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Where Did You Sleep Last Night - Best Cover Versions of (Music Monday)

Original Title: In the Pines (Black Girl)
Original Artist: ?????
Cover Versions by: Bill Monroe, Lead Belly, The Four Pennies, Nirvana

…I would shiveeeeeeeeeeeer….whooole night throoouuugh…” What a blast! What a stellar ending to the song and to the whole Unplugged concert! In that last line, with his awesome raw and seems-about-to-collapse voice, Kurt Cobain had made me love this song.

It was during my teenage years, and even then, I knew it is not his song, since none of Nirvana’s album has thing song. What I didn’t know was who the original artist is. Couple of years later, in reading Kurt’s biography by Charles R. Cross, Heavier than Heaven, there is a mention about Lead Belly, to whom Kurt had much admiration. But it turned out that the history of this song is more complicated than that.

Being a traditional American folk song, assumed to be a Southern Appalachian originally, it’s hard—or might as well be impossible—to know who the writer or the original singer of In the Pines is. This song had been around in late 1800s, and through times, it had been sung in and released under different titles (as shown above) and versions, with different interpretations and lyrics (from death, love, to sexuality).

In 1941, Bill Monroe became the first to make a record of the song with the title In the Pines. With his bluegrass/country style, he produced a gentler musical style of this song, though the lyric tells about death. Sort of Clementine. It’s sad, but it’s country sad.
Bill Monroe - In The Pines

Lead Belly recorded some versions of the song between 1944-1948, mostly under the title Black Girl or Black Gal. Later, in more recent releases of his “Best of” albums, the title changed into Where Did You Sleep Last Night. A folk/ballad singer, Lead Belly simplified the song—in comparison to Monroe’s version—but he enhanced the tragedy, musically and lyrically. He created a darker version that later influence many musicians including Kurt Cobain, Joan Baez, and many more.
Lead Belly - Black Girl (Where Did You Sleep Last Night)

The Four Pennies, to be honest, is a band I’ve never heard of, but their record for this song is listed as “Notable Versions” in Wikipedia. They’re a pop/rock n roll band from UK during the 60s. Recorded and released as a single under the title Black Girl in 1964, the Four Pennies gave this song another “make-up”, a (rather) gloomy cabaret-folk.
The Four Pennies - Black Girl

Played on a stage decorated with black candles, with at least 3 songs about (or at least mentioned) death in the repertoire, I guess it’s clear how Kurt Cobain felt about the song when he sang it in his MTV unplugged concert in 1993…and it’s still the one I like the most.
Nirvana - Where Did You Sleep Last Night

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