8
May 14

ALL SAINTS – “Lady Marmalade” / “Under The Bridge”

Popular52 comments • 2,587 views

#789, 9th May 1998

saintsbridge For the critic, cover versions present a seductively easy option, letting you frame the conversation and review with discussion of the original. This is a tempting choice because it’s something very obvious to talk about. But it also puts excessive scrutiny on any changes or new readings the cover artist makes, leading you away from thinking about the track as a whole.

On this single All Saints slashed apart both songs, taking liberties that might leave lovers of their originals fizzing and furious. Indeed, I have empirical evidence of that: when we played the All Saints album in the bookshop I worked in, a browsing skater dude came over when “Under The Bridge” was playing and angrily demanded we turn it off or he’d complain to the manager. The stated reason was that the original deserved more “respect”.

But I’m not sure ‘respect’ comes into it much – it’s too loaded a word, too full of implied status. Cover versions and remixes can be crass, seemingly thoughtless, with no apparent ear for the song they’re using – it’s a hazard of pop, and I just criticised Jason Nevins quite harshly for it. But whether that approach offends or thrills mostly boils down to whether you like the song as it was – I might respect “It’s Like That”, but I don’t think Nevins had any duty to do the same. He took some decisions about it, and for me they didn’t pay off.

That’s not a bad summary of this double-header, either. I think both these cover versions are bold, but not quite successful. Before thinking about them as covers, though, it’s worth rejecting the easy route for once and just considering them as songs – forget, since a lot of their buyers surely never knew, that “Lady Marmalade” and “Under The Bridge” had any other life.

From that perspective, this single is all about a flip in moods – one side playful and horny, the other drifting and vulnerable. All Saints obviously like that sort of contrast – the party-ready “I Know Where It’s At” was followed by the shattered “Never Ever”; the assertive “Bootie Call” by the paranoid “War Of Nerves”. Even the language keeps repeating: “Never ever have I ever felt so low” / “I don’t ever wanna feel like I did that day” / “I don’t ever want to feel pain”. Parties and rejections, one-night stands and loneliness, sex and insecurity – All Saints’ world isn’t a judgemental one exactly, but it’s as carefully balanced as a soap opera, every high matched with its low.

“Lady Marmalade” and “Under The Bridge” take their place in this drama. “Marmalade” is plain-spoken in a way the Spice Girls have never yet quite let themselves be: an anthem for girls out on the pull, its busy, overlapping hooks evoking the bustle of the club, its cheeky raps showing the band’s mischievous side. “Under The Bridge”, on the other hand, finds a lonely, single urbanite wandering her city, getting her emotional bearings back after some unspecified, awful event. Nellee Hooper produces – his lonesome, muted keyboards on the verses making for one of the most discreetly atmospheric number ones of a largely maximalist era, until the song swells with determination on the chorus: the singer may not know where she’s going exactly, but it’s certainly not backwards.

Both titles are mysterious, too: “Under The Bridge” is probably a reference to ‘water under the bridge’, the will to move on from a bad situation. “Lady Marmalade” might hint at breakfast in bed – titling as winkingly saucy as the “kitty-kat”s and “bedroom fight”s of the raps…

…But here my conceit has to break down: the titles are only mysteries because the group chopped out their context in refitting the songs. “Under The Bridge” loses its final verse, about taking drugs. “Lady Marmalade”, about a New Orleans call girl, gets completely taken apart, with a full rewrite on the lyrics leaving only stray bits of chorus intact. But viewing them as All Saints songs, not covers, makes it obvious why the edits were made. Songs about sexually confident women on a night out, and loneliness and resolve in the city, don’t need sex work and heroin to beef them up – would, in the All Saints context, have been actively harmed by that, made too specific. Anthony Kiedis’ comments about the All Saints version of “Under The Bridge” – essentially that the band were clean-cut girls who couldn’t possibly have understood the song – seem even more churlish now: rather than being silly pop stars who couldn’t understand the story, All Saints most likely understood the story all too well and opted to use the song to tell a different one.

