Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Covers of the Week – "While My Guitar Gently Weeps"

Yes, I know I'm on a Beatles kick. But I can't help it.

For several reasons:
  1. The Fab Four are still the greatest group in the world

  2. This remains one of the best Beatles songs not written by John and Paul

  3. It's my blog and I can do what I want to … Oh wait. You've already heard that one before
There is one other reason. I want to stimulate a little discussion on this blog. And I thought a great way to do it is to present these controversial performances of one of George Harrison's songs.

Today, I present two videos: The first is the 2004 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction ceremonies, where inductee Prince performs a guitar solo that people still talk about to this day. The second is from a 2007 show of "The Late Show With Conan O'Brien," where iconoclasts Todd Rundgren and Joe Jackson combine with the string quartet Ethel to put their own spin on the Beatles classic.

First, a few thoughts from me. I have always been a big Prince fan. Sure, he does head down a few long tunnels. Sometimes, however, it's a lot of fun to come along with him for the ride. This is one of the occasions. Amid all the controversy about him as a person, we need to be reminded what an incredible guitarist he is. And this solo, which starts at the 3:30 mark, really is amazing.

I remember watching it on VH1 the night it was broadcast and my jaw dropped. Yes, he was showboating as only he can (Just where did that guitar go?). But he was also crafting a solo that was utterly original and unique, while remaining true to the song. He was also enjoying himself. As was George's son Dhani, who as you can see had a wide grin throughout the Purple One' performance. (Contrast that to the scowls worn by Jeff Lynne and Tom Petty) It seems a little obvious to say, but a great solo doesn't just showcase the guitarist's technical skills. It rises to a new level when it blazes new musical territory, not straying from the source material and even enhancing the song. That's what this solo did.

I'm also including a better quality version for you to put on your iPod. Enjoy.

Play "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" by Jeff Lynne, Tomm Petty, Prince, Steve Winwood, et al.

In a sense, though, "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" is the perfect song for a great guitarist to showcase his talent. I mean, there's a reason that Eric Clapton (the first outsider to play a major instrument on a Beatles song) appeared on the original track. Which brings us to Joe and Todd, who undertook an acoustic tour with each other last year. I caught one of their shows. Ethel, the string quartet, opened. Then Jackson and Rundgren each performed solo sets. At the end of it all, everyone came out and the whole ensemble performed Rundgren's "Black Maria" and "While My Guitar…"

While the Conan version is pretty good, I have to admit that the version I heard live was even better. Looking back on it, maybe I'm not as impressed as I once was. Yet it's pretty solid. Here's what interests me in retrospect: As good as Todd and Joe are, it's really the string quartet that provides the backbone of the song.

Anyway, I've had my say. Now it's your turn. Which version do you like better? Or, in your eyes, are they both apostasies?

As always, thanks for reading, listening and watching. See you soon. Same bat blog. Same bat internet.

1 comment:

David said...

My favorite artist is Petty. My wife's love is Prince. So this performance was our long-anticipated "you got your chocolate in my peanut-butter" moment.

The purple one was truly amazing. And really, I didn't see a scowl on Petty so much as a guy trying to hold the reins while singing. You can see him flash a grin here and there, and Prince definitely smiles in Tom's direction a handful of times. I imagine Tom must've smiled back, or Prince wouldn't have repeated it.

In any even, Dhani sure seemed to enjoy the night, and if anyone there deserved to, it was him. Thanks for the post!