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by Eddie Sayago
There is a chance that you have come across a song (or two, or so many more) that you enjoy and did not realize that it's either been covered by someone else or is a cover itself. We hope that this series allows you to appreciate both the original and the covers they have inspired, and to seek out and enjoy new music in the process.
Here we take a look at one of Hank Williams’ most memorable songs and two different covers by two of the most influential male crooners America has ever produced.
Despite his short life (he died on New Year’s Day 1953 at age 29), Hank Williams accomplished more as a musician than most other artists who live twice as long.
Arguably America’s first country music superstar, Williams had written/co-written and recorded over 160 songs over the course of a decade, with 35 of them becoming Top 10 hits on the Country Charts (and 11 of them going to #1).
“Cold, Cold Heart” was actually a B-Side to a more upbeat single, “Dear John” (a very downer title, if one is familiar with “Dear John” letters/stories). “Cold, Cold Heart” is by far the more memorable of the two songs released on that record in February 1951, quickly becoming a #1 hit and becoming a popular song to cover by other artists.
Though the song could apply to any couple going through hardship, a line in the first verse, “A memory from your lonesome past keeps us so far apart”, references an abortion that Williams’ first wife, Audrey, had that may have been from an extramartial affair.
Hank also had affairs of his own, eventually divorcing Audrey to marry Billie Jean Horton–who later had an affair with Johnny Cash–shortly before his death in October 1952. Horton got her name from her next marriage, to singer Johnny Horton, whom she married the following September.
It is very difficult to imagine Tony Bennett as a young man. I always see him as an old crooner with a great set of salt ‘n’ pepper, a devilish smile, and powerful vocal delivery. He has stories to tell in between songs, like your grandfather, except neither of my grandfathers could sing well nor were they best friends with Lady Gaga.
Just months after the release of Williams’ original, Bennett recorded and released his rendition of “Cold, Cold Heart”, a simple yet emotional vocal delivery accompanied by a light orchestra.
This cover goes to #1 on the pop charts and gained Hank’s approval, after he joked in a phone conversation asking, “Tony, why did you ruin my song?”
Seven decades on, this cover is one of Bennett’s most well-known songs, a song he performs live on occasion and re-recording a new version in 2012 for his Viva Duets album.
A decade later, Nat King Cole provided a bouncy jazz kick to “Cold, Cold Heart.” There is a minute-long instrumental in the middle where his band gets to liven up this often depressing song.
Though his next and final studio album, L-O-V-E, is probably the go-to album (and song) for the casual listener, this song (and the album, Let’s Face The Music) is a sweet reminder that Cole was more than the songs “L-O-V-E” and “Que Sera, Sera”.
Like Williams, Nat King Cole’s life was cut short by illness, succumbing to lung cancer in 1965. Even after his death, he still continued to release new music: in 1991, Natalie Cole recorded a duet with her father, “Unforgettable”, that would outsell a majority of the records he released in his lifetime. The song and album of the same name, Unforgettable, was certified platinum seven times and won Grammys for Album, Song, and Record of the Year.
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