Who Did it Best?

Today I am introducing what will become a regular feature on the blog: Who Did it Best? On Tuesdays I will post two, possibly three, versions of something–could be a song, a fictional character from movie or TV show, a book that has been turned into a movie, or maybe even a type of food that has been notably recreated. Your job is to chime in and let me know which version you prefer.

Thought I’d kick things off with one of my favorite songs: Higher Ground

Here’s what Wikipedia says about the original version:

“Higher Ground” is a funk song written by Stevie Wonder and first appearing on his 1973 album Innervisions. The song reached #4 on the U.S. Pop Singles chart and #1 on the U.S. Hot Soul Singles chart.[1] Stevie wrote and recorded the song in a three-hour burst of creativity in May, 1973. [2] The album version of this song contains an extra verse and runs 30 seconds longer than the single version. The unique wah-clavinet sound in the song was achieved with a Mutron envelope filter pedal. The bass is a Moog synthesizer. Via overdubs, Wonder played all instruments on the track, including drums.

Here’s Stevie singing it:

And the challenger:

The Red Hot Chili Peppers from their 1989 album Mother’s Milk:

Other artists who recorded Higher Ground include:

Ellen McIlwaine for her 1975 album The Real Ellen McIlwaine.
The Blind Boys Of Alabama for their 2002 album Higher Ground.
Robert Randolph & The Clark Sisters, on the compilation album Oh Happy Day. Source

So, who do you think did it best?

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12 responses

  1. I’m sorry, but there is no question! Anthony Kiedis of the Red Hot Chili Peppers looks best when singing the song.

    Oh, was that not the question?

  2. The Chili Peppers did an admirable job, but nobody out Stevies Stevie!

    I have read so many amazing things about Stevie in the studio. What an incredible talent.

    Living for the City was another mind-blower on th is LP.

    Put me down for Mr. Wonder!

  3. Difficult choice. What I appreciate is that fact that the Peppers didn’t just do a poker-faced, straight cover, they gave it their own, rock flavor.* What Stevie made so memorable with a keyboard driven bassline (funky!), Flea pounded into submission with his usual virtuosity.

    I have, and love, both. (and I doublechecked itunes, and found that I had them both rated 5 stars, and had played them the exact same number of times. Spooky).

    So, in baseball a tie goes to the runner. Here, a tie goes to the originator. So Stevie gets my vote.

    *some covers give the songs an entirely different vibe and mood, which is cool too. (like Tears For Fears original “Mad World” later done by Gary Jules, and popularized to the mainstream by Adam Lambert, as an almost elegiac dirge). Here, these too version have the same drive and personality, with the cover just sounding a little more stripped down and raw.

  4. that is SO tough! stevie is just pure and funky and great, but the chili peppers definitely honored it with a GREAT version. i’m 50/50. i haven’t heard the others but i LOVE robert randolph and i’m sure he respected the integrity of the song and made it his own, so i’m going to try to track it down.

    • It is a tough choice, because the cover was so well done. Think I said this before, but Higher Ground really was the perfect song for the Chili Peppers to cover–wish they’d revisit their funk-centric (think I just made that word up) roots. Their first three albums were so darn good! Thanks for the comment Hilary!

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