Jerry Butler: Never Gonna Give You Up
From The Iceman Cometh (Mercury, 1968).
Thee Midniters: Never Gonna Give You Up
On 7″ (Whittier, 1968). Also on Thee Complete Midniters.
Eddie Floyd: Never Give You Up
From I’ve Never Found a Girl (Stax, 1968). Also on Rare Stamps.
Shirley and the Shirelles: Never Give You Up (Never Gonna Give You Up)
From 7″ (Bell, 1969)
The Black Keys: Never Gonna Give You Up
From Brothers (Nonesuch, 2010)
I’m probably rehashing something I’ve written before but while Jerry Butler was never my favorite of the major ’60s soul kings, I gotta give it up to “Never Gonna Give You Up.” This collaboration between Butler and legendary Philly producers Gamble and Huff yielded one of my favorite R&B classics of that era, armed with an one of the most memorable four bar intros that comes to mind. I realized recently that I’ve posted a few different covers of this song in the past, including the Midniters’ version above, but it never occurred to devote an entire post to the composition.
Butler’s original is perfect – I don’t think you can improve on it. But you can style on it in some great ways. Thee Midniters approach is – true to the East L.A. group – hella garage-y, especially with ride cymbal rumbling around over the intro. Definitely lo-fi but hardly lo-quality.
Eddie Floyd’s version takes some interesting liberties with that intro, giving it a subtle Southern soul makeover through its distinct guitar, subtle horn backgrounds and that stamping hi-hat. In contrast, Shirley and the Shirelles’ version does away with that distinctive intro altogether (an interesting, one might even say, bold, choice) but overall, I thought the arrangement was great, especially having Shirley and her Shirelles singing over it. Probably my favorite cover of the song but alas, a 7″ only tune.
On the female tip, Lyn Collins also took a swing at the tune a few years later. The intro is here, albeit on flute, and the song has a weird energy to it – it’s more mellow than the original, except when Collins is belting her lungs out over it and much as I love the Female Preacher, I find her version out of balance; it’s not one of the best songs off an otherwise classic album.
Lastly, we go quite current with Akron’s Black Keys and their cover of the song from last summer’s Brothers which, I must say, I like quite a bit; late pass on giving them much deserved props. I was genuinely (and quite pleasantly) surprised at how much I liked their cover. Despite its heavy, fuzzed out psych influences, the song opens with a similar kind of shimmering lightness that Butler’s original offered. I wouldn’t have thought the song would work in the mix of tunes on Brothers but it actually sounds perfect in that mix alongside tracks like “The Go Getter” and “Unknown Brother.”