It’s been leading up to this point for almost eight years now! I’ve had a rough week making up my 40 hours with a later than usual dental checkup. Yesterday I re-ran the post that I did because I was planning on this one today. I had purchased the Amii Stewart version of “Dangerous Rhythm” in 2016 when I won an iTunes gift card. Lately, I had been listening to it in my car since I left it on my iPod since buying it. After several plays last week, I thought to check iTunes to see if the Maria Conchita Alonso version recorded two years earlier [!] had become available. Yes, indeed, it had! I was on that DL purchase like white on rice. Now, I would finally hear the first Ultravox! cover version ever recorded in 1982. And I would get to compare and contrast it to the version recorded two years later by the lissome Amii Stewart. Who would triumph in The Monk’s Squared Circle Of Pain®?
The reggae beat of the original version was still in evidence, but the intro already sported more synthesizers than Ultravox! had on their entire debut album. Most impressive was how bassist Fabio Pignatelli [of Goblin fame…!] completely created an entirely new bass line to fit the meter that the song demanded. This was already shaping up to be a cover version that could really distinguish itself. The feline synth harmonics were mysterious and cinematic. Quite a strong start. Then Ms. Stewart began singing.
Her singing was exceptionally strong and pure in tone, though she fudged a lyric in the first verse, substituting “we’re both into [?] danger” instead of “we’re both dressed for danger.” Later on “the red light is on tonight” instead of “the red light is on and now.” The latter substitution wreaked havoc with the A-A-B rhyming structure of the verse, but c’est la vie. She sounded so good, that the nitpicking of this über-fan seems churlish. The vibe was more European than the original. Which made sense in that it was created by a crack team of Italian session men. Significantly, they took an extended middle eight to add another minute to the song for the all important [subdued] metallic guitar solos by Marco Rinalduzzi while the reggae lilt to the beat dropped out for a bar or two before rejoining the solo at its most intense. Then the coda took the song out on the repeated chorus. Tasty. Far more slick that the somewhat tentative Ultravox! debut single but this version stood as an interesting complement to the strange reggae outlier of the early Ultravox! sound.
The differences were immediate from the first drumbeats on the Alonso version. Given that Dony [Robert Palmer] Wynn was recording the song for the Venezuelan market, the reggae beat was given a more tropical slant. The intro was not extended as the Stewart version. The arrangement would stick more closely to the Ultravox! template for the song. Going one step further, the phrasing of Ms. Alonso seemed to paint her as going out of her way to emulate Foxx’s phrasing on the original! Given that Foxx’s vocal performance on that song was one of his first ever, before he had truly “found his voice” it was almost catastrophic for Ms. Alonso to have treated the initial performance as a guide vocal. The gulf in technique and poise between the two vocalists here could not have been more dramatic and pronounced.
I did like the [male] backing vocals though! They whispered the words “halo” and “inferno” ominously a beat behind the lead vocals for an interesting arrangement. And the men took the “oh-oh-oh” BVs before each chorus instead of Ms. Alonso. Like the bass line in the Stewart version, these differences of arrangement were the biggest prizes to be had in this exercise. Which was fortunate, because Ms. Alonso’s delivery of the chorus was tooth-grindingly awful with her affecting a breathy, girlish tone that came scary close to sounding like gameshow prop-slash-classical guitarist Charo!
Like Amii Stewart, Ms. Alonso also fudged a lyric with “soft as a footstep in the air” instead of “soft as a footstep on the stair.” Less harm done than by her vocals, which were only a tiny fraction of the power and control that Amii Stewart brought to the mic. Only on the lyric”…and I don’t care…ooooooooh” where she got to strongly emote did it ever seem like Maria was inhabiting the song.
At the end of the day there was no contest as to which I’d prefer listening to. The Amii Stewart version was exceptionally well-sung and altogether in keeping with the Ultravox vibe as it had developed over time. The song was more redolent of Ultavox ca. 1984 than the original version ever was. There were enough differences for the cover to distinguish itself as an interesting adjunct to a favorite band’s earliest [and possibly most tentative] single. [forgetting the Tiger Lily era…]
Comparatively, as a singer, Maria Conchita Alonso was a heck of a Miss Venezuela 1975! The less said about her vocal performance, the better. She had first recorded as part of the band A’mbar with a Venezualan hit with “The Witch” in 1980, and “Ritmo Peligroso” [Sp. “Dangerous Rhythm”] was her debut solo album two years later. Like the earlier record, she sang in English and would later turn to her native language to carve out a career of musical stardom in Latin America before gaining traction as an actress in the late 80s.
At the end of the day I am still stymied by the notion of female singers making commercial dance records re-recording an Ultravox! song for their albums, but that may be down to Alonso’s producer. Ian Ainsworth of L.A.’s proto-New Wave power poppers The Quick did the honors on her version. Ainsworth enlisted his cohort Steve Hufsteter from The Quick and Danny Wilde and Phil Solem of Ainsworth’s then-current band Great Buildings, to contribute songwriting and playing on Ms. Alonso’s album. Undoubtedly, as L.A. hipsters, they had to be behind the choice to cover the early Ultravox! song. Don’t forget. Ultravox in 1978 had sold out several nights at the Whiskey-A-Go-Go and must have made a huge impression on the local scene [beyond the members of Berlin, obviously]. With the Stewart version produced by Paolo Micioni, who [I’m guessing] must have been familiar with the earlier Alonso cover. And there we are.
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