Songs You May Have Missed #472

steel train

Steel Train: “Helplessly Hoping” (2003)

Sometimes it takes a cover version of a song to remind you how great the song was in the first place, when that spark of revelation the original holds has been dimmed somewhat by years of listens.

I was reminded of this when I bought Steel Train’s 1969 EP, which contains five of the band’s favorite songs from that particular year. It would be difficult to select a more diverse five songs: They do the Jackson Five’s “I Want You Back”, Bob Marley’s “Natural Mystic”, David Bowie’s “Space Oddity”, the Beatles’ “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)”, CCR’s “Bad Moon Rising”…and Crosby, Stills & Nash’s Helplessly Hoping.

It may be sacrilegious to suggest that Steel Train’s performance rivals the CSN original, but if it does so it’s because their take does what a great cover song ought to do: find the essence, the core of the song and bring it to the fore. It’s like restoring a painting–one doesn’t create a new image, but shows us that same masterpiece with fresh, vivid colors. Today’s recording technology, in theory, allows a talented band to produce music with an impact or immediacy the original artist may have achieved but for his cruder tools. While the work of the Masters is genius, the finest examples of their students’ homages seem to say, “Look what the master could have done, if he’d had a proper studio and palette!”.

Okay, maybe that metaphor lends itself better to Hendrix’s “All Along the Watchtower” vs Dylan’s humble acoustic original (Dylan admitted he wished he’d recorded it like Jimi’s version in the first place). And there’s no doubt CSN’s voices have a distinctiveness that Steel Train’s vocalists lack. But the cover has a crispness and a richness–and perhaps a bit more of a country rock feel (think: Poco’s “Crazy Love”) which makes it a nice listen. And even if it only serves to recreate that epiphany moment when the song came fresh to your ears, that’s a pretty good reason for any good cover song to exist.

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Dave
    Aug 30, 2013 @ 19:32:56

    Really beautiful version. DG


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