NANCY CARR * Last Friday Liv Warfield, best known for her stint in Prince’s New Power Generation, performed her new song “Blackbird” on The Late Show With David Letterman, declaring “Paul McCartney got it wrong / I ain’t never want no song / I ain’t special, I ain’t strong / Black . . . bird.” It’s not clear to me why Warfield, who was born in 1979, is so angry about a pro- Civil Rights song released in 1968 — especially when the song is pitched in such a universal key that it can apply to any person or group of people striving for freedom. (It’s also unclear why the song contains the line “One and one is never three.” Somewhere John Lennon is doing a facepalm over this misquoting of “Come Together.”) And if you really want to speak truth to power about racism in the 21st century, it’s hardly Paul McCartney or the Beatles you need to be addressing.
Warfield’s got a right to her opinion, but I doubt time is on the side of her song. For some historical perspective, here are ten worthy covers of the Beatles’ “Blackbird,” listed in chronological order. If you know of other versions that should be on the list, please chime in!
Ramsey Lewis (1968): From Mother Nature’s Son, a whole album of White Album covers released the same year as the Beatles’ record. Starts with some spooky theremin before showcasing Lewis’ formidable piano chops.
Billy Preston (1972): A gloriously electric keyboard-drenched version, also featuring some snaky bass lines, from the man who injected some funkiness into the Let It Be sessions. From his album Music is My Life.
Jaco Pastorius (1981): From the album Word of Mouth. A deliberately disjointed and surprising take.
Tony Williams (1985): Jazz drummer Williams originally released this powerful version on his debut album for Blue Note, Foreign Intrigue. Has to be Ringo’s favorite of the bunch.
Arturo Sandoval (1995): Lots of horns. I bet Percy Thrillington digs this. From the tribute album I Got No Kick Against Modern Jazz.
Roger Webb and His Trio (Released 2003, recorded in late 1960s): Bonus track on the CD issue of John, Paul, and All That Jazz, originally released in 1964. Lyrical and swinging.
Beachfront Property (2002): From the a cappella Beatles tribute album “Come Together.” Starts out ethereal, and then goes Manhattan Transfer.
Sarah McLachlan (2002): From the soundtrack to I Am Sam. Heartfelt, with an arrangement very close to the original.
Connie Evingson (2003): Done in classy jazz chanteuse style, with laid-back instrumental breaks and scatting. From her Beatles cover album Let It Be Jazz.
Sarah Darling (2011): Released on the benefit album Let Us In Nashville, with proceeds benefitting breast cancer research. Kickin’ it Dixie Chicks style.