‘If You’re Down And Confused . . .’

Originally posted March 10, 2009

One of the things making its way around Facebook when I opened a profile there not long ago was a note asking musically inclined ’bookers to make a list of fifteen albums that changed their lives. (The note that came with the request made it clear that albums that put one in a specific time and place were okay, too.)

I wasn’t going to compile a list like that off the top of my head, so I dithered a while, thinking. But the time I came up with the list – and none of the entries on it would surprise anyone who’s visited this blog over time – a few days had passed. And a few days in Facebook time is like ten years of regular time: That topic was passé.

So I saved the list, and I may do something else with it, maybe use it as the basis of a post here. I’m not sure. But I bring it up because I was reminded this morning of one of the albums that ended up on the list: Stephen Stills’ self-titled album from 1970. As happened with a number of the fifteen albums that ended up on the list, I spent a fair amount of time pondering the place of Stephen Stills in my life before putting it on the list.

It’s a great album, ranging from rock to folk to blues and beyond, with Stills getting help from David Crosby, Graham Nash, Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Booker T. Jones and more. (The credits include a drummer listed only as Richie. Ringo Starr? Does anyone know?) Is it better than Crosby, Stills & Nash? Better than CSN&Y’s Déjà Vu? Maybe. But I reminded myself that greatness is not what the list was about; the list was about the record’s importance to the listener. And I recalled that I always had a greater sense of anticipation when I pulled Stephen Stills out of its jacket than I did for those other two albums. Why? I have no idea. But having realized that, I happily put the album on the list.

That’s all pertinent today because as I wandered through the mp3s this morning, I happened upon a track from Stephen Stills. As Tuesdays are still occasionally devoted to cover versions here, I wondered what kind of cover versions the album sparked, especially its best-known song, “Love The One You’re With.”

So I did some digging. All-Music Guide lists two-hundred and forty-five CDs that offer a version of “Love The One You’re With.” About forty of those are versions by Stills or else versions credited to him and his three well-known friends together. That leaves about two hundred.

Among the names that pop up among those CDs are Bonnie Bramlett, the Bison Chips, Soup Campbell, Joe Cocker, Ian Cussick, Percy Faith, Bobby Goldsboro, Engelbert Humperdinck, the Meters, Tony Orlando, Gary Puckett, Diana Ross & the Supremes, Sam & Dave, Bob Seger, Strange River, the Three Degrees, Luther Vandross and Wailing Souls. Some of those I’d like to hear, and others I think I could easily pass by.

In my mp3 files, I find five versions of the song, Stills’ original and covers by the Isley Brothers, El Chicano, Aretha Franklin and King Curtis. The least worthy of those is the version by El Chicano, released on the album The Best of Everything (not a “best of,” despite the title) in 1975, a couple years after the Latin-tinged group was at its peak. Both the Aretha and King Curtis versions are terrific, the King Curtis version coming from his 1970 album Everybody’s Talkin’ and Aretha’s version coming from the 1971 album she recorded live at the Fillmore West (with King Curtis in the band).

But I think the Isleys’ version is the best of the four covers I have. It’s from the 1971 album Givin’ It Back and it was also released as a single on the group’s T-Neck label.

“Love The One You’re With” by the Isley Brothers, T-Neck 930 [1971]

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