Thursday, August 5, 2010

August 5: Rare Earth, "Get Ready"

Artist: Rare Earth
Song: "Get Ready"
Album: Get Ready (single)
Year: 1970

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It is said that imitation is the greatest form of flattery, and yet within the world of music, this idea often takes a strange form.  While the idea of the "cover song" has been present since nearly the beginning of the recorded era, in most cases, the cover version takes a new and unique approach to the song, making it separate from the original.  This is usually due to some type of artistic integrity, or to put it differently, if one artist already made the song sound great, why make an outright copy?  Yet there are a few cases where this latter idea is exactly what has happened, and though extremely similar to the original, it is the cover version that became a larger commercial success.  The idea of the cover song was perhaps no more present than within the walls of Motown Records, as many songs were recorded in similar fashion by a number of artists, often to see which take sounded the best for the particular song.  However, as the 1960's gave way to the 1970's, the "Motown sound" began to fade, and the era of rock music was in full swing.  One of the few bands that was able to bridge the gap between the soulful, r&b based sounds of Motown with the "new" rock style was one of the few "true" rock bands on the label, Rare Earth.  Scoring a handful of hits during their two-year stint with the label, the group was responsible for some of the most memorable hybrid songs of this era.  With their distinctive take on many classics, there are few songs in their catalog that are as recognizable or as perfectly executed as their 1970 hit single, "Get Ready."

Truth be told, "Get Ready" was originally penned in 1966 by the great Smokey Robinson, and committed to tape that same year by The Temptations.  This recording is significant in retrospect, as it would prove to be the final song on which Robinson would work with the group, and the song failed to break the top twenty-five.  When Rare Earth entered that same studio years later, they took the core musical arrangement of the original and put behind it a bit more of their own sound.  In fact, Rare Earth had been performing the song a their live shows for a few years before this studio version was recorded.  From the moment the song begins, it bears a clear resemblance to the original, and yet there is a far deeper groove from the bass of John Parrish and the drums and tambourine from Pete Rivera push this version into a world all its own.  Rod Richards drops guitar notes intermittently throughout the track, and it is often these points of accentuation that take the song to an entirely new level.  Rounding out the amazing sound of Rare Earth's cover is keyboard player Kenny James and saxophonist Gil Bridges, and while the overall arrangement mimics the original work of The Funk Brothers, Rare Earth is able to make this version unquestionably there own.  The way in which the group injects a strong rock feel to "Get Ready" is what sets it apart from the original, and likely much of the reason the song was able to find greater success, climbing into the top five on the charts.

Though one can easily make the case that it would be impossible for any group to compare to the extraordinary vocal work from The Temptations found on the original, on Rare Earth's cover of "Get Ready," they are clearly up to the task and make the singing sound fantastic.  The lead vocals are handled by Pete Rivera, and one cannot argue the exceptionally high level of soul and honestly found within his singing.  Furthermore, the backing vocals from Gil Bridges and Rod Richards offer an equally fantastic point of harmony, and one must give credit to the fact that this trio of singers were able to do great justice to the original vocals set forth by The Temptations.  Lyrically, "Get Ready" remains one of Smokey Robinson's finest works, and it is very much in line with the overwhelming themes of his writing catalog.  While he has penned many brilliant lines over the decades, few can compare to the heartfelt opening of, "...whenever I'm asked what makes my dreams real, I tell 'em you do, you're outta' sight..."  These words are a bit of a different take from Robinson's often more "crying" approach to the subject of love, yet they remain just as powerful, and the more upbeat nature of the song makes this one of the finest tributes to love that has ever been written.  On the Rare Earth cover, Rivera executes the vocals perfectly, and if one is not aware of the source of the lyrics, it can easily be thought that these words came directly from his own pen.

While most are familiar with the single release of Rare Earth's cover of "Get Ready," it in many ways pales in comparison to the version that would arrive with their first full length album.  On 1970's Get Ready, the ENTIRE second side of the record is taken up by a live recording of the song that stretches more than twenty-one minutes long.  This version represents one of the most stellar live performances of the decade, as the crowd is clearly completely enamoured with this stunning performance.  Furthermore, once one listens to this live version, it becomes clear that the single cut was taken from this performance, and the opening sound that almost sounds like a jet plane can be clearly heard as the crowds' response to the beginning of the song.  Truth be told, "Get Ready" has been covered dozens of times over the decades by everyone from The Supremes to The Marvelettes to more modern acts with far less musical talent to boast.  Yet even with many of the greatest performers in history making their own version, there has never been any doubt that the definitive take on the song was Rare Earth's 1970 cover, which presents one of the finest r&b-rock hybrids ever committed to tape.  Centered around the deep groove that was originally formed by The Funk Brothers, Rare Earth is able to both pay fitting tribute to the originators, as well as carve out their own place in music history with their phenomenal cover in the form of 1970's "Get Ready."

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