So, which version of the song is better, good people? That’s the game; it’s up to you to vote now, vote often, and decide who will reign supreme; nu-soul belter Stone, or minimalist indie-blues deities The White Stripes?
The original song itself can be found on the White Stripes’ breakthrough album White Blood Cells from 2001, an anthem to love which is out of reach, but without any trace of maudlin sentiment. This is no gushy love song. It’s a barrel-gutted stomp of a song, a behemoth of fury that pulls no punches, and doesn’t forget its balls. But, what kind of fury are we talking about exactly? It depends on the version, of course. The original is a wall of angry guitar and chaotic drums, while Joss Stone’s cover is all sweaty, soulful, and desperate. Which makes the most sense to you, good people? To get things into focus, let’s do what we always do: take it one version at a time.
White Blood Cells was the White Stripes’ third album, with very little out of place from their debut and its follow-up. But, this time, the songs seared through the initial novelty of the band’s guitar/drums/no bass structure to reveal some of the best tunes in rock songwriting for that year. And such a simple approach too – just a guitar, bombastic drums, and a petulant whine about a girl who’s “in love with the world” and not necessarily with the narrator. Sexual frustration, confusion, and heartbreak, all in one song. Rock n’ roll.
“Fell in Love with a Girl” was not just a catchy, primal slice of unadorned rock music. It eliminated the idea that rock songwriting was a dead form, a secondary consideration in a sea of banal rap-rock and dime-a-dozen indie music which typified the early 2000s. In effect, this song offered the rock fan hope that there was life in the old girl yet. It also reminded rock audiences that songs were the thing, that they had life of their own outside of the personas and egos of bands who put them on albums. It proved that rock music, song by song, was as malleable and open to interpretation as it ever was even in the new century.
Two years later in 2003, soul music was given an infusion of the Old School when a teenager from the West Country in England emerged as a perhaps unlikely candidate for new soul queen; Joss Stone. Stone’s apprenticeship under 70s soul star Betty Wright, who herself was a teen soul singer, brought it and did so in a Southern Soul style in an age where R&B had been redefined by smoothed-edges and lifeless production. Although Stone’s approach is influenced by her contemporaries, the feel she gets on her take of the Stripes’ tune is fired by the fuel of a bygone age. Her debut album was entitled, appropriately, The Soul Sessions
Stone’s take on the song goes beyond a simple gender shift. The anger and confusion found in the original version is replaced by what is unmistakably identified as something a bit more carnal. The tension found in Stone’s version is less to do with confusion and frustration in being involved with someone who isn’t taking her seriously, and more to do with the sheer frisson of that situation, the excitement that only comes out of doing something you know is going to be ecstatic in the short term, but ultimately too costly in the long. Where many of her contemporaries wouldn’t have seen that possibility in the material, Stone pulls it off brilliantly, while also re-building the bridge between the rock world, and the R&B world. We’re reminded in this version that the two solitudes of pop music have never been further apart, and yet are also as connected as they ever were.
So, here we are once again, good people. Two versions of a song, both great in their way, and relying on the listener’s ear to judge which will take the number one spot.
Cast your vote below!