Gimme cover – Susan Boyle and Wild Horses


The infobahn is alive with Susan Boyle’s rendition (nice word, eh?) of the Rolling Stones’ “Wild Horses”. There is an overwhelming opinion that Boyle has now recorded one of the definitive versions of the song. This, however, is seen as sacrilege by others, who cling to memories of the Stones and Gram Parsons. This sort of fuss is frequent when someone decides to cover a song. Why? What’s the issue?
One of the most enduring myths in pop culture is the myth of the auteur. There is a strange obsession about artists singing their own lyrics. I think it comes from our desire to associate the performer with the song – as if most men could actually love you “all night long” or Marilyn Manson was as dark and twisted as he tries to make out (which I doubt – he’s remarkably well-read and articulate). To burst the bubble, all one has to do is think of some absolute defining moments in pop and ask: who cares who wrote them?

Who cares that Elvis Presley didn’t write “Hound Dog” (Lieber & Stoller)? Who cares that Edith Piaf didn’t write “Je ne regrette rien” (Doumont & Vaucaire)? Who cares if Jimi Hendrix didn’t compose “Hey Joe” (Billy Roberts)? Each made history and moved countless millions of people with their versions. What’s more, how would those songs sound if sung by their respective authors? The answer is easy: disappointing in most cases.

If it’s worth singing, sing it well
So I can’t knock people singing “covers”. It’s a tribute. If a song is worth writing, it is worth singing well. And for me, the better the singer the happier we should be. Yes, even if that singer is Celine Dion, Nana Mouskouri or in this case the winner of a TV show.

Coming back to “Wild Horses”, Boyle has indeed created a superb version. Yes, it’s a bit incongruous Susan Boyle slipping into a song made famous by Mick Jagger. But she breathes new life into the song. When you look at it from a songwriting perspective, “Wild Horses” is basically a magnificent melody and structure with dubious lyrics. I’m not sure how Boyle manages to put such emotion into Jagger’s mild misogyny, but she does. Being a nice guy at heart, I salute verses such as:

I watched you suffer a dull aching pain
Now you decided to show me the same
No sweeping exits or offstage lines
Could make me feel bitter or treat you unkind

Wild horses couldn’t drag me away
Wild, wild horses, couldn’t drag me away

But I’ll pass on the rest. We should be thanking Susan Boyle for her voice and heart. We need more of both in the charts.

Susan Boyle: I Dreamed a Dream

18 Comments

on “Gimme cover – Susan Boyle and Wild Horses
18 Comments on “Gimme cover – Susan Boyle and Wild Horses
  1. Seen by total sacrilege by me and I wouldn’t mind betting the “others” you mention are ROCK music lovers as I am…most probably in and above Susans very own age group!
    Exactly who calls her version definitive?
    BTW,I did not mention anything on twitter re. covers,some people do fine covers.
    I think the woman has a magnificent voice and boatloads of feel,but this is not the song for her, although it’s very clever of whoever decided to use this..ensuring publicity that just couldn’t be bought!
    It is a version you like,so you call it superb?
    I disagree..I have my opinion as you have yours and we are both entitled to that!
    Dubious lyrics? How about you tell me what you imagine this song is about and I’ll let you know how close you are? Oh that’s right,one verse and you’ll “pass on the rest”. This would imply as does your whole piece (as I deduce it)that you really love Susans work,particularly this song and you dont give a toss what anyone thinks.
    Now that’s perfectly fine,but dont expect everyone to agree with you,because they wont.
    To suggest that someone is living in the past somehow because they prefer the original is ludicrous and rather boarish imo!
    No I dont care that Hendrix didn’t write “Hey Joe” (did you play it today to mark the 39th anniversay of his passing?)
    OMG,dont tell me they have another definitive version for SB in the works? I think she may struggle with the upside down left handed strat playing,but it will be interesting to read your take on that.
    Now I realise my comments may come across as somewhat peeved.That would be because I am~ having expressed an opinion on twitter you didn’t like and you challenging me!
    So there you go ALyric, there’s some of my opinion,as asked for,and I will be keeping it!

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  3. @Glee, woah, slow down there! It’s a version of a song, and I think a good version of a very good song (the first I’ve really noticed from her). If I didn’t give a toss about people’s opinions, I wouldn’t ask for them and open the site for comments. I’m glad you took the time, and sorry if I wound you up a bit!

    Concerning the song itself, I don’t think the lyrics are the best thing in the song. I find them condescending, with Jagger playing the Sugar Daddy role to an ungrateful “lady” (reportedly Marianne Faithful, although the man himself denies this). He does seem to be regretting a relationship while nonetheless holding onto his freedom.

    I’m not winding you up deliberately (promise!), but I do feel that this version will run and run. However, a version does not erase the original. There is plenty of room on God’s hard disk, so both will be out there (plus the 20 or 30 other versions, in fact).

