A song cover is a curious thing. An artist is free to take the original structure and lyrics of a song, play around with genre, instrumentation and countless other parameters, and mold it into something completely different. EDM becomes jazz, synthpop turns into punk, progressive rock morphs into reggae… there is no limit to the genre-bending possibilities of a cover.

Motown is often erroneously referred to as a genre. I say erroneously because there is a loose understanding within the music world that Motown is not a genre; it is a record label. It is an important, influential record label that had, for a period, a distinct sound. If Google can become a verb and be included in an actual dictionary, I’m not sure why Motown can’t be considered a genre, but sadly, I don’t make the rules.

The Original: “I Want You Back” by The Jackson 5

Founded in 1959 by a Detroit automobile worker named Berry Gordy, the Motown label would grow to host powerhouse talent such as The Supremes, The Temptations, Marvin Gaye, Diana Ross, and Stevie Wonder. In 1969, it signed a newly-formed group named The Jackson 5. Composed of five brothers, Jermaine, Tito, Jackie, Marlon, and Michael, the band would go on to be the launching pad for the future King of Pop, Michael Jackson. Their first single with Motown was “I Want You Back”:

Song Structure (Original):

Showcasing many of the hallmarks of the Motown sound, “I Want You Back” is up-tempo and danceable, with a discernable gospel influence in the call and response sections of the vocal arrangement.

A relentless four-beat drum pattern is the engine of the Motown sound, and this pattern drives “I Want You Back”. Prominent, memorable instrumental riffs are another cornerstone of the sound, and this is introduced right out of the gate with the iconic bass line.

Throughout the song, there is a laundry list of Motown’s other trademarks, such as heavy use of syncopation, high-pitched, rhythmic octaves in the guitar, and a distinctive trebly sound, intentionally mixed to boost the song’s effectiveness over the radio.

The form is not straightforward, with several sections ending in 2/4 bars. The final section after the breakdown reintroduces the chorus, but mixes in short reprisals of the call and response section, each one preceded by a 2/4 bar. While this makes the overall structure of the song a little hard to pin down at first, it adds an element of excitement and keeps the listener engaged.

  • Intro (12 bars) [0:00]
    • Bass riff (4 bars)
    • Guitar line (4 bars)
    • Vocal improvisation (4 bars)
  • Verse one (8 bars) [0:27]
  • Chorus (last bar is 2/4) (8 bars) [0:45]
  • Call and response (4 bars) [1:03]
  • Verse two (8 bars) [1:12]
  • Chorus (7 bars) [1:30]
  • Breakdown (8 bars) [1:46]
  • Chorus/Call and response (23 bars) [2:04]
    • Chorus recall (last bar is 2/4) (4 bars)
    • Call and response (2 bars)
    • Chorus recall (last bar is 2/4) (4 bars)
    • Call and response (2 bars)
    • Chorus recall (last bar is 2/4) (4 bars)
    • Call and response (2 bars)
    • Chorus recall (last bar is 2/4) (4 bars)
    • Final response (1 bar)

The Cover: “I Want You Back” by Lake Street Dive

Formed in 2004 at the New England Conservatory in Boston, Lake Street Dive’s members found in one another a shared affinity for pop and swing era jazz. These influences are evident in the group’s entire discography, from their first release in 2006 to their latest album, 2016’s, Side Pony.

“I Want You Back” was included on the group’s 2012 album, Fun Machine, and showcases their ability to make a big impression with a very stripped-back arrangement. “I Want You Back” features Rachael Price on lead vocals, Mike Olson on trumpet, Bridget Kearney on upright bass, and Mike Calabrese on percussion.

Song Structure (Cover):

Cutting the tempo of the song from The Jackson 5’s 105 bpm (beats per minute) to 65 bpm, Lake Street Dive takes a mellow approach to the cover. This lengthens the song considerably, but their treatment never feels like it drags, largely due to subtle changes to the form.

While The Jackson 5 version has multiple short sections spaced around its verses and choruses, Lake Street Dive basically distills everything to an eight-bar phrase, giving the song a solid, steady sense of direction.

  • Intro (8 bars) [0:00]
    • Bass riff (4 bars)
    • Bass with trumpet (4 bars)
  • Verse one (8 bars) [0:29]
  • Chorus (8 bars) [0:58]
  • Verse two (8 bars) [1:28]
  • Chorus (last bar is 2/4) (8 bars) [1:56]
  • Instrumental (8 bars) [2:26]
  • Chorus (8 bars) [2:54]
  • Chorus (last bar is 2/4) (8 bars) [3:24]
  • Final response (1 bar) [3:53]

Cover Walk-Through

Bridget Kearney, bass for Lake Street Dive

Bridget Kearney

Lake Street Dive’s mellowed-out, jazzy take on the song retains all of the soul and energy of the original while giving it a new feel that suits their style. Listen along with the song while reading the following walk-through, keeping your ears open for how the instruments interact and overlap!

Intro

Bridget Kearney opens the song with its distinctive bass riff and she keeps it true to the original. After four bars, Mike Olson enters with the trumpet, playing an adapted version of the guitar line present in the original.

Verse one

Rachael Price comes in at [0:29] with her ever-captivating vocals, accompanied only by the bass.

Chorus

Mike Calabrese joins in with percussion at [0:58] as the trumpet harmonizes the descending passage in the bass. At the end of each of the phrases in this chorus, all four members join in, singing four-part harmony.

Verse two

The trumpet plays along with the bass riff in this section beginning at [1:28], but also begins introducing improvised fills at the ends of phrases. To support Price’s lead vocals, the rest of the group joins in with vowel-sound backing vocals.

Chorus

The group treats this chorus at