Change One Small Thing, Change Everything

How to cover a famous English song like Can’t Get No Satisfaction and make it your own? It’s Mick Jagger’s voice that your audience will hear, as the opening chords set their memories alight.

Do a tango version or sing it as a waltz; it doesn’t matter. Your audience have Mick in their ears. What if you snatch just one tiny word from the chorus and shake it out of Mick’s reach?

Listen to Mercury Prize shortlisted ESKA bending Mick Jagger’s no into a shape all her own, to call her audience to attention:

Choosing to change the no is a perfect signal to the audience that something different is happening. It’s an unexpected change from Mick’s famous no. Such a simple word and such a clever change. ENKA claims the word for her own.

ENKA’s performing a version of the Erickson Handshake Hypnosis Induction. Take a strong pattern that’s ingrained in your audience’s mind, change one tiny part and you open a crack in their attention.  It’s a useful technique when you’re covering a well-known song.

Here’s the pattern of Mick Jagger’s Can’t Get No Satisfaction. Again, listen to the no:

Mick’s attention is firmly on the satisfaction. 

Of course, once you’ve opened that ‘crack’ in your audience’s expectation of the chorus, you need to fill it, as ESKA does, with something beautiful and interesting. If you change the no into an ugly, strangled sound then you’ve wounded the song and your audience won’t forgive you.

An audience will accept the new if it’s intriguing. They might not like it as much as the original, but they won’t hate you for personalising the song. They might even prefer your version.

Think of Muse crashing into the good of Feeling Good rather than waiting, as Nina Simone does, to finish the word before the swoosh of the brass section. It’s a question of milliseconds, but when a song is well-known, milliseconds disrupt the familiar and the audience takes notice. Muse only do it the first time around, but it signals ‘listen, we’re doing something different, but not so different that you won’t recognise this beloved song.’

When you’re singing a cover of a very well-known English song, bending a tiny word in the chorus can be more effective than bending the whole song. Bending everything equally means that you’re singing a bent version of the original pattern. For good or ill.

Selecting one word to sing differently shows that you care about the meaning of the song and about the song itself. A wise choice and a wise difference make your audience listen to the song with attention for the first time in a long time. Use their attention wisely.

© Sing Better English, 2015

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