Cover version strategy works
“It is a formula that has been working,” said veteran producer, Mikie Bennett when The Gleaner asked if doing a cover song makes for an effective promotional strategy or overshadows the talent of upcoming artistes. Often, producers attempt to use previously released songs to exhibit the skill level of younger artistes putting the song in a different light. Bennett names the ragga-style cover of the contemporary R&B original 'Poison by' Bell Biv DeVoe as one of his productions which pushed the talents of Dennis Brown, Brian Gold and Tony Gold in wider markets.
“Quite a few producers have released rocksteady hits that a lot of us grew up thinking they were original singles but were actually remakes,” Bennett said. Bob Andy and Marcia Griffiths hit the UK singles charts at number five with the cover of 'Young, Gifted and Black' originally recorded by Nina Simone. Ken Boothe’s 1974 version of 'Everything I Own', written by David Gates of the rock band Bread, rose to the top spot on the UK singles charts and remained there for more than three weeks.
The focus at the time was to capture the emotions being expressed in the original releases but give it the added flavour of Caribbean music styles. Bennett added: “Studio One was built on that formula, under the guidance of Sir Coxson, who brought back international records that he thought would have made good reggae versions by the likes of Alton Ellis, John Holt and The Skatalites.”
The cover concept is not being widely used as finding a good sample is. for example like Sister Nancy’s 'Bam Bam', which has permeated productions of both local and international artistes, including Damian Marley, Kanye West and RDX.
“It is not only a strategy to promote the newcomers, but the publishers know that a reissue will bring back the needed publicity and make a large societal impact; they [music professionals] get excited because of the vast catalogue that can be exploited,” said Bennett.
According to Bennett in the Diaspora one reggae show could play a song for up to three hours. “When a song that is already known is played it is easier to get people to sing along so for Jamaicans listening to the reggae version outside of Jamaica gives a heartwarming feeling to have a little piece of home,” said Bennett.
“I always say to people, before you sing a bad song find a good song to redo because people like a little familiarity now and then,” he continued. As a songwriter, Bennett said while doing a cover showcases artistes’ vocal talents it does hide a person’s songwriting abilities, which may be of concern to some entertainers.
Contemporary gospel artiste Jai Kingston has released a couple covers, such as Kirk Franklin's 'Spend My Always' and 'Holy Spirit You Are Welcome Here' by Kim Walker Smith, but says he was not thinking about how much it would benefit his career. “I just heard the singles and felt the need to make it my own experience, to give my interpretation to help the Caribbean community appreciate a worship song with reggae influence,” Jai Kingston told The Gleaner.
He says that most of what Jamaicans know in the Caribbean worship experience is foreign. Local churches are accustomed to playing faith–based recordings that are by tradition American or British, not because the songs sound better or have more inspirational contexts, but have familiar lyrics. “Its quicker to accept what is not ours, but I long for day when our local churches accept who we are as Africans by putting more of the authentic sounds that travelled with us in the music part of worship,” he said.