Take a listen — it might surprise you 🙂
And it seems a lot of my favorite oldies have ‘white’ in the title.
There’s “White Room”, “Whiter Shade Of Pale”, “Nights In White Satin”, and of course “White Hot”, “White Rabbit”, and “White Bird”. From a different era, I love, love, love Dido’s “White Flag”. I had the thought that I could record a CD of songs, all that had ‘white’ in the titles. I quickly thought of two names for the CD, either “The White Album”, or “White Power”!
Ok, maybe that’s not such a good idea. Scratch that one.
As I was learning the arrangement to “White Bird”, I began to notice that “White Rabbit” and “White Bird” had similar tempos, and chords for one would work under the melody of the other, with minor (musical joke) changes.
So, I started to toy with the idea of doing a mashup of the two. There were definitely some challenges.
In my mind, there’s a couple of different ways to do a cover. You can either stay pretty close to the original version (like I did with “White Hot”, and “Brandy“), or you can go a different direction (like I did with “Take On Me” and “Ready To Go“).
The danger of staying close to the original version is that you’re never going to be a better Looking Glass, than Looking Glass themselves. The danger of doing something different and unique is that people are familiar, and comfortable with the old way. If you’re going to change it, it better be something special.
Now, some songs lend themselves to changing things up. UB40’s version of Neil Diamond’s “Red, Red Wine” is an example. Neil Diamond’s version is a presentation that’s more about the song, and less about the arrangement and orchestration. So, UB40 could radically change the arrangement and feel, and not screw up the song.
Janis Joplin’s version of Kris Kristopherson’s “Me And Bobbie McGee”, Jimmy Hendrix’s version of Bob Dylan’s “All Along The Watchtower”, and Joe Cocker’s version of the Beatles’ “With a Little Help From My Friends” are brilliant examples of taking a song and doing something radically different with it.
But for some songs, the arrangement is a big part of the song. Imagine the Ghostbuster’s theme without the horn riff in the front. Or, “I want A New Drug” without, basically, the same horns (lawsuits flew). Imagine Barracuda without the opening guitar riff!
Imagine “Bohemian Rhapsody” without Freddy, “Stairway To Heaven” without Robert Plant, “Hello Dolly” without Louis Armstrong’s unmistakable growl. They’re Iconic.
And that’s the word I’m looking for — iconic.
The more iconic a song or performance is, the tougher it is to cover that song. And “White Rabbit” has both an iconic intro and one of the most riveting vocals ever in a rock song. And “White Bird”, although perhaps not as famous a song, is unusual in its complex arrangement, beautiful harmonies, and distinctive instrumentation.
Plus, that sucker is over 6 minutes long! Jefferson Airplane’s White Rabbit clocks in at about 2:30, so together, they’re almost 9 minutes long! So, slicing and dicing had to be done. In the old days, we would have done it with a razor blade (we did a lot with razor blades, back then).
Anyway, it seemed like a massive challenge to me. Especially since I love both the songs, and didn’t want to screw them up!
So, I spent 3 or 4 weeks working out the arrangement. I ended up mostly going with the instrumentation from “White Rabbit”, under the melody of both “White Rabbit” and “White Bird”. Sometimes both vocal melodies are going. For the “White Bird” instrumental sections, the feel was changed and most of one long instrumental section left out. The other instrumental section stayed in (yes, it had two, long instrumentals). I stayed pretty close to the solos from both songs.
I’ll just say the harmonies in “White Bird” were challenging. In the original, David LaFlame and Patti Santos wove beautiful harmonies throughout. It’s the choice of notes, and the way these two beautiful voices blend that makes it so special. I had to stay close enough to those choices to keep it real.
How do you know when you’ve got it right? You don’t. But there’s a point when, after you’ve tweaked a thousand things, you start to get excited. You realize you’re really enjoying listening to the song, and there’s nothing major (another music joke) that bothers you about it.
I call it “White Brabbitird”. I made the cheesy graphic myself 🙂
Keith Livingston is a songwriter, musician, producer, and engineer, with roots in pop, rock, punk, classical and classics. Keith has more than a dozen CDs under his belt as a producer and/or engineer. Keith writes music about everything from science fiction and horror, to religious oppression, and of course love.