The Black Crowes/Otis Redding: “Hard to Handle”
Today’s Cover Friday selection is actually still a very loose tie-in to this week’s Vegas theme: “Hard to Handle,” originally a minor posthumous hit by Otis Redding (released in 1968, but Redding died in 1967), and then covered in 1990 by the Black Crowes on their debut album, Shake Your Money Maker (hence the Vegas tie-in — I told you it was a loose one). The Black Crowes version was a bigger hit than Redding’s and is probably the better-known one.
The Black Crowes took Redding’s version and sped it up, but the two versions are actually quite similar in most other ways. The Crowes’ lead vocalist Chris Robinson had to sing the hook (“Hey, little thing, let me light your candle…”) noticeably faster than Redding, and as a result it’s harder to decipher what he’s saying. Makes for some good karaoke interpretations, I’m sure. I personally like their version just as much as Redding’s, but you can never find fault with Redding’s voice — it’s more a matter of differences in the style: swaggering rock vs. ’60s Atlantic/Stax-style soul.
“Hard to Handle” was the Black Crowes’ breakthrough hit, and I’m sure a lot of people didn’t realize it was a cover (being one of those people myself, initially). Shake Your Money Maker was an excellent debut on the whole; some might say they were mimicking the sound of the Stones and the Faces (it’s impossible to dispute that they were heavily influenced, at any rate), but I feel that they were a great band in their own right. They perfected the update to that vibe so that it worked on its own terms, and their precocious songwriting, combined with Chris Robinson’s excellent singing (nearly on a par with Rod Stewart himself), completed the package. Their followup album, The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion, is an even better album — one of the best of the ’90s — but it’s “Hard to Handle” that will probably always be their most remembered hit.