When is a cover song better than the original? Only you can decide. This week Grizzly Bear takes on the Crystals’ “He Hit Me (It Felt Like A Kiss).” MAGNET’s Ryan Burleson pulls the pin. Take cover!
To the less committed listener, the bubblegum pop of the ’50s and early-’60s paints a picture of a post-war America that perpetually had a smile on its face. And, to an extent, this is forgivable; with rare exception, no matter how harrowing the lyrical content of a song might’ve been, most pop music sounded perky and well-coiffed, safe enough for the whole family to tap their toes to. So in 1962, when Carole King and Garry Goffin penned “He Hit Me (It Felt Like A Kiss)” after learning of singer Little Eva’s abuse at the hands of her boyfriend, it must’ve been tough to create a sound that neither betrayed the troubling nature of the content nor the songwriting status quo. Fortunately, the husband-and-wife team was keen enough to contact “it” producer Phil Spector, who arranged the song for the Crystals in a manner that successfully navigated the dark and radio-friendly. As an aside, Spector’s involvement in this particular song now seems eerie considering his 2009 indictment for the murder of actress Lana Clarkson, but let’s stay on track, shall we? Yes, so we’re in the pre-crazed-Spector era, and Mr. Wall Of Sound himself has created yet another girl-group classic in the vein of “Be My Baby” by the Ronettes and “Can’t Help Falling In Love” by the Paris Sisters, undeniably catchy despite its striking sadness.
Though Grizzly Bear initially served as singer Edward Droste’s solo outlet—wherein his slowly churning folk songs featured little more than subtle atmospherics, a guitar and vocals—by 2006, he’d added three additional players and signed with Warp to release breakout record Yellow House. Located just three songs deep, “Knife,” in particular, introduced fans new and old to a deep appreciation for Spector’s trademark aesthetic, only updated with a haunted, less obvious pop structure and more ecelectic composition. The girl-group sound would also creep back up into the work of El Perro Del Mar, Deerhunter and, more recently, the Morning Benders, though I’d contend that Grizzly Bear has been paying homage to this era most promisingly amongst its peers. When you hear (or revisit, for many of you) its austere cover of “He Hit Me,” I trust you’ll agree.
Cast your vote wisely.