Monday, February 10, 2014

6 Cover Songs I Prefer Over the Original

I don't know how or why I started thinking about this, but late last night I thought about songs where I prefer the cover version over the original. This happens a lot as older music is sampled, but with each song I took the time to listen to both versions and really get a feel for both artist's interpretation. There are many songs where I will always love the original no matter who covers it, but these six songs particularly stand out for me. So in no particular order here are the 6 Songs I prefer the cover over the original ... 
1. Tamia's version of Careless Whisper over the original recorded by George Michael's group Wham! Tamia's voice is flawless. She makes you feel the song as if this story of betrayal just happened to you. "I'm never gonna dance again. Guilty feet have got no rhythm ..."


2. Michael Jackson's cover of the Beatles' hit Come TogetherMy friend J-dot and I have argued this, but I still love MJ's version better. He used it in his self-produced movie, Moonwalker. It literally has a way of bringing people together. "Got to be good looking 'cause she's so hard to see ..." Speaking of MJ and coming together, a friend of mine said that if you want to get a group of people to let their guard down and start talking, ask everyone to name their favorite Michael Jackson song and why. Or favorite MJ video. Mine is Dirty Diana.


3. Mariah Carey's version of Against all Odds: Take a Look at Me Now. Originally recorded by Phil Collins, this song was the theme for the 1984 film Against All Odds. A former track teammate of mine refused to listen to Mariah's version of this song out of respect for Phil Collins. I stan for MC, but I can whole heartedly say that this version is better. Her voice was so powerful then. Side note: I miss movie soundtracks. What happened to the great soundtrack albums?


4. Donnell Jones' 1998 cover of Stevie Wonder's Knocks Me Off My Feet. The first few words capture your breath and doesn't let go, "I see us in the park ..." I especially love how he sticks very very closely to the original medley.  So much so that when I played this in my room (ad nauseam) my dad walked in to ask me what I know about this Stevie Wonder classic. Sorry dad, that's not Stevie. Songs in the Key of Life was such an iconic album. I even had the entire album sped up to 170 beats per minute when I used to teach group exercise for older adults in Virginia. We were in there jamming and working it out. The Donnell Jones video is horrible though. If I didn't love the song so much, I'd be mad. 


5. Dru Hill in The Love We Had (Stays on My Mind) which was written and recorded by the 50s group The Dells. Joss Stone's version also gives both groups a run for their money. I love hearing a woman's take on the misery in this song. My friend CW and my best friend MJ and I have debated this, even throwing in Joss Stone's cover to stir the pot. We have yet to reach a consensus. I have a playlist on my iPod with all three versions of this song. I play them in consecutive order and appreciate each one respectively.


5b. This counts, but not really because he wrote the original song and performed in both versions ... Darius Rucker's solo version of the 90s Hootie and the Blowfish hit, Let Her Cry. I love how he introduces the song. It makes me smile every time. "This is probably the first country song I ever wrote, a long time ago ..." He recorded it live for a CMT country music festival and decided to bless us all with it by including it as a bonus track on his second solo album Charleston, SC 1966.


6. And the Pièce de résistance of all covers is Maxwell's live performance of Kate Bush's original, This Woman's Work. Another song that grapes your attention from the first note. All we need to hear is the two claps of the drummer's sticks before I am totally engrossed in the song. He even recorded a studio version on his album Now (also featured on the Love and Basketball soundtrack) that is slightly different. My frind T and I argue over which Maxwell version is best.  Maxwell's Unplugged performance holds a special place in my heart. Sidebar: What happened to those great MTV Unplugged performances? MTV needs to bring that back. Seeing as how I haven't watched MTV in years (outside of the VMAs), I wouldn't know either way.


Bonus: A song we ALL love better than the original ... Whitney Houston singing Dolly Parton's I Will Always Love You on the Body Guard Soundtrack. "And IIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIeIIIIIIIIIIII ...."


Honorable mention: My boo Tank's cover of Bonnie Raitt's cult classic I Can't Make You Love Me (the acoustic version). Although I love Tank, I still have to say that the original is slightly better. I heard him sing this live and girl ... I needed a moment. Save your ears and never listen to Boyz II Men's version. It's good and terrible. Don't say that I didn't warn you. Adele and George Michael both took a stab at it too. Their versions were much much better than Boyz II Men's failed attempt, but still not better than Queen Bonnie.


So what do y'all think? State your biz and why in the comments. Which songs do you prefer over the original version?


Monday, February 3, 2014

My first ski lesson

think my skiing career may come to an end before it even began. I went skiing the other day at the beautiful, award-winning Big Sky Ski Resort in Big Sky, Montana. I was lucky enough to be there for a work conference. Since the job was paying for the flight, hotel and meals all I had to cover was the gear and skiing lessons. The conference even has a midday break in the schedule to allow participants to get outdoors or have small group discussions. I’m pretty sure those small group discussions happened on the ski lifts. Sweet.

