unCOVERed: “Who Can I Run To?” Featuring The Jones Girls VS. Xscape
by Matthew Allen
With a plaintive flourish of keyboards, followed by a hypnotic flicker of guitar chords at the top, right before a supple descending bass line fused with a crescendo of cymbals, the first 10 seconds of “Who Can I Run To?” are instantly recognizable to two generations of R&B fans. A story of an otherwise confident lady second guessing herself over decisions that may or may not lead to love, this song has embodied the foreground and background of many a woman’s mind; I know who I am, but who’s going to fill this void in my soul? The quality of the song itself isn’t in doubt. What is up for debate, however, is who conveyed that message better: The Jones Girls, who performed it originally, or Xscape, who had a hit with it 16 years later?
The Jones Girls (1979)
The sisterly trio of Shirley, Brenda and Valerie Jones experienced only a brief amount of success, but their contributions to soul music, particularly in the dawn of the post-disco era was an important part nevertheless. As artists on Philadelphia International Records, their hits “Nights Over Egypt” and the Gamble & Huff penned “You’re Gonna Make Me Love Somebody Else” are R&B classics. The B-side of the latter was this sweet sounding confessional statement, featuring these keening three part harmonies and doo-wop style backing vocals. The electric keyboard is had an echo to it and grand piano dominated the first verses and some striking strings on the third and fourth verses upped the dramatic ante. As trumpet solos built up in the vamp out, the sisters’ falsetto laced ad-libs was a powerful ending that left the listener with hope. With the A-Side hitting the Top 40 on The Billboard 100 and number five on the R&B chart, this is a 45 that’s truly a golden for music collectors.
The Atlanta quartet of Kandi Burress, Tiny Cottell, and sisters Tamika and LaTocha Scott, emerged in a time when girls groups were abundant (SWV, Jade, En Vogue). Their hits “Just Kickin’ It,” and “Understanding,” two years prior helped their debut go platinum. Their follow-up, Off the Hook, again sold a million copies, and its success was bolstered by their cover of this Jones Girl’s old B-side. The track was somewhat a departure for producer Jermaine Dupri, who would build a legacy with hard edged Hip-Hop sound. Unlike Gamble and Huff’s version that featured colorful instrumental nuances, his arrangement here was simpler; downplaying the strings, raising the guitar in the mix, and minimizing the Fender Rhodes improvising, to let the rich melody speak for itself. The back and forth between Tamika and LaTocha gave their version more powerful and weight to the subject matter; you really believed their confusion and longing in their voices. The song resonated with the public, hitting The Billboard 100 Top 10 and number one on Billboard’s R&B Charts.
Despite the angelic inatrumental sprinkles of piano, strings and trumpet on the original, the production on the remake is more supple and the lead and backing vocals are stronger. Therefore, Xscape wins.
Matthew Allen is a Brooklyn-based music journalist and television producer. In addition to soulhead, his work can be found on EBONY, JET and Wax Poetics Magazines. To keep up with his work, follow him on Twitter and visit his blog, The Well-Dressed Headphone Addict. Check out some of his work for soulhead.