Unfortunately, imaginative and thoughtful cover versions don’t always net out at ‘good’. Kiedis’ sneers may have been misplaced, but the “under the bridge downtown…” section All Saints cut out really is the peak of the Chili Peppers’ song (and possibly career), the sudden intrusion of falsetto backing vocals a chilling moment. Without a climax, All Saints’ version is rudderless, the group struggling to make anything out of weak, wandering verses and falling back relieved onto the chorus. “Lady Marmalade”’s faults are easier to spot – cutting up the chorus means leaning on the “voulez-vous couchez avec moi?” hook to an exhausting degree, so by the end even the band sounds sick of it. Meanwhile the singers just don’t have the brassiness to compete with Labelle, and the solution – Shaznay’s rapping – is more awkward than seductive.

But while these aren’t great covers, the ideas behind them are sound. And the single helped cement the group’s identity – at least some of the point is to signal to record buyers (and the newly judgemental Radio 1) that All Saints were the kind of band who did Labelle and Chili Peppers covers. Tasteful, in other words; eclectic, older-aimed than the rest of post-Spice pop. More credible, for sure – it’s just on this showing, that means more frustrating and drab too.

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Comments

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  1. 26
    thefatgit on 9 May 2014 #

    All Saints’ picking apart UtB was quite welcome to these ears. I had a soft spot for the original UtB, but not RHCP themselves. Their eat-all-you-can funk buffet became very boring very quickly and they came across as dicks in interviews. UtB seemed to be the only heartfelt song Keidis ever managed to record and I had a smidgin of respect for that. What All Saints did was strip away anything that could be attributed to Keidis’ own story and supplant it with theirs. It’s a heart transplant. Nellee Hooper provides all the requisite ’90s noises and the four girls keep it on the low, and ensure all the rough edges are smoothed, chamfered and polished. It bears little or no resemblance to the drug ballad that RHCP recorded. In retrospect, that’s a good thing. If Keidis was miffed about it, so much the better, but I bet he kept the royalty cheques. (7)

    LM is a different propsition. The original thrives on excess: larger than life vocals, horns, lots and lots of percussion. Opulence everywhere. Fantastic stuff.
    Strip back all that and AS are terribly exposed. It’s not all bad, but it’s barely memorable, with few flourishes to make it stand out. Work in a “will this do?” rap and tack it all together with a dose of AS attitude, and that’s all there is. We’ve not seen the last of LM, but I’d say the Labelle original is still the definitive version IMO. (4)

    (6 overall)

  2. 27
    mapman132 on 9 May 2014 #

    Well, this was a general disappointment. Not sure what I was expecting though….

    “Under The Bridge” was a surprise US#2 back in 1992 when RHCP were relatively unknown outside their modern rock base, at least compared to the superstars they would become. One interesting thing that got little noticed at the time was the fact it was a hit immediately following the LA riots that spring. Of course, the song was as much about Kiedis’s personal demons as the city itself, but still…interesting.

    Anyway, I never heard the All Saints version until now, and I must say I was underwhelmed. I agree with previous posters that there’s nothing wrong with re-interpreting a classic song in one’s own way, but if you’re going to do that, you better be prepared to do something interesting with it (ex: Pet Shop Boys). Otherwise, then what’s the point? This seems to be…let’s rerecord the song to be about I dunno, London I guess, ignore the drug references, and well that’s about it…. Doesn’t do it for me.

    I was relatively unfamiliar with “Lady Marmalade” in 1998, although the original was a US#1 in 1975. Seems like a relatively straight cover. I missed the lyrics change here – guess I was distracted by the ongoing earthquake in the video. I still prefer the bunnied version to come.

    Overall, 3/10 for UTB, 5/10 for LM, 4/10 overall.

  3. 28
    Will on 9 May 2014 #

    I remember feeling very let down by this single. Never Ever was sublime, but these two half-arsed utterly pointless covers…(rolls eyes) tsk!

  4. 29
    BT on 9 May 2014 #

    WRT the “mysterious” title of Lady Marmalade: there’s a character referred to as “Madame Marmalade” in one of the anecdotes in Truman Capote’s “Answered Prayers” – perhaps there’s a New Orleans connection.

