Don Gibson: Oh, Lonesome Me
Ray Charles: Oh, Lonesome Me
Neil Young: Oh, Lonesome Me
This is a case study in how to make a cover your own. The original was recorded by "The Sad Poet" Don Gibson in the late '50s. Despite its self-pitying lyrics, Don takes it at a fairly sprightly pace, a tactic that no doubt helped make it a country and pop hit. (Having "I Can't Stop Loving You" on the flip side didn't hurt, either.)
In 1962, Ray Charles released two critically acclaimed (and very successful) albums of country songs. The second volume, Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music, Vol. 2, included a his version of "Oh, Lonesome Me". Ray picks up the tempo and gives it a big-band arrangement and a soulful vocal. And like most of his country recordings, it works surprisingly well.
Fast-forward another eight years. At the dawn of the singer-songwriter era, Neil Young decided to include a rare cover song on his own critically acclaimed and very successful album, After the Gold Rush. Neil's version is agonizingly slow, and in a way is a more appropriate fit for the sad lyrics, which themselves are a very good fit for Neil's style. Indeed, so completely does he inhabit this song, it was years before I realized it was a cover. (And when M. Ward and Lucinda Williams covered the song last year, they used the Young version as their template.)
Despite the disparate arrangements, all three of these versions have one element in common: Nobody could figure out how to end the song properly, so they all fade out, making this a good transition post between last week's theme and this week's.