“A couple months ago, I started doing, I call them ‘casual covers,’ on Instagram, where I post some of my favorite songs and make them my own,” says Americana singer-songwriter Liz Longley. “This was one of them I couldn’t let go of.”
Her latest remake, following reimaginations of songs by Amos Lee to even Cher (“Believe”), and one that spoke to her so much that she decided to record it more properly? A new take on Four Tops‘ “I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch),” which she transforms from quintessential party anthem for the ages (and for all ages) to an introspective admission perhaps more befitting its lyrics.
“I fell in love with it,” Longley says of the standard, written by Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier and Eddie Holland and which became Four Tops’ first Billboard Hot 100 No. 1 for two weeks in 1965. “It’s a song that everybody knows and has danced to at a wedding at some point in their life, but I wanted to highlight the beautiful vulnerability in the lyrics.”
While Longley’s interpretation starts more slowed down, but still fairly faithful to, the original, her version, produced by Kai Welch, culminates in an unrestrained coda.
“There’s so much angst in those lyrics hidden underneath,” Longley says. “It felt like at the end of the song I could just let it out, and tap into that aspect of being so in love with someone that you can’t control how your heart feels.”
The Pennsylvania native, now based in Nashville, and who drew early airplay from SiriusXM for her cover of Van Morrison‘s “Moondance,” is recording her sixth LP, with multi-Grammy-nominated producer Paul Moak, just after Thanksgiving. The set follows 2016’s Weightless (released on Sugar Hill/Concord), which marked her Billboard chart debut, reaching the top 10 on a regional Heatseekers Albums survey.
Whereas Weightless found Longley exploring a more slightly amped-up sound than before, the new set draws more upon what she calls “Americana/soul. That’s kind of why this song is speaking to me, because it is an old soul song.”
As for the “I Can’t Help Myself” video, which Billboard premieres here exclusively, Longley wanted the song to be the star. She says of the Patryk Larney-helmed clip, “The lighting made it really magical.
“It’s fun to keep songs around that mean something to me,” Longley muses. “And, I think the younger generation maybe doesn’t maybe know this old classic. It felt like it had a whole other sound waiting for me to explore, and it’s fun to share it and hopefully expose it to new ears.”