  5. 30
    anto on 9 May 2014 #

    The problem with this one for me is that it’s two covers of songs I’ve never much cared for. ‘Lady Marmalade’ has suffered from overplaying to the point that my heart sinks whenever I hear ‘Hey sister,go sister etc’ and with respect to Patti LaBelle, is ‘marmalade’ really that difficult a word to pronounce correctly? – I mean if Paddington Bear can manage it…..
    ‘Under The Bridge’ is a dirge and I’ve long since lost patience with that druggier-than-thou dullard Anthony Kiedis. Neither of the covers won me over, in fact the whole thing suggested a paucity of new material.
    Something I might as well confess about All Saints – Excepting Shaznay – for the obvious reason – I can never tell the other three apart from one another. It doesn’t help that two of them are sisters and they all have similar first names with all those N’s, L’s, I’s and E’s.

  6. 31
    AMZ1981 on 9 May 2014 #

    I’m sorry but I’m with the skater dude in Tom’s original piece. I considered All Saints’ version to be a point missing insult to the original. That said RHCP are an acquired taste and if you didn’t care for the original in the first place it’s less of a problem. But I hated this then, I’m still angry about it now and anything I say needs to be seen in that context.

    In context the RHCP were slumping at the time following the disappointing One Hot Minute album; their commercial peak was to come although we’ll never get to discuss them. I was one of those who was impressed by Californication and overawed by the glorious sunkissed pop landscape of By The Way which soundtracked summer 2002. It’s worth noting that not even all of the band were happy with that record (Flea considered leaving) and they couldn’t sustain their commerical and critical peak. I played BTW to death in 2002 but can’t even remember the title of their most recent album, let alone any of the songs.

    Going back to All Saints, this release fell at a point where Never Ever had mopped up the Brit Awards and the first signs of tension within the Spice camp were showing – their stock could not have been higher. With the hindsight this double A of covers shows that Never Ever was a fluke; they had nothing anywhere near as good to follow with. It will be interesting to see how the follow up (bunnied but forgotten) scores – we can assume this was the best original song they had.

    This is one of the few records I’d happily give a minus score to. What’s even more depressing is that it is not, for me, the worst number one of 1998.

  7. 32
    iconoclast on 9 May 2014 #

    RHCP, perhaps, filled the same niche which Zep and Rush did for earlier generations: Proper Musicians making Proper Music, and not wannabes (sorry) making wimpy commercial pop songs strictly for the money. If you couldn’t prove that you listened devotedly to their entire output every week, you could safely expect your credibility to be called into serious question. Hence the skater dude’s reaction to the cover of UtB, reminiscent of some Zep fans’ Outrage! at the “Stairways to Heaven” project.

    I’m not familiar with either of the originals, so I have only these versions to go on. Neither tries very hard to hold the listener’s interest: UtB has some atmosphere but doesn’t do much with it, and LM – every inch a B-side – is too one-note and lacking in meaningful variation to convince at all. After registering the best Number One for, ooh, at least five and a half years, this is a real pair of disappointments. FOUR.

  8. 33
    Izzy on 9 May 2014 #

    I wouldn’t put rhcp in that Rush/Zep space at all. In fact as I remember it they were more in a kind of boyband-but-not-actually-a-boyband place.

    By which I mean no connoisseur took them remotely seriously, yet they inspired devotion among their own faithful and made a lot of decent records along the way.

    In that light their success is something of a poptimist triumph. But because they obviously are a rock act, their rightful acclaim has been slow in coming.

    It’s an awkward space to fall into – Linkin Park, Fall Out Boy, My Chemical Romance have all probably suffered the same thing since. Who before them? Queen? U2 even? They all deserve better.

    Actually, didn’t Zep kind of kick the whole thing off, come to think of it? Aiui they were initially derided in the UK for being kids playing no-nonsense to kid audiences, when their prog contemporaries were donning capes and making music for heads. I guess time (and great records) rewrites the record book in the end.

