Song envy

Sometimes it seems a cover of a song is delivered out of jelaousy, just as out of personal respect. You wish you were there first, you wish THAT song was yours. The original is the cause of both – fascination and frustration – by which to recapture its essence. You can do better – or worse.

What is there to prove? Where does obsession with classics come from? Why the challenge of competing with? Why “tributes to”?

Hearing the original that good is purely orgasmic experience. Mere minute into a song and you know its reaching into you  – the melody and the voice. The case of Bill Nelson seems a funny thing, knowing about the legend and staying so ignorant of his legacy. All of a sudden, “Chimera” opened the door into a secret garden. In all of its liberating, melodic and lyrical beauty – one of the early 80s’ sums of Bill Nelson’s, overall amazing music career. Introduced to it through a friend seemed such an epiphany, ever since wondering, how on earth could such a music genius be missed. Well, for all the temptation of it, there happened a modest re-interpretation by Split Personalities – a tiny studio project dealing with “the disembodied self”, by audio manifestation of “multiple personality disorder”, a somewhat ironic perspective that we can all be someone else, in this particular case, in the world of music.

For some strange (or fascinating) reason, there are two songs that fitted in with the theme – “Sorry For Laughing” (originally by much fancied Josef K and then covered by the super-group Propaganda) and of course, Bill Nelson’s opener to “Chimera”, the beauty and the beast that is “The Real Adventure”. While the first one seems to deal with the prospects of manipulation and indifference, the second explores one’s emotional struggle and enthusiasm. The noisy guitar in the original version of “Sorry For Laughing” gorgeously rids the song of any reliable melody – it plays with the idea of being daft to the extent of losing common sense by a simple act of laughter at most undesirable situations, in which apologies become mere excuses. Paul Haig complements it with his image of a cool observer, while Propaganda re-pour it into the more melodic, albeit heavy, dancefloor friendly mould. The Split Personalities’ version is probably lost somewhere between both these versions but heavily leans towards the latter. The only leitmotif reflecting Josef K’s genuine noise is the deadpan bassline, discreetly warping Propaganda’s sophisticated arrangement, occasionally hitting the wrong key. The result is, as Labosh would prefer to say – accidentally gothic.

“The Real Adventure” on the other hand cuts even more straightforwardly into the somewhat clichéd electronic pop sound of a certain era, say 1981. How would it sound if it were a “demo”? Although it was not the intention to go too close to a carbon copy, the  outcome is a nice, naive tribute to an absolutely superior original version – which relies on melodic simplicity yet offering such diversity. Of course, the cover lacks one of the original’s great components – the marimba, very evident in some of Bill Nelson’s work, offering images of a beautiful, distant shore – pure oriental ambience.


Josef K’s “Sorry For Laughing” originally written by Malcolm Ross and Paul Haig.
Released on the 7” single (TWI 023, Les Disques Du Crépuscule, 1981)

“The Real Adventure” originally written by Bill Nelson.
Released on the mini-album “Chimera” (MER B 19, Mercury, 1983)

Cover versions produced and arranged by Split
 Personalities in The Room,
betw. March-June, 2012

Image collage from a photo of Paul Haig by Hennebert (1982)
and of Bill Nelson (courtesy of the artist)


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