Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Music legends get a free pass

In the world of music, there have been and are really extraordinary talented performers who have contributed more than just music and songs, but have helped pioneer entire styles and genres. They are truly music legends, the people who set the standards, who not only composed and performed individual songs, but who developed music styles further and even invented entirely new forms.

Such legendary musicians often get such a cult status that they get a free pass on everything they have done, even if it doesn't really compare all that well to later developments. Criticizing their work, comparing it as inferior to later works, seems tantamount to blasphemy.

To take one particular example, consider the song Unchain My Heart, originally performed by Ray Charles, and later covered by Joe Cocker.

Ray Charles enjoys such a legendary cult status. He was certainly a pioneer of soul music, and helped define an entire new genre. Thus it's no wonder that many people will say things like "yeah, Cocker's cover of the song is good, but I like the original Ray Charles' version better."

I honestly don't understand this. I have listened to both versions, and I just can't help but consider Cocker's cover better in all possible counts. The arrangement is better, the tempo is better, the instruments are better, it's groovier, Cocker's singing voice is better, even the backing vocalists are better. I can't find a single thing that I would consider better in the original Ray Charles version.

The fact is, if Cocker's version had been original (ie. Ray Charles had never performed it), and later someone else came up with a cover that's exactly like the Ray Charles version, every single person in the universe would consider it significantly worse. However, since it's Ray Charles who performed the original, he automatically gets a free pass and is beyond all criticism. His version is automatically "better", no matter how weak in comparison.

No disrespect to Ray Charles, but I think people should be slightly more objective, stop putting people in such pedestals, and not give performances a special status and exceptions simply because a musical legend was the first to preform them.

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