Hey, everybody. My name is Dan Ubick, but I go by Connie Price when I spin records or get behind the drum kit. Call me Dan or call me Connie (short for Constantine, my middle name). I’m a music producer, musician, and record collector from California.
I’m on a mission to share the songs that catch my ear every month on the Soul Picnic Playlist. Think of them as flavorful dishes from the kitchen’s of my favorite musical chefs. I love all kinds of music regardless of genre or era but, full disclosure, I do have an ongoing love affair with the late ‘60s and early ‘70s.
I’m lucky to be surrounded by tons of talented people who are as obsessed with music as I am. They constantly turn me on to songs that make me think, How have I never heard this before?! I created Soul Picnic so I could pass my own discoveries on to you. I hope you find a new favorite here, and it makes you smile, feel understood, or keeps you positive.
This month, I’ve put together a collection of original tunes that were later covered and catapulted into massive success. So pop on some headphones, wire yourself into a good set of speakers, and go hunt down the original copies on vinyl from your local record store for the full effect. These tracks all deserve it. Bon appétit!
Gloria Jones—“Tainted Love”
All of us who grew up in the ‘80s know “Tainted Love” from Soft Cell’s ubiquitous synthpop version, but singer Marc Almond first heard the original at a Northern soul club while working as the cloakroom attendant. When DJ Ian “Frank” Dewhirst played Gloria Jones’ Motown-inspired original, Almond came up to him, asking if he could tape the song. Soon after, Soft Cell began performing it in their sets. Still a “sure shot” on the dance floor every time. Fun fact: Ms. Jones went on to marry T. Rex frontman Marc Bolan in the mid-’70s.
The Strangeloves—“I Want Candy”
Bert Berns was involved with some of the catchiest pop songs ever, and this ‘60s hit, revamped in the ‘80s by Bow Wow Wow, is no exception. Based on the classic Bo Diddley rhythm, writers Bob Feldman, Jerry Goldstein and Richard Gottehrer cut this burner as The Strangeloves on Berns’ Bang! Records in 1965 with the help of a few session cats, including Eric Gale (guitar), John Shine (bass), Herb Lovelle (drums) and Richie Lauro (saxophone).
The Paragons—“The Tide is High”
Few could resist Blondie when they flooded the airwaves in the late ‘70s/early ‘80s with their new wave sound. Along with Talking Heads, The Ramones, Television, and a few others, the wave turned into a tsunami. But it was the original song from 1967 by Jamaica’s John Holt and his group The Paragons that Debbie Harry & Co. couldn’t resist covering.
Richard Berry— “Louie, Louie”
The Kingsmen’s hit version of this song was apparently inspired by Rockin’ Robin Roberts’ version, but to these ears nothing beats the original by Richard Berry on Flip Records. I love the Kingsmen’s raw garage energy and always sing along when it comes on, but Berry and The Pharaohs catch the groove that makes me wanna move.
Big Mama Thornton—“Hound Dog”
“You told me you was high class, but I could see through that. And daddy I know, you ain’t no real cool cat,” sang Big Mama Thornton on her 1953 hit by Leiber & Stoller on Peacock Records. A young rockabilly singer named Elvis Presley took note. Presley recorded his version in 1956 and it hit number one on the U.S. pop, country, and R&B charts, selling 10 million copies globally and ushering in the genre we call rock ’n’ roll.
Memphis Minnie & Kansas Joe McCoy—“When the Levee Breaks”
This country blues gem on Columbia Records written about the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 ended up being the lyrical impetus for British rock giants Led Zeppelin’s swaggering version of the same name. In 1971, Zeppelin were recording their fourth album onto magnetic tape inside the Rolling Stones’ mobile recording unit, which was parked outside a lavish country estate called Headley Grange. The estate’s spacious lobby had incredible acoustics, which turned out to be ideal for tracking drums. John Bonham’s drum pattern, Page and Jones’ droning blues riffs, and singer Robert Plant’s emotive harmonica licks transformed the tune into a swampy, grooving classic, but it wouldn’t have happened without Kansas Joe and Memphis Minnie.
