Adventures In 2012: Top 15 Recycle It! Songs

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Oh by gosh by golly! Yet another twelve months are clocked in, so you know that means...I've got about two weeks to recap twelve months of musical adventures. Yikes. So let me spike this egg nog, save the aspirin for later, and turn the volume way up as I trot down memory lane...

Marvin and Tammi were right --- ain’t nothing like the real thing, baby. Then again, there is a shoulder tap of a moment where the cosmos collide, people walk on water, Honey Boo Boo recites as crisp and clear as Socrates, and the perfect cover song is born. This year, to add to the summary of adventures, I have decided to give a recap twist to one of my most beloved features on this blog. Pretty much I was provoked to tackle this niche as cover songs flew at me like spitballs this year --- some of them amazing and others that needed to be 'covered up'. So weeding through all that I came across this year, I settled on fifteen songs that somehow managed to rise above the others, and sent me to 'Recycle It!' heaven. No copycats or wannabes are present after the jump, as these are the best remakes/recycles of 2012.

15. Put Yourself In My Place – MNEK (orig. Kylie Minogue): If you as so force me to name my all-time favorite Kylie Minogue song, no sputtering or contemplating will occur as I state her 1994 hit single, "Put Yourself In My Place" as the tops of all she's put out in 25+ years. It flies pretty much under the radar these days to make way for more flashier moments of the Aussie diva's career, even though it's a moment where Kylie really showed her panache and skill for the R&B genre. So I was pretty pleased and all ears for newcomer MNEK to unearth this mis-begotten gem and work it in a way that feels right at home in soulful territory, but ups the ante by going down a crooning New Jack throwback avenue --- and to think he recorded the whole thing on his iPhone. Talent. [Stream/Download] [Write-Up]

14. Thinkin’ Bout You – Yuna (orig. Frank Ocean): There is no doubt about it that Frank Ocean was THE man of 2012 and of course you couldn't get through this year without someone trying to be an "Ocean-ographer". Still nobody could navigate the New Orleans lyrical whiz kid better than newcomer Yuna, whom also made a big impression this year with her self-titled debut. She took the spotlight off of herself for awhile to give love and props to Ocean's Channel Orange, which she claims was one of her favorite albums of the year. Choosing to cover the pensive, "Thinkin' Bout You", Yuna slips into a dreamy and provocative acapella, and proves further her talent at pitch-perfect vocal phrasing. [View]

13. What You Won’t Do (For Love) – Sampha (feat. Jessie Ware) (orig. Bobby Caldwell):  Jessie Ware took us on many adventures this year and it was such a smart move to do so, as Ware managed to spread herself over many a genre with producers and vocalists of various makes in such a short amount of time. Some of music's most long-standing singers don't even have that many collaborations in a five year period. Well, Ware didn't even bat an eye when she joined pal and producer, Sampha on a re-do of Bobby Caldwell's "What You Won't Do (For Love)". Most are comfortable with Caldwell's sublime 1978 original, including yours truly as it is probably one of my all-time favorite songs. Though there have been others to reshape this soul classic just as expertly, Ware adding touches of Aaliyah’s "Age Ain't Nothin' But A Number" (which also sampled the classic) into the mix made it extra special. [Stream] [Write-Up]

12. Day Dreaming – Tweet (orig. Aretha Franklin):  In the blaze of summer, Tweet baited us (yet again) with news of a comeback. For an all-too-brief period, every Tuesday she tweeted brand-new material that had most foaming at the mouth for what is to come of the mirage that is her third album, Love, Tweet.  Tweet delivered (as usual) in fine fashion, but her take on Aretha Franklin's "Day Dreaming" was by far the best thing she wrapped her plush vocals around in. Here I was sitting thinking that Tamia was the only one to give the definitive remake of Franklin's 1972 classic, but Tweet with her lovely reading sets her place at the table and brings on all challengers. [Stream/Download] [Write-Up]

