Friday, June 3, 2016

Original Versus Cover - Higher Ground

One of the most difficult parts of writing this column is deciding if a cover song is better than the original recording that spawned it. Anyone who has read previous installments of this series knows that I have no problem calling it a draw if it comes down to a matter of style preference. I think with the song Higher Ground, it is going to be another one of those ties, but not for the reasons you may think.

Let's get right into this by listening to Stevie Wonder's original version:

There is so much to like about this song that it almost seems a shame that any band covered it. If you listen closely, you can hear the primary reason why I love this version - the bass guitar. The tone of the bass and the way it is played is about as funky as you can get and it sounds awesome. I also love how Stevie's keys sound in this song, and the way that all of the instruments melt together to create a sound unlike anything I have ever had before, or since.

The most popular cover of Higher Ground is by the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and it is the song that broke the Peppers into the mainstream. Obviously, the Peppers have a high level of energy that they apply to anything they do, but a song is not measured on energy alone. Here is how the Red Hot Chili Peppers interpreted Stevie Wonder's classic song (I opted for the album cut so we do not get distracted by the antics on the video):

We can start with the obvious by pointing out that Anthony Keidis' voice is not nearly as smooth and refined as Stevie Wonder's, which is probably why Keidis is buried back in the mix. Once again, the bass is what stands out in this song for me as Flea shows why he is considered one of the best in the business. I think the guitar stands out too much in the mix and Chad Smith's drums are to flat and too far back in the recording. But having the chance to listen to Flea play his funky style of bass makes it all worth it.

So what's the verdict? I appreciate that the Peppers "made the song their own" and created an energetic tune that I always stop to listen to whenever it pops up on my Facebook feed or on the radio (whenever I listen to the radio). But I think that Stevie Wonder's original is as relevant and entertaining as the energetic cover. We have a tie here, and I think that is fair to everyone.

Verdict: Both versions are awesome

George N Root III is a music fan who has played his fair share of covers in his band days. Follow him on Twitter @georgenroot3, or send him a message at