MARLENA SHAW / “Feel Like Makin’ Love”

There were a couple of stories behind [the title of her album]. I was more interested in the kind of title, Richard Pryor kind of title, like “That Nigger’s Crazy.” It was about the freedom of thought and how you said things during that period ~ 1974. It was coming out of rage and how things were going socially. I was also performing in St. Louis, and one of my hits, “Just Don’t Want to be Lonely” off the album From The Depths of My Soul was out. There was this guy playing it on the jukebox over and over and over. That guy was there all day and by the end of the day was getting a little bleary eyed. By the end of the day the manager came over and was going to pull the plug on the machine, but the guy protested, saying “The lady who sings this song is right there” at which point the manager turned around saying, “Who is this bitch, anyway?” —Marlena Shaw
When a singer covers someone else’s tune, particularly a well-known tune, they almost invariably do a ‘version’ of the popular performance. Meaning, the cover usually borrows key elements and cues from the original. But a good cover version will also either introduce new elements or emphasize different elements than was the case in the popular version. d'angelo.gif As is the case with D’Angelo’s cover (from his Voodooalbum, released on the Virgin label in 2000) of Roberta Flack’s “Feel Like Makin’ Love” (title track of her 1975 Feel Like Makin' LoveLP on Atlantic). D’Angelo copies Roberta’s phrasing almost exactly. He does a little ad-libbing here and there, but for the most part, the song he sings is very recognizably a remake of the Roberta Flack performance of “Feel Like Makin’ Love.” roberta flack 07.jpg The major difference is in the instrumentation. In the original, the instrumentation is light and easy, a musical metaphor for the stroll in the park mentioned right at the beginning of the tune. There’s a calm sway to the groove. It’s the kind of thing that sounds sensual without sounding overtly sexual. Instrumentally, D’Angelo’s version goes in a different direction. The mix is 90% drum and bass, 10% everything else. The tempo is the same, but because of the heavy feel D’Angelo favors, he transforms the breeziness of the original to a deep, slow grind. Forget sensuality—if D’Angelo’s version doesn’t sound sexual, you’re not paying attention. marlena shaw 07.jpeg For me though, the best remakes are the ones that reinterpret the original. They neither copy nor version the original performance. Instead, they give you the impression that the original never happened. Or, at least, that the covering artist never heard it. Musically, Marlena Shaw’s version of “Feel Like Makin’ Love” (from Who Is This Bitch, Anyway?) falls somewhere between D’Angelo’s bump and grind and Roberta’s sweet lilt. The bassline is much more pronounced than in Roberta’s version, but not nearly as pronounced as it is in D’Angelo’s. But it’s Marlena’s vocals that I really like. She uses a completely different cadence than the ‘classic’ one established by Roberta. Instead of creating a kind of hypnosis through repetition the way Roberta did (and D’Angelo re-did), Marlena performs the lyrics with a cascading, wandering jazziness that obscures the specific meaning of the words, yet somehow adds to the overall impact of the tune. The other major difference is the way the Marlena Shaw version builds, gaining speed and intensity as it goes on. Marlena starts off at the same midtempo pace that Roberta and D’Angelo use, but by the third verse, things have picked up considerably. By the end of her version, Marlena is scatting and humming along with the uptempo groove, singing, “All you gotta do is moan nice and low / Turns me right on, daddy.” It’s a great version of a great tune and yet another reason why Marlena Shaw should be a lot better known than she is. —Mtume ya Salaam           A study in contrasts         These covers are a true study in contrasts. While I generally agree with Mtume’s assessments, I want to offer a wild card—“wild” not because of who is singing but rather because of the arrangement and the way she sings her version. Mtume, you mentioned that you don’t much care for Marlena’s most recent work. I feel where you’re coming from, but amidst the by-the-numbers renditions there are gems such as “Why” and “My Old Flame,” which I reference in the Classic section. Marlena’s best work is either humorous or serious, in either case, it’s when she is truly feeling the message she’s delivering. Her reading of “Feel Like Makin' Love” is the best of the four you presented, but check what Nancy Wilson does. nancy 13.jpg Nancy’s version is from Godsend, a 1984 Japanese release on the Denon label. Nancy, like Marlena, first made her mark as a jazz singer before going pop. This release is distinctive because it’s completely electronic. Other than Nancy’s voice, I don’t hear an acoustic instrument anywhere near this recording, and yet it’s one of Nancy’s most jazzy offerings in terms of what she does with her voice. Here you hear the full range of Nancy Wilson’s style, from whispers to growls, from long-held high notes to impeccable tuning and timing with her phrasing. I like what Marlena did, but Nancy, damn, Nancy takes it to a whole other level; makes Roberta sound like she’s singing about teenage puppy love; makes D’Angelo sound like a crude wham bam, thank you ma'am; makes Marlena sound like a valiant but ultimately only second best effort. Nancy Wilson owns this Eugene McDaniels song I used to think belonged to Robert Flack. —Kalamu ya Salaam           The feeling just isn't there          What? Huh? I mean, what?! Baba, you have got to be kidding. I'm a Nancy Wilson fan, but this version of "Feel Like Makin' Love" is average at best. Yes, Nancy is whispering and growling, but it's Vegas-style whispering and growling. It's all show and no soul. I remember when Gladys Knight performed at last year's Essence Festival (and it occurs to me that it might be the last New Orleans-hosted Essence for a while). Gladys gave a very similar performance to the one Nancy does here. The crowd wanted to get into it and Gladys was making all the right moves and hitting all the right notes, but that certain something was missing. It took about three songs for me to realize what was going on, but finally I realized the deal: I was watching a Las Vegas performance. I was watching a great singer go through the motions, motions designed to impress an audience who doesn't really care for grit and funk and soul and sweat. Anyway, that's the same reaction I'm having to Nancy's version of "Feel Like Makin' Love"—she's hitting the right notes, but the feeling just isn't there. Roberta is "singing about teenage puppy love"? D'Angelo "sounds like a crude wham bam, thank you ma'am"? And, Marlena "sounds like a valiant but ultimately only second best effort"? Wow.

