just offering two covers of a very well-known song -- with both of them done live. I think each version brings some unique elements to the song, and I'm curious to see what everyone thinks. Plus I'm hoping to again introduce you to a musician you might not be familiar with.
And as a side note -- even though the original song was released in the '80's, this battle features two versions that have both been recorded in THIS century! That's kind of unique for us BOTB bloggers, lol!
Let the Battle Begin!
In January, 1983, Michael Jackson released the second single from his all-time sales-leading Thriller album: "Billie Jean." It reached #1 in many countries and has sold a gazillion copies. It's an extremely popular song and is so well-known that it would likely win against almost any cover version.
And there's a ton of cover versions out there. Besides the original by Michael Jackson and his live performance of it from Motown 25 that introduced the Moonwalk to the world, there's a dark acoustic version by Chris Cornell from Soundgarden, a version played on guitar by a young Korean (with over 25 million views), a fun one by The Bottle Boys, a cool creative drum/keyboard choreographed version by duo M. Henry/J. Robinett, a soulful version by one-man band Scott Dunbar, and an almost endless supply of others. I could probably do BOTB posts only on Billie Jean for the next ten years and not run out of material.
However that's not really my desire. I like the song well enough, but as with my BOTB posts featuring Concrete Jungle and Ode to Billy Joe, I've got a specific artist in mind that I want to highlight more-so than the song. In fact, I only decided on Billie Jean for this battle because I started with the artist and searched for cover songs that he'd done.
So let's start with his version of the song...
But first -- If I mention "pedal-steel guitar" to you, what do you think of? If you're familiar at all with the instrument, you might go with the traditional playing in country songs. Or maybe something like the country-ish pedal-steel parts played by Jerry Garcia in Crosby, Stills, and Nash's "Teach Your Children Well."
If that country music sound is all you think of, you've probably never heard of Robert Randolph. Robert's approach to pedal-steel is a little different than the traditional country one. Having started in the 'Sacred Steel' Christian gospel music tradition, Randolph brings a lot of soul to his pedal-steel playing, and he melds it with blues, rock, and jazz influences. Take a listen to his instrumental rendition of "Billie Jean" from 2004, recorded live for a European TV show, and see what you think:
Next, it's time for the competitor:
When I was searching for a worthy adversary for Robert Randolph, I first thought of featuring Chris Cornell or the young Koren guitarist I mentioned above. But then I ran across another cover of this song by the highly-acclaimed-but-now-defunct duo, The Civil Wars. I'd heard some of their Grammy-winning work before and have been struck by the amazing interplay of their vocals. I'd seen "Poison and Wine", really liked "Barton Hollow", and thought "The One That Got Away" was haunting and powerful. But I hadn't really heard them live and in this performance I was taken by how much fun they seem to be having doing this 2011 version of Billie Jean. It's a radical contrast to their brooding songs and their tension-filled collaboration and eventual breakup. Have a listen:
So now it's your turn:Which version of Billie Jean do you like better? The rockin' instrumental one with the great pedal-steel playing by Robert Randolph, or the sparse and fun acoustic version with the wonderful harmonizing by The Civil Wars?
I invite you to listen to both version and give them each a chance. And try not to focus on the video images too much (close your eyes if you must) -- the battle is about the music, not the video production.
After listening, please vote in the comments as to which version you think is best, or which speaks to you the deepest. Feel free to also share as much as you would like about how any of the above recordings strike you, even if it's less than positive.
Then -- afterwards, check out the other BOTB bloggers to vote on their battles:
- Far Away Series (FarAwayEyes)
- Stephen T. McCarthy's Battle of the Bands Blog
- Tossing it Out (Arlee Bird)
- Your Daily Dose (Robin)
- DiscConnected (DiscConnected)
- Mike's Ramblings (Mike Pain)
- Curious as a Cathy (Cathy Kennedy)
- John Hilton (The Sound of One Hand Typing)
- And even Alex J. Cavanaugh sometimes...
Thank you very much for listening and for voting -- come back and visit again next week to find out how the voting has gone. I'll make a post then with my own vote and also announce the winner.
And in the meantime -- be careful what you do; don't go around breakin' young girls' hearts....