Lots and lots of great R&B songs have been written and performed over the years. No, we’re not referring to some of the uninspired, recycled tunes that has the genre in a state of flux today. We’re referring to the goods – the classics. Sure, neo-soul standout D’Angelo’s “Untitled (How Does It Feel)” isn’t revered on the level of say Aretha Franklin’s “Respect” or Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come,” but it is certainly one of a few contemporary R&B songs that has cemented itself as a classic.
A lot was made of “Untitled (How Does It Feel)” when it arrived and ended up winning a Grammy for D’Angelo (the album Voodoo ended up walking away with two including “Untitled”). Most of that fanfare, unfortunately, seems to be about a then buff D’Angelo baring it all in the music video. Yes that was significant, even beyond the women practically swooning over his abs, but arguably it may have taken away from a brilliant song based on a few, jazzy chords and chocked full of soul. Just go check out YouTube folks – or better yet THIS article, which examines six notable covers of the contemporary soul classic.
BUT FIRST for reference purposes, here’s the original, in all its nude, neo-soulful glory. Note that some artists covering the classic perform the song in it’s entirety, while the music video used a single edit version that shortens the song nearly three minutes.
1) Adam Levine & Usher (The Voice)
Video title: Adam Levine and Usher: “Untitled (How Does It Feel)” (The Voice), May 19, 2014
Doesn’t Adam and Usher naturally = superstar collaboration? The answer is a resounding yes – don’t even think about it. Then take two of pop music’s studs (or so the ladies tell it) performing one of the most sensuous songs ever and it has, well, sex written all over it. The falsetto is just plum nasty! “How does it feel?”
2) The Shadowboxers
Video title: The Shadowboxers | Untitled (How Does It Feel), March 3, 2005
Atlanta, Georgian band The Shadowboxers (Adam Hoffman, Matt Lipkins, and Scott Schwartz) absolutely kill the neo-soul classic – in the best way possible of course. Not only do they take on the entire seven minutes, they infuse some of their own ad-libs, grittiness, and nuances. The musicianship is nothing short of breathtaking. As they say in jazz, it’s definitely “in the pocket.”
3) Esther Stephens (Esther Stephens & The Means)
Video title: Esther Stephens – ‘Untitled (How Does It Feel)’ – D’Angelo (cover), June 13, 2012
One of the coolest thing about this particular cover is the entire, old school vibe of the video itself. Stephens and The Means do justice to neo-soul classic, maintaining the original key and preserving the sanctity of the melody. Vocally, Stephens has some mad pipes on her, particularly when she reaches for the most pronounced notes within the melody/ad-libs.
4) Daniel de Bourg
Video title: ‘Untitled (How Does It Feel)’ Daniel de Bourg cover, August 2, 2012
From the moment de Bourg begins singing, you feel he has the chops to deliver the goods. The grittiness, the cracks, and the falsetto – terrific!
5) Crystal Monee Hall
Video title: Untitled (How Does It Feel) Live | D’Angelo Acoustic Cover | Crystal Monee Hall – Female Version, September 21, 2014
Crystal Monee Hall’s voice is nothing short of fantastic here. She can go low, high, sideways – you get the point. The approach she takes is one that is poised, yet hauntingly captivating.
6) Pattern Is Movement (Hometapes)
Video title: Pattern Is Movement “Untitled (How Does It Feel?)” Official Video, October 1, 2013
What’s interesting about this cover from indie-band Pattern is Movement is the subtle liberties taken, which by no means compromise or takeaway from the original. It’s a creative interpretation.