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5 Responses to “MARLENA SHAW / “Feel Like Makin’ Love””

tayari kwa salaam Says:
June 4th, 2006 at 4:38 pm

My vote is with Nancy, period.

Qawi Robinson Says:
June 5th, 2006 at 9:55 am

Ah…thanks for the various versions. Clearly every version will appeal to different audiences. What started off as a simple ballad talking about when one gets the urge has transformed into three newer versions. I like Nancy Wilson…but her version sounds TOO Dione Warwick for me. But for FUNK value, the Marlena Shaw version is bouncy

If you want a ballad (where you can actually understand the lyrics) listen to Roberta Flack.

If you want an upbeat, jazzy, Funky version (where you can still make out the lyrics) listen to Marlena Shaw.

If you want an upbeat, Bass-heavy, Funky version (where the music overshadows the singing), listen to D’Angelo.

Nancy Wilson’s version creeps me out a bit…kinda like listening to your mom singing it.

Notice, only Roberta Flack’s version is the only one where the lyrics and music are simplistic enough understand what the song is all about. Don’t get me wrong, I like all of the versions. D’Angelo and Marlena Shaw’s versions are danceworthy…don’t know if that is the premise of the song or not, but to each his/her own.

jb Says:
June 6th, 2006 at 2:02 pm

i’m a flack fan and a d’angelo fanatic but that marlena shaw version takes the cake

elm Says:
August 9th, 2007 at 5:10 pm

I vote for Marlena..
It’s the best cover of the song: it’s sexy, promising, tender, lovable and on and on.
Marlena is awesome ..

SoulEnzyme Says:
February 11th, 2010 at 4:11 pm

Marlena’s version by far the best version, i also think Roy Ayers version is pretty catchy. I know some latin band did a cover as well with Angela bofil arranging it.

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