Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Cover To Cover: Stevie Wonder vs. Incognito - Don't You Worry 'Bout A Thing


Don't You Worry 'bout a Thing was a hit single from Stevie's 1973 album Innervisions, which reached no.16 on the Billboard Pop Singles chart and no.2 on the R&B chart in the US.
It begins with an unusual spoken bit of dialogue, in which Wonder portrays a slick character trying to impress a woman with his worldliness. "Cause like I been to, y'know, Paris, Beirut, y'know, I mean, uh, Iraq, Iran, Eurasia... y'know I speak very, very, um fluent Spanish - 'Todo 'stá bien chévere' - you got that?"
The tune is in E♭ minor, starting with a Latin piano intro. The song's second chorus begins with Stevie taking the vocals up an octave with two vocal overdubs singing the same line. He also sings two other background overdub vocals, mimicking a horn line with the Spanish phrase 'Todo 'stá bien chévere' which, loosely translated, means "Everything's really cool."
While it isn't regarded as the standout song on Innervisions (no surprise that Living For The City takes that title), Don't You Worry 'bout a Thing is still an act of genius from a genius; a playful song that reflects the lighter side of the album.


Anyone that covers a Stevie Wonder song is usually on a hiding to nothing; over the years, I've come to experience a phenomena I call 'The Wonder Effect'. In other words, an artist covers a Stevie track and makes a good job of it, but in most cases their version pales in comparison to the Stevie version. There are however a couple of exceptions to this constant (another of which we will come back to at a later date), the track below being one of them.
Incognito's version of Don't You Worry 'Bout A Thing was on their 1992 album Tribes, Vibes and Scribes; the track got to no.19 in the UK, no.46 in Germany and no.6 in The Netherlands. Jean-Paul 'Bluey' Maunick did the wise thing and produced the song in the trademark Incognito style, replete with a subtle bass underpinning, his horns doing their thing when necessary and the gorgeous vocals of Maysa Leak bring Mr Wonder's lyrics to life. Despite that, the only parts of the song that pay homage to the original are the Latin-influenced piano chords at the start and Maysa singing harmonies in an unmistakably Stevie style.


The fact that a Stevie cover can run the original so close is compliment itself; the fact that there have been times I thought Incognito's version was superior is no fluke nor trick of the ear. Some may argue that their version is too polished and takes away from the innate 'stevieness' that nearly every song he does has. Bluey and Maysa have stamped their personalty all over their version, and a bloody fine song it is; it is a song I still listen to on a very regular basis and still do not tire of it. On a different day, I may have given it to the Incognito version purely on the strength of Maysa' vocals; were this a contest based purely on vocal performance that's exactly what would have happened.
But - just - I would say the original is still the better version. Stevie's version is so underrated due to the phalanx of classic songs on Innervisions, but it has it's own unique signature, one that hints at a concept that I for one would love to have seen explored more fully - Stevie doing a Latin album. If you've never paid full attention to his version, then I suggest you play it often; it deserves your attention and will find a place in your heart before you know it.
That said, both versions will always have a place on my playlist.