    Michael

  4. Oh of course there will always be covers good and bad.What upset me and I have reread your piece to check if I got it wrong,but I still dont believe I did~You mention people “cling to memories” of the ‘Stones.Why on earth would one have to cling to memories when the band is still recording and touring.Regardless of what you think they are still very much here!

    I remember the incident that birthed this song very well as it happened right here in Australia.
    Yes it was about Marianne Faithfull (and Mick wouldn’t even admit to being married to Jerry Hall although whether it’s legal or not it becomes legal as “common law” after 1 year..that is beside the point.)

    What wound me up,is that you criticised the original artists expression of their own lyrics (“dubious lyrics”as you put it).
    I dont find the lyrics dubious at all and actually do not find them condescending in any way when one looks at the big picture of what was happening at the time! (personal and societal)

    Where in the lyrics is ‘ungrateful” mentioned? It isn’t!
    “Graceless lady,you know who I am.
    You know I cant let you slide through my hands.
    Wild horses couldn’t drag me away…..”
    Let me tell you it’s pretty graceless when you have your stomach pumped!Doesn’t sound like he’s calling her ungrateful,as he sat by her bed after she had overdosed.
    Marrianne spent 6 days in a Psychiatric Hospital,right here in Sydney and Mick Jagger was there every day…….you may even say wild horses couldn’t have dragged him away!

    I doubt very much whether Susan has ever been in that emotional situation.

    I have spent the most part of my adult life involved in the music scene,such as yourself.
    I too have had my songs recorded and could name drop if I wished to but I dont!

    I believe there is enough room in the world for all music and everyones opinions.

    Another thing that got to me ,was that in my original tweet,I said I’d like to talk to the person who did the arrangement of SB’s version and got a response from you stating,”Well,here’s your chance”.
    So are you claiming to have arranged this?

    Actually,I find someone telling me to “Whoa” as if I’m a runaway horse far more condescending than anything in those lyrics (which were NOT written by Mick Jagger alone)

    I’m sure you dont want me to go on..well I dont want me to go on!

  5. Ta for the extra info. I’ve been thinking about this. It comes down to what happens to a song once it’s out there. It would be veeeeery interesting to see what people think the lyrics are about. I think you might be shocked. If what you say is the actual starting point of the song, there is a very precise story behind “Wild Horses”. But I just didn’t “get it” from reading the lyrics. By way of comparison, there is a story behind Abba’s “The Winner Takes it All”, but it’s easier to hear from the first listen what it’s about. Knowing the story adds a layer to this understanding.

    So Jagger – who knows his way around a song and has no problem making himself understood when he wants to – is less explicit in “Wild Horses”. There are no references to hospitals or anything of the sort. He has also denied that it is about Marianne Faithful. It’s entirely possible that he decided to play it down, figuring it’s just way too personal and involves another person (which would be to his credit given the circumstances).

    So writers out there: are there things that are just too personal? How do you deal with them in song?

    PS: If you knew me, you’d laugh at the idea of me arranging music. I leave that to more talented people. So that was a misunderstanding. I’ve asked who’s responsible. I’ll post the name if I find it.

    Michael

  6. Absolutely fantastic version of a song that when released by the stones only made it to number 28 in the usa, And the utter nonsense these people talk, exactly who calls her song definitive, almost every site on the web, and to quote mick jagger, a ghostly rendition and better than anything he had ever done,and my god how dare she do a cover of a stones song now that is no more sacrilegious than the stones first 5 singles which were all covers. Oh and by the way the rolling stones fans themselves think it is a fantastic version. So to people like glee he is in an extreme minority and wouldn’t know music if it fell out of the sky and hit him on the head. Hey joe, a cover classic by hendrix, hound dog, a cover classic by presley. Shall i go on with the other 100s i know. I think not. I rest my case. And if the glees of the world read every one of the comments on youtube he would realise what rubbish he talked.And go to rolling stone magazine where she wiped the floor with all 6 versions displayed there by a mile. do some research before you comment on a subject you know very little about.

  7. Hello, I agree with what you say about cover songs in general, and sometimes, the cover is even better than the original (“All Along the Watchtower” written by Dylan and cover by Hendrix or “Hallelujah” of Cohen performed by Buckley but then abused by too many artists and many other examples).

    But this particular cover I really don’t like. The way she warbles the song, x-factor way, I really can’t stand it. It is a way to standardize all music and to reduce an artist to somebody with a decent voice. But a singer, even if he does not write his own music, has to have something, has to add something to a cover has to sing it in his own style. X-factor style is all the same: a virtuosism to prove this people have some voice therefore they can sell cds. I love too much music to see all this shit happening. That is, of course, only my point of view.

  8. Susan Boyle has a great voice, if she only look good then she could have been a fast rising star. the music industry is also like showbiz, somehow you need to look good if you want to become famous fast.

  9. I love Susan Boyle because she is a very talented person. Susan Boyles voice is phenomenal and breath taking. :,’,’ Yours truly, Opal

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