Flashback: I’m reading the cracked and fading labels on a stack of 45s I nabbed from my grandma when I was younger. I remember thinking, with a name like that, The Righteous Brothers must be some pretty fucking tight funk band. Boy, was I wrong.
Rock Hall of Fame or not, they pretty much just did a white-bread version of blue-eyed soul. No edge. That picture…it’s like that scene from Almost Famous in reverse: “Look at their eyes–they’re NOT on pot.”
But the records were pretty warped, making it fun and creepy to listen to their voices’ sad warble over the already schmaltzy ballads, so, years before I could appreciate the impressive vocal work and Phil Spector production on the corny “Unchained Melody” and “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’,” I listened to them for laughs.
Years later I’m in Boston, trying to learn more about the city’s rock ‘n’ roll history, picking the local bin at Looney Tunes, which I’m still pissed had to move. On suggestion from the staff (they were damn good at that), I grabbed a record by Willie Alexander and the Boom Boom Band. The first track is a cover of The Righteous Brothers’ ‘You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’,” but with all the fucking schmaltz trimmed away. It kills.
Since he’s aware the song is pretty corny, Willie’s able to be playful with it–the way he stutters that “I can’t…I can’t go on” part that wasn’t in the original, the way he turns that lame breakdown into something desperate and dirty, all over snarling guitars. If you cover someone else’s shit, you have a responsibility to turn that shit inside out, or else it’s a dick move, a kind of foul musical plagiarism that sucks ass no matter how you look at it, because you’re either stealing someone else’s work outright, or your ‘tribute’ stinks too much of you trying to insert yourself into the glory of something someone better did. But Willie covers this song by covering it in himself, covering it in sleaze and attitude. Makes it his own. There’s little trace of the boring thing it came from. Shit, this might be my favorite cover of all time.
(Speaking of people making boring Righteous Brothers songs awesome, Al Green’s slow-burning soul version of “Unchained Melody” is probably the best cover of THAT one).
A little on Willie ‘Loco’ Alexander: Fronted Boston garage band The Lost in the mid-60s, played in a few other bands after, and through those somehow got a spot filling in for Sterling Morrison in the final, doomed lineup of The Velvet Underground, formed to fill booking obligations after Lou Reed struck out on his own. Man, VU’s ‘Loaded’ was a killer album, with Reed jams like “Sweet Jane” and “New Age”; Imagine touring on it when you had no part in making it. That has to be weird. Nice Guy Willie even told Doug Yule he should change the name of the band now that Reed wasn’t around anymore, but Yule didn’t listen. He came back to Boston and had a bunch of rad bands and solo projects, too many to list, but probably the most important thing he gave Boston is “Mass. Ave,” which sounds like what would happen if you got Marc Bolan shit-hammered at TT The Bear’s. Enjoy: