“You’re the One That I Want” is the big finale in the movie Grease. The sweet, good-girl bobby soxer Sandy (Olivia Newton-John), dons tight leather clothes and teases the hell out of her hair (basically changing her whole persona) to win the heart of Danny (John Travolta), the cool bad boy of Rydell High. He’s so amazed by her transformation, and his “teenaged” (Travolta was 24 at the time) hormones, he becomes discombobulated and admits his feelings in an energetic burst of song. With a full rousing dance number, of course. It’s all in nostalgic fun, though, right? Okay, he does don a letterman’s sweater to kind of become what she wants, too. But I still think her change is way more drastic. And sexist. And yet, I sing along, believing true love triumphs. Yada yada.
This next video is what sparked me to choose this for a Cover Battle. It’s a full length form of a Chanel No. 5 commercial featuring model Gisele Bundchen. As I was listening absentmindedly, a phrase caught my attention, then I realized what the song was. The tempo fits the lush, dreamy romantic feel of the commercial, but it’s such a departure from the usual way you hear this song. The commercial, sorry – the film – was beautifully directed by Baz Luhrmann with a full-fledged storyline and real acting, by Gisele and Michiel Huisman. The song itself is sung by artist Lo-Fang.
Australian brother and sister duo Angus & Julia Stone also does this in a tempo radically different from the original. Angus plays guitar, while Julia, alone, handles the vocal. Her voice is kind of girly and a little precious. On first listen it was a little grating to my sensibility, but the more I replay it the more ingratiating it becomes. I’m coming around to liking it; it’s very sweet. And precious. But not in a bad way. The ending is very sudden and just kind of cuts off abruptly. I don’t know if that’s how they actually decided to end the recording or if it was something with the person who uploaded the video.
“Bohemian Rhapsody“. What words can I use to describe it?. Epic. Operatic. Dramatic. Theatrical. Performed by the legendary group Queen, this … masterpiece is like nothing you’ve ever heard. It sweeps through different tempos and stylings and vocals and levels. Excuse my French, but, it’s mother-fucking-brilliant! As such, this is one of those songs you think of as untouchable, not that others haven’t tried. But for most, they’d consider it sacrosanct – not to be tampered with, redone, reimagined, or covered. Except by The Muppets. Theirs is the only alternate version I would even deem worthy. It’s totally cute and hilarious and fun. But that’s it. Up until last week, that is.
During the season episode of the final season [ 😦 ] of Sons of Anarchy, the ending montage begins – a variety of scenes with a musical underscore – I’m looking at the screen, and listening to the music. I hear the opening words, and they sound familiar, and I’m like “wait – what? No. No way; they did not do this” But yes, they did: they covered “Bohemian Rhapsody”.
The musical director for SOA, Bob Thiele, has always been incredibly adept about finding just the right songs for the show. They’ve redone a few other songs over the years, that I never thought I would like as covers and they’ve blown me away each and every time. This was no different. I was floored by the audacity, but it was so well done, and so appropriate, that I loved it.
As mentioned above, the cover done by The Muppets is a true joy. Not only do they cover the song, but they pretty much recreate the stance of the original Queen video. They do change the words in some parts to fit into the whole Muppets world, but it’s still pretty perfect.
In checking the internet, I also found another really fun one. It’s a parody version with a Star Wars basis. It’s well executed, with a lot of attention to detail. I’m sure it would go over big at any Comic Con.
The group Panic! At the Disco does a live version which, surprisingly, I actually like. I don’t think it has the same force and power as Freddie Mercury’s vocal with Queen, but it’s really, really good. And I’m not just saying that because the lead singer is shirtless, I swear.
Actor and singer Adam Lambert performs parts of the song on stage with the surviving members of Queen. During the performance they play major portions of the original video, then Adam and the band come back in. It’s very effective and captivating. It gave me chills.
Adam actually performed the song for his audition on American Idol. Leading judge Simon Cowell clued into his theatricality and flair, and seemed a little unsure of him being a good fit for the competition. He ultimately gave him a “yes” vote. As did the other 3 judges, enthusiastically, because Adam is a good singer. The drama and exuberance is just a thrilling bonus.
In addition to performing the song with Adam Lambert, the band also did a performance of it with Elton John, tackling the earlier, more ballad-like section, and Guns N’ Roses front man Axl Rose, taking on the later raucous role. They come together for the very end. I like hearing Elton’s voice. There’s a true respect and admiration for the material, the band, and Freddie that’s evident in his care with the song. Axl gives the later hard rock section his usual all-out frenetic gusto. It’s a respectable job.
A few years ago, a new hotel, The Cosmopolitan, was opening up in Vegas and they brought out a series of really … interesting commercials. (Their tag line was “Just the right amount of wrong”.) One of them featured the song, acted out, in a very dramatic way, using only the lyrics. The guitar riffs and whatnot were brought in at the end. I thought it was very creative and successfully done.
The most unexpected cover has to be the one from Jake Shimabukuro’s 2010 TED Talk presentation. On the ukelele. It’s unbelievably cool. This video is longer than the other versions only because they tack on a 3 minute Rolex commercial at the end. So, unless you’re seriously into Rolex watches you can shut it off after the 7:03 mark.
As they tend to be, cover versions done by William Shatner are usually pretty out there and have a strongly WTF? flavor. But this has to be one of the most batshit crazy things I’ve heard in quite some time. I think medication might be in order. For him, and for me.
I found a documentary on the making of “Bohemian Rhapsody” that you might also be interested in. It runs just under an hour.
The original recording of “Best of My Love” was released by The Emotions, (If you clink the link, turn your sound down first. Trust me on this) in 1977. It’s a great example of 70’s soul music: well-crafted, great harmonies, easy to dance to. Just an all-around joy fest that typifies the era, yet never gets old.
Christina Milian performs a bit of the song in the John Travolta movie, Be Cool. It stays true to the tempo of the original, but it’s very screechy. And the performance is just a trio of pop tarts gyrating annoyingly, but I guess that was what was called for in the movie. Honestly not sure if a straight rendition on stage would be any different, since I’m not really familiar with Christina’s work and really have no interest in exploring further.
The incomparable Mary J. Blige sings a bit of the song in a fun little holiday season commercial for The Gap, featuring Josh Duhamel and Sarah Jessica Parker. There’s a dash of a funk undertone to it. It’s basically just a snippet, but I would be interested in hearing a full version if she ever releases one. It’s still celebratory but doesn’t give me as much of a ‘get down and party’ feeling as the three-part harmony of The Emotions.
I was unable to find a video anywhere for the version done by Sheena Easton, in 2001, but I did find audio on Grooveshark. You can listen to it here. The pace is sped up and “popified”. It kind of sounds like a fairly forgettable karaoke run, albeit with pretty good production values. I’m not really impressed.
Another version I couldn’t seem to track down a video for was done by Phoebe Snow. There is an audio, here, at Who Sampled. This one is funked up somewhat, like the Mary J. version above. The extra instrumentation sounds a little distracting to me though. It’s juuuust on the verge of being a “… and the kitchen sink” version. You know – let’s throw everything in there. It’s kind of busy.
The live performance clip by En Vogue is highly energetic and brings you back to the spirit of the original. Unfortunately it’s entirely too short. Would loved to have been able to find something more complete.