Howlin’ Wolf—“Killing Floor”
Much has been written about Led Zeppelin’s penchant for taking bits and pieces from older songs, and this 1964 energy-filled Chess Records single, recorded by blues sensation Howlin’ Wolf, is no doubt a case in point. Zeppelin’s “The Lemon Song” was definitely more of a collage than a direct bite, though, and Chester Burnett, Wolf’s legal name, was credited as a writer. Guitarist Jimmy Page put Hubert Sumlin’s signature guitar riff at the forefront, but Robert Plant’s lyrics borrowed from Albert King’s “Cross Cut Saw” and Robert Johnson’s “Traveling Riverside Blues” (whose lyrics borrowed from Arthur McKay’s “She Squeezed My Lemon”). Proof that all musicians build on what came before.
Erma Franklin—“Piece of My Heart”
Texas belter Janis Joplin had a huge hit in 1968 with this classic penned by Shout! Records’ founder Bert Berns (another in a long line of hits!) and Jerry Ragovay, but it was Aretha Franklin’s older sister Erma’s version that inspired Janis’ cover. The New Bethel Baptist Church in Detroit must have put something in the drinking water, ‘cause those Franklin sisters both sing like birds.
The Isley Brothers—“Twist and Shout”
Many folks think the Beatles wrote this song, but it is, yet again, another chart topper written by Bert Berns (and Phil Medley) and recorded initially by the Phil Spector-produced Top Notes. However, Spector’s version flopped, and it wasn’t until Berns decided to produce The Isley Brothers version that it dominated the dance floors in 1962, inspiring John, Paul, George and Ringo.
Phil Phillips & The Twilights—“Sea Of Love”
Singer Robert Plant took this 1959 single by Louisiana native Phillip Baptiste, aka Phil Phillips, to the top of the charts again in 1985 with his Honeydrippers, but nothing beats the raw intimacy and doo-wop harmonies of the original. Years later the sultry Chan Marshall, aka Cat Power, gave it a reworking on The Covers Record.
Tommy Raye—“You Don’t Love Me”
While writer Willie Cobbs’ version is the actual original and Bo Diddley’s version is the one that inspired Dawn Penn’s massive rocksteady hit “No, No, No,” it’s this hot R&B rocker my good friend Adam Hayden turned me on to that gets my juices flowing.
Linda Lyndell—“What A Man”
En Vogue toppled the charts and overtook MTV with their remake and sampling of this Stax/Volt single by the blue-eyed soul shouter Linda Lyndell. After entering the R&B charts in 1968, Lyndell suffered threats from the KKK for associating with black musicians and withdrew from music for a good, long spell, but this homage to the men we love lives on forever.
Erma Franklin’s little sister Aretha turned this song into an anthem of confidence for the feminist movement the world over and nothing can top that, nor should it. But man, Otis Redding’s original from two years earlier is a bucking bronco of a soul stomper. Booker T. And The M.G.’s are in fine form as usual with a blistering horn arrangement by The Memphis Horns. R.I.P. Otis, one of the greatest to ever do it.
Jorge Ben—“Taj Mahal”
While not exactly a straight cover version, there is no question that we would not have Rod Stewart’s enormous 1978 disco hit, “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy?” without this burner from Brazil’s crown prince Jorge Ben and his Africa Brasil LP, which Stewart reportedly heard at Carnival in Rio. Ben sued Stewart for plagiarism with an amicable agreement ending in royalties going to UNICEF. Side note: The cuica player on “Taj Mahal” should be awarded some sort of medal of honor—dude is playing that thing like his life depends on it. Hats off!
Bonus Cut: Bessie Smith—“Nobody Knows You When You’re Down And Out”
Eric Clapton’s popular Unplugged performance is an intimate thing of beauty. In addition to many songs from his own catalogue, “Slow Hand” also covered this classic by Chattanooga, Tennessee’s Bessie Smith. Penned by Jimmie Cox, the song details the life of someone who was wealthy and popular during the Prohibition era now dealing with empty pockets and fewer friends than they once thought. Clapton’s Derek and The Dominoes also previously recorded the song on their Layla and Assorted Love Songs LP in 1970.
Listen to the playlist on Apple Music:
The Last Word: If you love these songs, please buy physical copies if you’re able. Spotify, YouTube, and other streaming services are great tools, but streaming doesn’t pay artists a living wage. We want these amazing folks to keep making the music we cherish.
Love music as much as we do? Then check out Dan Ubick’s production company, DanUbe Productions, and drop him a line if you’re so inclined.