It’s hard to enjoy one’s own recordings. I check in periodically, listening to one of my albums, ostensibly to understand “what the hell happened.” I get about five songs in and then stop. I feel as if the music is sitting in front of me rather than it taking me on a journey. Hopefully you have better luck with them!
The fact I don’t “get off” on the experience of listening to my own albums is probably common among musicians. Lately I’ve had to relearn songs I hadn’t played in public for a long time, if ever. I’ve rediscovered a few new favorites. I am proud of my records more or less. However, the point is that I would rather listen to something else.
What is it about other people’s music that feels so much better to me? Why do people get more excited about the cover songs at a show? My first assumption would be that my songs aren’t as good as other people’s. And that might be true, but that can’t be the whole reason. It’s the emotional connection to the song that matters, and I imagine that when you launch into a song people really know, they’re hearing the original record in their mind playing along with you. In that space, a magic trick happens. By the same token, if someone is butchering the song they’ve triggered you to recall, you can feel offended.
Every month I have an hour-long show to play for a hospital audience, and I choose a good dose of known covers to add to my CvS repertoire. Last month I dug up "A Whiter Shade of Pale" by Procol Harum, a band whose name I never understood. Their version cuts off abruptly, even though it’s plenty long! It’s been a hit, used in films, and recorded by many. The lyrics were “mysterious,” (they lost me at fandango) but I knew the tune. And that organ part has always captivated me. I looked it up and found two extra verses- one I added, but I left out the other lyrics about cardboard. I like this song.
Drummer Prairie Prince was working in my studio recently, and so we did a couple songs for the camera. We played “Whiter Shade” live, once, without any fuss. I’ve learned how to play with PP over time. I know to stay out of the way of his fills with my guitar and don’t fight him on the tempo, like some dog on a leash. I sent it to Dave Amels to put on the essential organ part, and Pete Straus did his bass guitar at home. It was not labored over and I actually put more time into editing the video.
Of my recordings, I like the ones I made with other people on them. I prefer hearing the ones that I didn’t fiddle with endlessly. And of course, the equipment — how fancy the mic or guitar is — has yet to make a big difference on the final result.
So I share this as a single release this week for your entertainment. I can listen to this! Am I enjoying hearing my friends playing? Or is it the magic of cover songs?