  9. 34
    Tom on 9 May 2014 #

    Except connoisseurs – or at least the rock press – very much did take them seriously: that’s what a lot of the thread’s been about. They got into the rock n roll hall of fame at first attempt too. I agree that the hipster press – Pitchfork etc – detested them, but that was tiny during the period of their populist success.

    Their arc is interesting, I agree – unappreciated as a cult band, praised as hit makers: U2 are close, Queen less so, and the newer bands you cite simply never got the critical recognition (or the mainstream crossover, you might say).

  10. 35
    flahr on 10 May 2014 #

    “Best thing Flea has been involved in is still probably Back To The Future 2.”

    “BUST-A-MOVE” FOREVERRRRRRRRRRRRRR

  11. 36
    Auntie Beryl yet unlogged on 10 May 2014 #

    RHCP’ s recent arc is fascinating – from 6x Platinum for By The Way to 2x Platinum for Stadium Arcadium to a mere Gold for the Pointless answer I’m With You. Now Frusciante has left they are clearly a busted flush and will not trouble us here.

    All Saints were last seen supporting Backstreet Boys and having their own headline/90s revival tour cancelled. It’s tough out there.

  12. 37
    swanstep on 10 May 2014 #

    I think Izzy@33 has it basically right. I remember the reception of Blood Sugar Sex Magic (released the same week as Nevermind) and the Chilis’ initial tour of that album vividly: critics just mocked them. Then the Chilis blew up commercially, esp. with UTB, but also just as part of the broader Alternative Nation wave that caught everyone by surprise in 1992 and 1993, and the critics noticeably changed their tunes. Poking around I’ve been able to find a representative NY Times review of the Chilis live from November 1991 (so this is shortly after UTB’s come out as a single but still 5 months before the vid for it was released, chart action began in ernest, and UTB ends up becoming one of the hits of Summer 1992, possible song of the year). Feel the scorn:

    Review/Pop; A Hyperactive Evening With the Chili Peppers
    By JON PARELES
    Published: November 14, 1991

    When the Red Hot Chili Peppers didn’t get the screaming ovation they expected on Monday night at Roseland, the group’s bassist, Flea, called the audience “hoity-toity” before the band started its grudging encore. But the problem wasn’t the crowd, which gleefully slam-danced at every hint of a beat; it was the band, which played a fitful, poorly paced set.

    Back in 1983, when the band emerged from Los Angeles, the Red Hot Chili Peppers were one of the first bands to put funk, hard rock and rap side by side. They became a major draw on the collegiate circuit as a post-punk version of a frat-party band; they play dance music, talk dirty and have gained a wild-man reputation by sometimes taking off their clothes. At Roseland they were bare-chested, but their pants or bicycle shorts stayed on.

    Over pounding riffs, Anthony Kiedis chants or sings about individualism — “I do what I want to do,” he insisted in “Funky Crime” — and about rampant horniness. Now and then, perhaps because the Chili Peppers are white musicians borrowing a predominantly black style, a song denounces bigotry and praises equality. By hip-hop standards, the raps are slow and rhythmically monotonous. But they gain muscle because they are backed by a live band, and the Chili Peppers can shift easily from one-chord funk vamps to two-chord heavy-metal stomps.

    Monday night’s show, the first of four at Roseland, seemed intent on dissipating any momentum it built up. Bouts of hyperactivity — Flea doing flips, Mr. Kiedis jumping and strutting — started and stopped as abruptly as if they had been choreographed. A jolting song would be followed by a slow one, or the band would play parts of songs by the Velvet Underground, Parliament-Funkadelic, Public Image Limited and the Sex Pistols, revealing by contrast its own lack of melody. Without memorable tunes, the Red Hot Chili Peppers have to rely on visceral appeal — a big beat, punchy guitar chords — and on Monday, they didn’t find the groove.

  13. 38
    Tom on 10 May 2014 #

    Ah, OK – I took izzy’s phrasing (“has been slow in coming”) to mean that the RHCP still didn’t get their rightful acclaim even now, rather than their reception when they emerged – but yes, certainly they were sneered before they were praised. My first knowledge of them in fact came from a 1992ish omnium gatherum review of previous albums in (I think) Q which seemed to me to be an exercise in asserting that the magazine had been right to ignore this bunch all along.

