Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Postscript to: Cover versions and Wittgenstein on playing trains

Further to my previous thought about cover versions of popular songs Wittgenstein’s discussion of children playing trains, in Saturday’s Guardian, in an article about Barack Obama, Marina Hyde commented thus:

Have you ever heard Rolf Harris’s version of Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven? It has a didgeridoo solo, and is not widely acknowledged to be a masterpiece. Bless Rolf, though, because years after its release, he revealed he’d never actually heard the original when he came to record it. “And when I did,” he confessed in horror, “I thought: ‘Oh my God, what have I done?’”

Of course, this story seems highly unlikely. But imagine if it were true. That would completely alter the status of Rolf’s version’s relation to the original. Arch pastiche would become an accidental stumble into the territory of blasphemy. The whole feel of the game would be changed.

(A correspondent from East Molesey adds:
I believe that the story about dear old Rolf is completely true. As I heard it at the time of the single's release, Rolf had guested on a TV show (Australian?), on which the convention was that all interviewed musicians had to play a version of Stairway to Heaven. Having never heard it, Rolf simply got hold of a copy of the sheet music and, being the pro he is, performed from that.

I wonder what he meant when he asked himself what he had done upon hearing the original? My guess is that his thought might translate as "I've covered a bloody awful song by perhaps the most over-rated band in history (though their first album was OK, along with a couple of tracks from their fourth)".