11. Afro Blue – Robert Glasper Experiment (feat. Erykah Badu) (orig. Mongo Santamaria and John Coltrane): There are about a zillion covers of "Afro Blue", the 1959 Jazz standard by percussionist Mongo Santamaria. The most well-known version comes from legendary pianist John Coltrane, who took the song under his wing making it the standard most go by. Adding in vocalese over the years has morphed the song to new heights, and another to put on the stack is Erykah Badu's reading which rests on Robert Glasper's monumental, Black Radio set. Badu does the 'du as she is 110% her on this track, meaning that she is 110% on-point. [Stream]

10. Nights (Feel Like Getting Down) – Sy Smith (feat. Rahsaan Patterson) (orig. Billy Ocean): Not often do I hear a Billy Ocean cover that respectfully pays homage to the British crooner, but that all changed when Sy Smith decided to spruce up Ocean's 1981 single, "Nights (Feel Like Gettin' Down)" on her Fast & Curious album. With Rahsaan Patterson dishing out his silky refrains and matching Sy groove by groove, the two go to Disco dizzying heights and shed some light on this often ignored classic from the (original) Mr. Ocean.  [View]

9. Twice – Robert Glasper Experiment, Questlove, and Solange (orig. Little Dragon):  For the insta-cool kids club, Little Dragon's "Twice" is the song to impress your friends with when it comes to discussion of music taste. It's also an instant drop-everything-and-listen deal when a musician chooses to cover it considering how beloved the track and the Swedish quartet are. Turning it into an almost 10-minute opus, the Robert Glasper Experiment take Questlove and It-girl, Solange along for the ride of what is one of the more inventive and intricate covers of "Twice" yet. [Stream] [Write-Up]

8. Hanging On – Ellie Goulding (orig. Active Child): Ellie Goulding should consider in the new year to release an album of covers as her cheeky takes on popular tunes and golden oldies prove that the Herefordshire native has a knack on cracking the code to cover material. Skip the Tinie Tempah version, and let Goulding operatic soprano waterfall over you on the pristine solo take as she soars, dips, and weaves her way through this decadent heartbreaker of a tune. [View] [Write-Up]

7. Exhale (Shoop Shoop) – Robin Thicke (orig. Whitney Houston):  Unfortunately, the tragic passing of Whitney Houston marred 2012’s existence, and (uncomfortably) marked the year that everyone was scrambling to find and step up as the next new "diva-sized voice”. In that time frame, we heard many a Whitney tribute track --- and winced at a lot of them --- because really, there is only ONE Whitney Houston and imitators need not apply. Still I’d like to celebrate Mr. Smoothie Pants, Robin Thicke, who didn't try to make it all about him when it came to giving a loving and respectful tribute to the late songstress. He (smartly) knew what type of Whitney song he was capable of performing and picked a corker ---“Exhale (Shoop Shoop)”, the understated Babyface penned theme song from Houston’s 1995 film, Waiting To Exhale. What he gifted us with was a controlled and soulful jubilation that no doubt would have made Madame Nippy proud. [View] [Write-Up]

6. Pillow Talk – Joss Stone (orig. Sylvia): That rebel rousing Ms. Stone graced us with another volume of soul sessions this year, and possibly offered up her best set yet. What impressed and pleased me about it was her choice to go for lesser-known/forgotten soul classics instead of the usual spiel (i.e. songs that are heard ad nausem on every single singing competition show's "Soul Night" or on Seal's Soul records). Even though she mastered covering acts like the Chi-Lites and Womack & Womack, I have to really commend her for her take on Sylvia's lovely "Pillow Talk" which is by far my favorite moment on Soul Sessions Vol. 2. Tenderly sung and feeling every bit as inviting as the original, "Pillow Talk" lets Stone show off her docile side to sweet effect. [Stream/View]

5. The House of the Rising Sun – Meshell Ndegeocello (feat. Toshi Reagon) (orig. The Animals and Nina Simone): Though Meshell Ndegocello crafted a whole album brimming in tribute to the incomparable Nina Simone, her rousing take on “The House Of The Rising Sun” just radiated and rattled out of the speakers as if Simone herself had risen up to pound away at the ivories. While there has been many a cover of this rowdy number --- the most notable by English 60’s band, The Animals --- Meshell’s “House” is electrifying. With the exuberant Toshi Reagon vocally blazing through the tangle rope of words, the spirit is quite catching.

