This song was originally a hit for Jimmy Ruffin
, also of The Temptations
, in 1966. It was written by Motown
staff songwriters William Weatherspoon, Paul Riser, and James Dean
(apparently neither the dead actor nor the maker of sausages). Backing Ruffin were the legendary Funk
Since 1966, numerous cover versions have cropped up, among them British "soul" singer Paul Young's hideously lifeless re-recording for the film Fried Green Tomatoes in 1992. The tomatoes may have been fried, but the song was boiled and then left in the fridge for a few weeks.
Then along comes Joan Osborne, performing this song on the long-overdue tribute to The Funk Brothers, backed by as many of the original Funk Brothers as were still alive.
Apparently this record is called Standing in the Shadows of Motown. It features the Funk Brothers, backing band on all of those Motown hits, with guest vocalists including Joan, Ben Harper, Bootsy Collins, Me'Shell Ndegeocello, and a duet between the odd couple of Montell Jordan and Chaka Khan, who looks like she could be Montell's grandmother. (Thanks to Two Sheds for the album title ... does anyone know how to spell "Ndegeocello"?)
Now, Joan Osborne is an artist best known for singing the best song Hootie and the Blowfish* ever wrote -- not saying much, is it? -- "What If God Were One of Us", which was pretty unavoidable on the radio back in 1995. But with this performance -- an extended version of "What Becomes of the Broken Hearted", which lasts about five or six minutes that you absolutely don't notice going by because Joan's vocals are (and I am not throwing these words around lightly) transcedental? Showstopping?
The first thing I noticed, after the extremely recognizable intro, is that Joan Osborne is one gritty, soulful, sexy singer. A more restrained Janis Joplin -- there are certain parallels, no? Odd-looking white girls from the South who were at their best on other people's songs? The next thing I notice is that Joan emotes like nobody's business. Then, around the third verse, she kicks it into a deeper gear -- the song changes from defiantly heartbroken to just-plain-fucked, and I notice that she's pushing and pulling the Funk Brothers with her, unlike the rest of the singers on this tribute (Ben Harper was a disappointing example) who were content to lay back on the grooves and let the band do all the work. By the end (she somehow gets these guys to do a classic-rock Lynyrd Skynyrd Free Bird-type ending, with her vocals taking the place of lead guitar), Joan has made my eyes suspiciously wet, and I forget that I don't particularly like this song (blame the loathsome Paul Young), or have never been all that impressed with Joan Osborne -- Until now ... Until now.
I play it again and it does about the same thing to me. Suddenly I want to be her boyfriend, or produce her next record. A six-pack of Kingfisher doesn't make me any more rational. I just saw rock and roll's future, and its name should be Joan Osborne and the Funk Brothers, singing this song back to the top of the charts for the umpteenth time. You know, I also suspect Joan wasn't trying all that hard. It just seemed so effortless. If I could sing like that, I'd be very conceited. At least she has the "disappointing" record sales to keep her honest. But it shouldn't have to be that way.
*TheDeadGuy tells me: "Actually, "One of Us" was written by Eric Bazilian from The Hooters .. not Hootie and the Blowfish ... but I guess the same sentiment applies..."
As of 1:15am, three fans of Paul Young have downvoted this node. I didn't know he had that many.