    So the critics back-pedalled very quickly when the band became popular amongst their mags’ core constituency. Any historical wrongs done to the RHCP critically have long since been righted (sadly IMO).

    Of bands since maybe No Doubt is a good comparison. Local party-starters from a critically-maligned scene (funk-metal/3rd wave ska) change tack for more personal hit (UTB/Don’t Speak) and become huge off the back of it, prompting a certain amount of rock press catch-up. ND split up an album after, of course: RHCP kept going.

  14. 39
    Izzy on 10 May 2014 #

    Yes, I was trying to express two things really – rock critic catch-up, but also the idea that they still don’t get their dues as a great pop band (ft critic catch-up, for want of a pop press reference point). Applying the latter to their funk-rock work is a bit of a stretch, admittedly, but imo the hooks and beautiful simplicity of their playing since Frusciante rejoined (for Californication I think; I’m sure there was still one dud album after UTB) qualifies them.

    As for them being a critical joke, I remember them getting an NME cover circa 1992 and looking utterly hackneyed – leathers, otherwise topless, on harleys iirc – even Def Leppard would’ve blushed. And that’s leaving aside the fact that grunge was happening on every other page.

    No Doubt: I did think about them for my little list, but didn’t count them as I still have no idea how popular they were before they got big. I don’t think I’d ever even heard of them.

  15. 40
    Steve Mannion on 10 May 2014 #

    RHCP’s best moment arguably their Simpsons appearance. “How about ‘what I’d really like to do is hug and kiss you’…” / “Forget you clown!” etc.

  16. 41
    Ed on 10 May 2014 #

    I have to say I really don’t recognise any of these accounts of early critical neglect or scorn for the RHCPs.

    As I remember it in the 1980s, they were not exactly a critics’ darling, but certainly a reasonably cool name to drop. In the context of ‘Licenced to Ill’ and Fishbone, they made a lot more sense as cult heroes.

    ‘Freaky Styley’, the second album, was produced by George Clinton, who was an uber-hip reference point in 1985, and the first one was produced by Andy Gill! Think of them not as funk-metal but as punk-funk, and they suddenly seem a lot more acceptable to critical orthodoxy. And their total inability to write a decent tune – which Jon Pareles rightly identifies as their greatest failing in the review posted by Swanstep – didn’t seem to matter so much. Critics loved James Blood Ulmer, for example.

    Unfortunately, a bit of casual googling has not found much evidence to support these dimly recovered memories. But Simon Reynolds includes in ‘Bring the Noise’ a review of an RHCP concert in 1988, in which he is tepid about them as a live act, but describes the new album as “extremely fine”. I rest my case.

  17. 42
    Ed on 10 May 2014 #

    Footnote: that new album must have been ‘The Uplift Mofo Party Plan’.

    A good selection of favourable coverage of the RHCPs in the 80s here: http://www.rocksbackpages.com/Library/Artist/red-hot-chili-peppers-the

  18. 43
    Mark M on 10 May 2014 #

    Re41: I agree – I remember them getting decent press in the UK at the start. They seemed to know interesting people (George Clinton, Penelope Spheeris) the concept seemed maybe promising, they were always good copy. I think as time went on the feeling crept in that there were people trying to do similar kinds of stuff who were felt to be cooler (Fishbone, Sabotage-era Beasties), or nailed the broad concept more successfully (Faith No More, Licensed To Ill-era Beasties) or both (Jane’s Addiction). Also, any sense they might have ever been cool was surely banished by the Bob Marley lines from Give It Away, which sounded like a college freshman straight out of Peoria trying to show he’s down with black folk.

    I think I read Kiedis’ autobiography for work – I remember nothing about it.

  19. 44
    iconoclast on 10 May 2014 #

    Is my memory failing me in my old age, or didn’t All Saints perform UtB on TotP out-of-tune or something?

