Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Mary McCaslin - Things We Said Today

A lot of Beatles fans out there won’t sit still for cover versions of the legendary band’s songs.  To many of these listeners, the rock group “owns” every song they ever did, and any cover version will always be a pale imitation of their original recordings.  I don’t blame the fans who feel that way.  The Beatles are certainly a hard act to follow, and virtually every acetate they made is a miniature masterpiece.

But I believe that any truly great song is never “owned” by any one person (at least, not in the legal sense).  To me, if a song can truly stand the test of time, it should be able to stand up to several different musical interpretations as well.  When a cover version of a Beatles song is merely following the original recording’s instrumentation, then, I agree, such covers sound uninspired.  But different arrangements of these songs can bring out other aspects to them that weren’t all that apparent in the originals.  

Which brings me to my favorite Beatles cover: folk singer Mary McCaslin’s acoustic version of John Lennon and Paul McCartney’s “Things We Said Today,” which originally appeared on the Beatles albums A Hard Day’s Night in Britain and Something New in the U.S.  

The Beatles’ version is given a full-band arrangement, with all four members chipping in on acoustic and electric instruments to surround the listener with a steady swirl of sound.  But McCaslin strips the song down to two acoustic guitars and her solo voice, only occasionally double-tracked at strategic moments.  McCaslin’s insistent picking of the guitar strings stresses the bass line and drives the song forward, while also emphasizing the tune’s wistful minor key.  In place of the Beatles’ harmonizing vocals, McCaslin’s lone voice refocuses the lyrics as the thoughts of one individual, a quality of many Beatles songs that the group’s harmonies often clouded, and the unsynched double-tracked lyrics conjure the narrator’s haunting thoughts of her beloved.  

Are you one of those who say a Beatles song can never be decently covered by another artist?  Then listen to Mary McCaslin sing “Things We Said Today,” and see if you don’t change your mind.  Somehow, I will know.

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