Continued from Pt. 1…
With over a thousand covers of Bobby Hebb’s 1966 hit, “Sunny,” choosing one’s favorites might seem like a daunting task. However, I opted to have some fun with it, and am ready to share them with you; categorized for your listening and viewing pleasure. Enjoy!
The First Recording: MIEKO “MIKO” HIROTA (1965)
Strangely for our times, but not at all uncommon in the 1960s, Hebb’s was not the first recording of “Sunny” to appear on an album. Rather, that distinction belongs to Japan’s Mieko Hirota. Known as “Miko,” Hirota released the song, on her 1965 album “Mika in New York” with the Billy Taylor Trio.
Singer/Songwriter: BOBBY HEBB (June 1966)
Producer Jerry Ross originally recorded Hebb singing “Sunny” as part of an 18-song set. Recorded at New York’s Bell Sound Studios, it was released as a single, peaking at #2 on Billboard’s “Top 100” chart, that August, while Hebb was supporting The Beatles on their final US tour.
Motown: MARVIN GAYE (1990, recorded 1966)
Why the folks at Motown (or its subsidiary, Tamla Records) opted not to release this fab cover by Marvin Gaye when it was recorded in 1966 is puzzling. That they sat on it until its inclusion on the 1990 boxed-set, The Marvin Gaye Collection is even more curious, as Gaye showered his cover in all of that delicious Marvin-ness that made his an indelible voice for the ages.
Defying categorization is among the qualities that make Cher one of the most evergreen performers of the past seven decades. Thus, I’ve listed her category as “Cher,” especially as her cover of “Sunny” appeared on her eponymous third solo album, Chér, in 1966. Produced by Sonny Bono (about whom many felt Cher’s recording was a tribute), Cher’s cover of “Sunny” went on to become a European Top 10 hit.
Blue-Eyed Soul: DUSTY SPRINGFIELD
Nobody did blue-eyed soul quite like Dusty Springfield—she of the evening gowns, platinum blonde beehive bouffant, and thick black eyeliner—who handily covered “Sunny” on her 1967 album Where Am I Going, increasing the tempo to 6/8 and singing it in a higher octave, and performed it in Season 2 of her eponymous variety show, Dusty, in 1967 (as seen in the video, above).
Funk: JAMES BROWN and MARVA WHITNEY
During his Soul Brother No. 1 period (1967-1970), the one and only James Brown recorded a cover of “Sunny” for his 1969 album, MR. JAMES BROWN: Getting’ Down to It, as a duet with Marva Whitney, who—as a featured vocalist with the James Brown Revue in the late 1960s, who toured during the war with Brown in America, Europe, North Africa, and Vietnam—was perhaps best known by her honorary title as Soul Sister No. 1.
Jazz: TOM JONES and ELLA FITZGERALD
As Tom Jones said to Clash (the glossy quarterly music magazine out of Scotland) about performing a duet of “Sunny” with Ella Fitzgerald—who’d recorded her cover of Hebb’s hit on her 1970 album Things Ain’t What They Used to Be (And You Better Believe It)—on Season 3 of his Golden Globe-nominated series This Is Tom Jones: “I thought, ‘Well, I can’t compete with Ella Fitzgerald, because she’s a scat singer.’ She invented it, that thing. And I knew she was going to do it with ‘Sunny’. I knew she would play with it—she’d jazz it up. And I’m not a jazz singer, so I couldn’t go there. If it was more of a gospel song, and it was with Mahalia Jackson, that would’ve been a different thing. But I’m sitting with Ella Fitzgerald, who was one of the greatest jazz singers ever. So, I knew I couldn’t compete. I tried to get a little loose on it and jazz it up a little bit, but that’s not my forte, so I thought I’d just stick to my guns—I’ll just do what I do—and she appreciated that. I thought I’d let her fly on it, and she did.” Check it out, in the video, above.
Disco: BONEY M.
Though best known as the guy who gave us Milli Vanilli; back in 1976, German producer Frank Farian created the Euro-Caribbean disco/reggae group Boney M., comprised of Liz Mitchell and Marcia Barrett (both from Jamaica) on lead and backing vocals, and Mazie Williams (from Montserrat) and Bobby Farrell (from Aruba) dancing and doing live vocals, while Farian sang the male vocals on the studio versions. And while they remain the only artist/band with two singles in the list of the UK’s 15 best-selling singles of all time, the most lasting hit of theirs is indubitably their cover of “Sunny” (from their 1976 debut album, Take the Heat Off Me) that was remixed in 1988, 1999, and 2015, and was sampled by German EDM duo Boogie Pimps in 2004, for their own revamp.
Gen Z: BILLIE EILISH featuring FINNEAS
“Hey, you guys: So, I chose to sing ‘Sunny,’ by Bobby Hebb. I love this song, and it’s always warmed my heard and made me feel good, and I wanted you guys to feel good. So, here we go,” remarked Billie Eilish, just before performing “Sunny,” while accompanied on the organ by her brother Finneas O’Connell, last spring, as part of Global Citizen’s One World: Together at Home special. There’s no doubt that the talented artist—erroneously but hilariously referred to by Dionne Warwick as ‘William Eyelash’—delivered Hebb’s sunshine bouquet with aplomb, and simultaneously introduced Hebb’s uplifting soul-jazz standard to a new generation.
“Sunny” by Bobby Hebb
Philips Records (1966)
Get into it!