  20. 45
    swanstep on 11 May 2014 #

    @43, etc.. To be clear, yes, RHCP got decent coverage well prior to Blood Sugar… (nearly everyone loved their Higher Ground cover for example), but, and this was my only point, critics had well-and truly turned on them by the time Blood Sugar came out,… just in time for the Chilis big commercial success to come along and force those critics to eat crow. For what it’s worth, my memory is that the shady incident in 1990 where Flea and drummer Chad assaulted some girl on an MTV dance party show (I believe they ended up getting off with just community service) played a role in hardening attitudes against them. As for whether their subsequent pop career has been underrated by critics; I don’t have a view about that. But first ballot Hall of Fame and splitting the Superbowl half-time with Bruno Mars this year suggests that they’ve received plenty of love where it counts.

  21. 46
    daveworkman on 12 May 2014 #

    Being relatively new to pop music in general, this was the first version of the song I heard although, perhaps unsurprisingly, it has been usurped for many years now by the original.
    I think RHCP filled some kind of niche, hence their late 90s/early 00s success – they seemed to create the occasional wistful, yearning songs that probably didn’t have too much beneath them. But at the time as a fifteen year old boy, Californication and By The Way soundtracked summertime it seemed.
    Under the Bridge has become canonical in some way but perhaps to the point of it being ‘safe’ now. I sing in an (all male) choir who perform contemporary stuff, and we abandoned it after our first couple of rehearsals because it seeemed too obvious (we now do The Magnetic Fields, The Leisure Society and, erm…Christopher Cross). Wasn’t it sung by that American choir of senior citizens? However well intentioned and emotional that endeavour was, I can’t quite see it having had a ‘Johnny Cash’ effect on the stuff they covered…

  22. 47
    Cumbrian on 14 May 2014 #

    No #2 watch yet (I think). Anyway, this kept Madonna’s Ray of Light off #1. Would have been up for that to be honest.

  23. 48
    ciaran on 20 May 2014 #

    LM was the one I remember hearing more of on the radio as it was by far the more sassy of the 2 and the video had more of an appeal! Being the spice girls alternative was the big selling angle here.

    It hasnt aged well really. Not the worst by 1998 standards but not partiularly memorable. 5 is about right.

    I’ve never liked Under The Bridge all that much and its ‘classic’ status. Even by 1998 it had become one of the decades most recognisable songs and for me it’s always been a guilty displeasure. If it wasnt part of a double a-side I doubt it would have been ‘popular’.3 for UTB, a 5 for LM.

    As for the RHCP well I would give the nod to Californication however unavoidable it was in 2000 but I like that one a lot more than I did.A few friends I knew from bands got me into that one. Other than that I can’t understand their mass appeal. Gigs would sell out in no time when they played in Ireland and the hype was unbelievable especially in the early 00s.It’s been all downhill though since Stadium Arcadium. Oasis comparisons made here are on the money.

    Whatever about the musical quality of the albums the titles they gave their albums were just dreadful.

  24. 49
    Auntie Beryl on 21 May 2014 #

    Re: early RHCP. I’m sure their intentions were pure but they went through a few guitarists before finding Frusciante, who appears to be the fulcrum upon which the tunefulness rests. Now he’s gone again, so has any hope of being successful. I’m half expecting a 60 year old Kiedis to stick a sock on his cock soon, such is the dearth of ideas.

  25. 50
    wichitalineman on 12 Sep 2014 #

    Goodbye Bob Crewe, who I think made his first Popular appearance with a co-write on this, even though he wrote UK hits from Daddy Cool (Darts) to Silhouettes (Herman’s Hermits) to Can’t Take My Eyes Off You and pretty much every Four Seasons hit. Music aside, by all accounts he was a great man, threw the best parties, and did a lot for LGBT awareness.

  26. 51
    punctum on 12 Sep 2014 #

    Yes, I mentioned this on the December ’63 thread before remembering Crewe didn’t have a hand in writing that song *aargh*

  27. 52
    enitharmon on 12 Sep 2014 #

    But Bob did have a hand in writing The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Any More for the Walker Brothers, Popular entry #211. So I put my marker there.

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