Thursday, November 1, 2007

Some additional thoughts and a question about covers

The two artists who are most heavily represented in the non-oldies section side of my CD shelf are Neil Young and Emmylou Harris. Those are two voices I will simply never get tired of hearing. Which segways perfectly into my question about covers. Just how free, exactly, are artists when they set out record someone else's song? This is a mystery to me on par with Eleusis in the ancient world, or, if you want a more contemporary comparison, how they get the centers in the Caramilk bars. Okay, here's the music example.

One of Neil's more popular songs is his sweet elegy for his first car (hearse, actually), "Long May You Run," released in 1976. Presumably he wrote down exactly what he wanted to say about it. I'll just make note of the lyrics in question for you:

It was back in Blind River in 1962 When I last saw you alive But we missed that shift on the long decline... Maybe the Beach Boys have got you now With those waves singing "Caroline No" Rollin' down that empty ocean road Gettin' to the surf on time...

Well, what could be more clear, really. Plus it's lovely song; no wonder Emmylou wanted to record it. You can find it on her 1982 album, "Last Date." But, astonishingly (to me at least) the lyrics are quite different:

Well it was back in Blind River in 1962 When I last saw you alive Rollin' down that empty ocean road Gettin' to the surf on time...

That's it. No shift, no Beach Boys. What gives? Now, don't get me wrong, I totally like both versions. This is not about which one is better. I'm just curious (not being a songwriter, or a song coverer, or a copyright lawyer, or any other kind of person who might have an interest in such matters) about how these kinds of lyrics-cut-and-paste jobs happen. Like, did Emmylou say to Neil, "Hey man, I really like your song and want to record it, but I just want to make a couple of teensy-weensy changes, 'kay?" And then Neil said, "Sure Emmy, do whatever you like." Hmm. Why wouldn't Neil (who has a rep for being pretty fussy about things) say, "Take it as is, or leave it"? If anyone out there can clear this up, by all means, let me hear from you.


Cath said...

Deb, just wanted to say how much I am enjoying your blog - feel like I am charging down Route 66 in 1965 - that was quite a year for me.

Also wanted to let you know, my Hubby Ed read your book ((while in the bath (several baths actually) - don't think you intended it to be a bath book)) and I kept hearing him laugh and laugh. For several days he'd walk around and just break into a chuckle or even a little sentimental tear along with laughter and they were directly triggered by his having read your book.

So thanks for the great read! What a memory trip for him. I will just have to get him your next book when you release it.

Deborah said...

Thanks Cath. I'm glad you're guys are enjoying the blog/book. Never thought of it as a "bathroom book" til you mentioned it, but yes, it would be perfect for the tub (or throne, just not the shower I guess). Rock on!