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Pop music built on cover culture

Published:Wednesday | April 12, 2017 | 12:00 AMKimberley Small
Tarrus Riley
John Legend

Sometimes it takes two to get a song right.

In a recent interview with The Sunday Gleaner, aspiring Jamaican rapper, Phillip 'Lopo' Lopez, suggested that the inflection of dancehall sound, utilised more and more often in international popular music, stems from a culture of 'borrowing'. Genres like rap, hip-hop and dancehall were built on the practice of sampling the sounds of already recorded music and arranging them in ways that echoed the original, but creates something new.

"We all have our iteration to how we accept sounds from different places. It just depends on what grabs you," Lopez said. "I think a big aspect of how I am musically is through the Internet. I'm in that generation where we went from Napster to Kazaa, to everything that has processed from there til now."

Even before modern musicians took up sampling, Lopez noted that many well-known retro Jamaican hit songs were actually borrowed from popular foreign hits.

"I just know that in my exposure, I had access to a whole lot of music," he said, as both parents were broadcast media practitioners. Lopez told The Sunday Gleaner that he spent a lot of his nurturing years in the studios of Irie FM, where he came to learn that "globalisation has to do with what's on the radio. What used to play on the radio first is foreign music. A lot of the [Jamaican] music were covers."

Reggae artistes have demonstrated examples of this borrowing culture in the past and even recent times. Some Jamaican artistes gained prominence after taking chart-topping songs of their time, or before, to record their own versions that would be regarded as classics themselves.

In 1971, music producer Booker T. Jones, and singer Bill Withers, recorded the Grammy winning Ain't No Sunshine, which re-recorded by Jamaica's own Horace Andy in What Year. The spinning of Dennis Brown's Black Magic Woman, is likely to send an audience into a tailspin, but the grooving classic tune was originally written by Fleetwood Mac in 1969 then recorded by Carlos Santana in 1970, when it became a hit. Brown recorded his version in 1972.

Marcia Griffiths and Keith Hampshire's version of The First Cut Is the Deepest, hit the airwaves in 1973, but the song was first recorded by American singer P.P. Arnold in 1967. Norma Fraser's version hit in Jamaica that same year. Nine years later, popular American rock star Rod Stewart released his version, followed by pop artiste Sheryl Crow in 2003.

In 1969, Tony Tribe covered Neil Diamond's Red Red Wine, which was again covered by UB40 and released in 1983.

More recently, Tarrrus Riley, son of the late great Jimmy Riley, has enjoyed success in covering a previously released hit song. After its release in 2006, Tarrus Riley's rendition of Stay with You (originally recorded by John Legend in 2004) became his identifying melody for a time. In 2008, Riley also re-recorded Michael Jackson's 1982 Human Nature.

Jamaicans aren't the only musicians to have borrowed a hit song in the hopes of making it their own. Other international pop icons have extended their careers and improved their reputation by releasing their own renditions of previously proven hit songs.

Jamaica's adopted sweetheart Celine Dion, another highly regarded songstress borrowed It's All Coming Back to Me Now for her Falling into You album (1996), from an all-female group called Pandora's Box, originally released in 1989. Whitney Houston impressed the world with a number of hits songs, undeniably spurning many young aspirants to attempt her recreate her recordings. However, her inimitable performance of I Will Always Love You (1992) recorded as part of the soundtrack for the feature film The Bodyguard, was originally sung by sensational country star Dolly Patron in 1974.

Originally released on The Family album, a side-project of the late great Prince in 1985, Nothing Compares to U, became a global hit for Irish pop-artist Sinead O'Connor in 1990.