4. I Can’t Help It – Esperanza Spalding (orig. Michael Jackson):  There is no slowing down of the Michael Jackson covers and Esperanza Spalding’s lush take on “I Can’t Help It” has wedged it's way into my heart. Sure, I've heard it once before as she has performed it here and there for over three years (even once with The Roots!), but it is truly best experienced as a sparkling studio version off this year's Radio Music Society album. Arguably one of the many highlights on Jackson’s classic 1979 Off The Wall album, "I Can't Help It" always felt like it ended before it's time, possibly because the Stevie Wonder composed track was just so damn good that I never wanted it to end. Thankfully, Spalding with her bass in hand gives us a sprawling jazzercise that takes the song in new directions while still evoking the pensive soul stir that Jackson executed so well over 30 years ago. [View]

3. Inside My Love – Delilah (orig. Minnie Riperton): "Inside My Love" has got to be of the sexiest songs in soul music history, history. It's highly suggestive (even right so in the freaking title), but still maintains all the class in the world, simply because Minnie Riperton was a true lady herself. Newcomer Delilah froths up the flirtation and makes the late singer proud by keeping the classic 1975 song smutty and ladylike, but adds in moody synths to exert some electric soul in the mix giving the song an even-sexier edge. Warning: the windows will steam when you engulf yourself in this and its accompanying visual. [View][Write-Up]

2. Lately – Anita Baker (orig. Tyrese):  Here's an awkward moment -- Anita Baker sings Tyrese's 1999 hit, "Lately" and makes the original pretty much obsolete. Serious. I didn't know "Lately" could sound like this. In fact when I first heard it, I didn't even recognize it, I thought, "oh what a great original song from Baker" should've seen my face when I realized it was one of the only songs that I can actually tolerate from Ty-Ty. Yet, that is the magic of Madame Baker, and she's a real charmer on this as she gives us that classic rich and thick alto of hers and rallies up the quiet storm that is so much associated with her. What is even more terrific (or quite mind-blowing) is that "Lately" sounds quite like it was lifted from Baker's famed Rapture album. Now that's what I call timeless.... [Stream] [Write-Up]

1. I Can’t Go For That – DivaGeek (orig. Hall & Oates): Ask me about "I Can't Go For That (No Can Do)" and I'll tell you that it is probably one of the greatest things to ever have been recorded and burnt to black wax. Heck, even it is said Michael Jackson --- the King of Pop himself --- was inspired by it to where his hit, "Billie Jean" had hints of the song in its framework. As much as I stan for Daryl Hall's voice, having DivaGeek's Vula Malinga take over vocal duties didn't faze me, as she can best your faves in that department, and a vocalizing clinic she gives here. What I love most about this rendition is that the duo transform the track into something completely original and for a good five minutes they take us on a cosmic climb of bubbling synths and jangling guitars that sweep you up in an vacuum of sound. On first listen, its a completely different song, but when the familiar lyrical pacing come in, you know exactly what's going on and can't help but join in on the fun of this metamorphosis. [Stream] [Write-Up]


  1. @Phillip Clark and @Nae - Thanks! :)

    ...oh and you guys, please feel free to dish about your favorites of this year in the comments during these 'Adventures In 2012' series!

  2. so many goodies on this list!

    Joss Stone's cover of "The Love We Had (Stays on My Mind)" received much play from me this year. Amazing.

  3. Excellent post. I was checking constantly this blog and I am impressed!
    Extremely useful info specifically the last part :) I care for such info a lot.
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  4. The MNEK cover was epic. He was born the day before the song was released as a single. Serendipity huh?-QH


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