#2. "Try a Little Tenderness": Otis Redding Stole It From White People
There were several versions of "Try a Little Tenderness," dating all the way back to the early 1930s. Here's Ray Noble and his Orchestra, performing what sounds like theme music for sad, old-timey hobos to shuffle on down the road to:
Here's a Bing Crosby version from a few years later, most appropriate for cartoon blue jays to listen to while they help Cinderella get ready for the big ball. Later covers would also be performed by Mel Torme, Frank Sinatra and even Rod Stewart. In short, the whitest white people possible have sang this song for nearly a century.
And now for something completely different ...
Holy shit. Turns out "Try a Little Tenderness" was a lot like a Kardashian: It's only really happy with some black in it. It makes complete sense that Otis Redding would steal this song from generations of white people before him. The piece is about a poverty-stricken woman, and the only way to console her is through boning. That is not White Guy problem solving. Our pallid wangs only cause trouble. We whip 'em out and it warrants trials, injunctions and search warrants. No, boner-based healing is the exclusive realm of the black man. Which is why it took Otis Redding to truly understand this song, and he understood it so hard that it walked funny for days.
Here's Otis Redding simultaneously ruining the career and confidence of an MC forever, while also teaching a white girl how to spell "multiple orgasms."
#1. "Hurt": Johnny Cash Stole It From NiN
Nine Inch Nails' "Hurt" was a song about the disillusionment, pain and depression of addiction. As little as I personally cared for or understood Mr. Reznor's music, you have to recognize and concede authenticity when you hear it. And "Hurt" was definitely authentic. It might have been a little trite and overwrought in places, but it was an accurate and unflinching document of serious, deep psychological pain ... that skinny white boys could fuck to. No matter what I'm about to say, Trent Reznor, you need to know that we all really, really appreciated that, man.
Ultimately, "Hurt" was about the fragile psychological state of Trent Reznor -- and wow, it probably did not help matters at all when Johnny Cash roared up on a Harley, stole that manifesto of emotional agony right out of his shaking, bleeding hands, then threw a whiskey bottle at the wall and fell asleep on top of his girlfriend. Yes, you still gave birth to that song, Trent, and we all know it wouldn't exist without you, but it very clearly loves Johnny so, so much more now. Cash's cover was a testament to a lifetime of hard living and regret, from the lips of a man who's lost nearly everything he's ever loved and is now facing down death himself. No matter how real you think shit got in your 20s, your goth/industrial problems are just never going to compare to the lifelong issues of Liquor: The Cowboy. Cash had about five decades of pain on Reznor when he first performed "Hurt"; you're just not fighting in same weight class.
It's tragic, really: You raised that music up as best you could, Trent, and sure you had your problems, but you tried your best and you really loved it. Then mom's cool new boyfriend came along with his speedboat and an autographed picture of that time he met Dolph Lundgren at the driving range and shit, man, you never stood a chance.
If you find that your neurotically chewed, black-painted fingernails are just dancing across the keyboard with rage right now, you should know this is the one entry that cannot be contested. In the words of Mr. Reznor himself:
Game. Set. Cash.
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