Pics from their website
I prepared for this trip by checking online for various “what to pack for skiing” lists, then I went to Dick’s Sporting Goods to find some gear. As I looked through the store, I kept thinking that I didn’t want to look all brand new like that one episode of the Jamie Foxx Show where he buys a ridiculously loud ski outfit instead of buying Christmas gifts for the Kings. 

I purchased a new jacket, pants, gloves, socks, hat, snow boots and goggles. Some from Dick's and other gear from The North Face store. Luckily, both were having a winter blow-out sale.

I had plenty of base layers from running in Indiana. And thanks to my nephew, I have a thermal running hood that came in handy during my ski lesson.
Hey Shaunah!
Let’s get to the lesson. After the first session of the conference wrapped around 11:45, I went over to the Mountain Village to register for lessons. They asked me what level of skier I was and I promptly replied: Super beginner (aka Turtle). Turtle is for those who have never been on skis before. They ushered me through the steps to pick up a helmet, get fitted for snow boots, then pick up skis and poles. I changed into my gear and made my way back down to the meeting area for my lesson. Whoa. I’m really doing this.

Our instructor was very nice (although I don’t remember his name) and took a few minutes to get to know the 4 beginners in the class. He started the lesson with a few goals:
  1. Be safe.
  2. Have fun.
  3. Learn to ski. 
I can get with that agenda. We begin with putting the skis on and learning about lines and angles. The next part of the lesson was moving in the skis. And here is where things started to fall apart for me. I just couldn’t get it. None of his verbal cues were working. It seemed so easy for everyone else. The basis of our lesson was turning your knees in to walk on the side of your skis. This is against every part of my being as a runner. I just couldn’t do it. I slightly pronate anyway, so turning my knees in was practically impossible. I struggled through it and used my upper body strength to move myself around. I took small offense to the instructor telling the two ladies that we had to do this other maneuver because we lacked the upper body strength to move ourselves using the ski poles. Sir, you don’t know my life! I wanted to challenge him to a push up contest, but you know that would have been disruptive.

The instructor and other students continued to progress with the lesson while I continued to struggle. I had found a way to use my upper body to pull myself up the terrain. This was wasting soo much energy, but I had to do something in order to keep up with the class. As we got higher and higher up the hill, the instructor taught us basic ski techniques like turning and stopping. 

This little moving ski walk way was cool.
And this is where it got ugly. I still wasn’t getting the basics so adding on turns and stops was just too much. Because we were higher up on the mountain, I kept looking down and seeing how far I could fall if didn’t get this right. That fear was my downfall. When the instructor’s cues weren’t working right away, I would get scared that I’d end up down at the bottom trampling into a group of little kids. He’d yell the same cue and I got worse so I’d just fall down. He kept saying don’t do this and don’t do that, but none of it resonated with me to produce the movement. So fall I did. Over and over again. I fell on purpose out of fear that I’d speed down the mountain. As we kept going higher and higher up the mountain, this fear grew larger (we weren’t that high, by the way. Any advanced skier would think this was a speed bump). It felt like a mountain to me and that’s all that really mattered. About two hours and a half hours into our 3 hour lesson, I was done. It wasn’t fun anymore and fear really got the best of me. I kept trying to will myself to keep going because 1.) this lesson was not cheap, especially when you in the cost of gear and 2.) I didn’t want to be a quitter. But since I wasn’t fulfilling goal number two (or three), I called it quits. A little defeated, I packed up my rented skis and walked slowly back down the hill, deciding that skiing just isn’t for me. Before I left, the instructor asked me a few questions about my travel to Big Sky, what I ate that day and how much water I drank. Turns out after a grueling 16 hour travel day, 6 hours of sleep, sitting in a meeting all morning and scarfing down half a turkey wrap was probably not the best lot of behaviors before my first ski lesson. Then he threw in the fact that we were at nearly 8,000 feet above sea level. Say what? Sir, you should have led the class with that. I could have taken my arse to sleep during the break and tried this whole skiing thing another day.
Not having fun anymore
So yeah, my first attempt at skiing didn’t go so well. It sucked actually. Next time (if there is a next time), I want to go with friends or family. The more defeated I felt, the more I really needed a friend out there on the slopes. It wasn’t so fun going out with strangers. My brother grew up skiing with the local boy scouts so it would have been much better to have him there to help me.

Have y’all skied before? Is this a standard tale of all beginners? I’ll need all the encouragement I can get in order to try this again. Too bad I didn’t read this article beforehand. It has some useful tips for beginners.
On the bright side, the guy in the rental area gave me a great quote as I came in early to turn in my skis, “A bad day on the mountain beats a great day in the office any day.” Indeed it does sir. Indeed it does.


PS, you can burn some serious calories skiing.