Sunday, April 1, 2012

Outside I'm Masqueradin', Inside My Hope Is Fading: Version v. Version


let's shake off those Sunday Night Blues and play a game I often long to play:

Who Sung It Better?

(really this is all just an excuse to listen to four different versions of the same song in a row,

because there's a lot of jollies there for the gettin' by those of us who get our jollies this way.)

TONIGHT on Who Sung It Better?: 1965's "The Tracks Of My Tears"

(Previous Sunday Night Blues: "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman")


Let's start with the 1965 original--a sweet, harmonious, swingin' little ditty by The Miracles.

Of course, background knowledge about the artist is always going to influence a comparison like this, so I really should offer extensive background on each of these.

But I won't, because I think that would make this post that should be light into something heavy. But I just HAVE to say something about The Miracles before we start.

The Miracles, later known as Smokey Robinson & The Miracles, were Motown's first big hit act. They were hard-working and loyal to each other in the way of all the best Motown acts, and of course they grew up in Detroit all singing together as children.

(Sidenote: that type of story is always so fascinating to me as someone who, like many Michigan residents, would like nothing more than to think of a Detroit where children sit around and sing together instead of--well, I'll just say that it seems pretty hard to be a child in Detroit these days and leave it at that.)

In their mid- to late-career they like so many other great Motown artists would fall victim to the proclivities of that megalomaniacal genius, Berry Gordy: Smokey Robinson was rebranded as the "star", and in that single stroke The Miracles went from being Part Of The Art Themselves to being the Backup Act To The Art.

But in 1965 they were The Art, and that's when they sang this song.


Next up we have this magnificently weird, percussive, oddly modern-sounding version recorded by the Jackson 5 in 1968. It went unreleased for 40 years.

Thirdly, Gladys Knight (and her Pips) brings her earthysexy soul goddess vibe to "The Tracks Of My Tears" in 1970:

while in the same year, Dean Martin releases a version of the song that proves that the late-career singles of Artists Past Their Prime can very often wield a "what the fuck, why not??" coolness:

In 1975 Linda Ronstadt threw her hat in the ring. She's working her Little Girl Lost appeal, but this time spinning it as Little Girl Lost (And Found By The Love Of A Good Pop Song). You can tell she really genuinely loves this song:

It has been covered many times since then (and successfully if not particularly soulfully by Aretha Franklin for her Soul '69 album of 1969, which features her in finer form elsewhere), but it gets kind of hard to actually cover a song as popular as this after a while without collapsing under your own weight. So most of the other versions are sort of, well, internally collapsed I would say.

SO what do you think? I'd love to hear it at Perhaps eventually we can gather enough data about what kind of person likes each song to finally figure out What It All Means.

(A noble goal!)

And (she said, more to herself than anything) buck up! It may be Sunday but it's April, and it's all happening.