Thursday, April 03, 2008

"Funny How Time Slips Away" - The Series (#4)

Joe Hinton - Funny (How Time Slips Away)

The Spinners - Funny How Time Slips Away

B.B. King & Bobby Bland - Funny How Time Slips Away

Today's post concludes the "Funny" series, and it spans 40-plus years of R&B treatments to the Willie Nelson classic. Accordingly, I am featuring a '60s version, an '80s version, and one from the present decade.

I thought it would only be fitting to feature what I think was the first (and definitely the most successful) R&B version of the song, as performed by Joe Hinton. Way back in the earliest days of this blog I featured the Spirit of Memphis Quartet's "Lost in Sin," on which Hinton sang lead. Peacock prexy Don Robey convinced Hinton to try his hand at R&B, and in 1964 "Funny" was a hit. Hinton's version featured a big band backing, and Hinton's confident reading of the song, replete with a strained falsetto ending, really worked. "Funny" would end up being the biggest hit for Hinton, who died in 1968.

By the time the Spinners recorded "Funny" for their 1982 LP Grand Slam, the group's fantastic run of hits on Atlantic that stretched back to 1972 was coming to an end. Although John Edwards had replaced Phillippe Wynne in 1977 (Wynne started an ill-fated solo career and also did some work with the Parliament-Funkadelic crew, like Funkadelic's "Uncle Jam"), the group continued to have hits, especially with the disco medleys "Working My Way Back to You / Forgive Me Girl" and "Cupid / I've Loved You for a Long Time." Although neither Grand Slam nor any singles pulled from it did very well commercially, Edwards' vocal on "Funny" was thrilling. The arrangement of the Spinners record was a contemporary take on the Hinton original, and Edwards also closed the song with a thrilling falsetto.

I knew that I had to close out this series with B.B. King and Bobby Bland's reading of "Funny" from the B.B.'s duets LP 80, which was recorded a couple of years ago in commemoration of the bluesman's reaching octogenarian status. King and Bland, who by the time they recorded the song had over 50 years of history together, provide a warm, autumnal vocal over a country arrangement. Lyrically, they had to stretch a bit, since the "you're my old flame" narrative wouldn't work for a male duet, but they pulled it off, turning the song into a conversation between old friends in which Bland gently chided King for having a new woman ("that's the same thing that you told her, in time you're gonna pay," Bland sings in the second verse). To my ears, B.B.'s vocals sound very tired, but that weariness actually adds to the ambiance of the song, and the way he and Bobby close the song always makes me smile.

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