Single Review: Sheryl Crow “The First Cut Is The Deepest”

The First Cut Is The Deepest
Year: 2003
Album: The Very Best of Sheryl Crow

In 2003, Cat Stevens’ music caught the ear of a few pop stars. Beth Orton (“Wild One”/How to Deal soundtrack), Mandy Moore (“Moonshadow”/Coverage), and Sheryl Crow (“The First Cut Is the Deepest”/The Very Best of Sheryl Crow.)

Needless to say, they were all doing Stevens a big favor — making his music sound better than it actually is. Cat Stevens’ folksy, smarmy original begins slowly, with him singing the contemplative lyrics “I would have you given all of my heart/but there’s someone who’s torn it apart.” He asks if the woman he is involved with that he wants to try another romance but lets her know in the chorus that he is afraid of being hurt again. It’s unexpected joyful moment when he first proclaims that the “first cut is the deepest.” He seems to be full of glee and celebrating the experience. In the second verse, the song maintains the tempo of the chorus and tells his new woman the dreaded line – he still wants her to be her friend, but yet meet his emotional needs that girlfriends usually do. He gives her the weak promise, “I’m sure going to give you a try/and if you want, I’ll try to love again” But he doesn’t fail to let her know again that he’s been hurt mighty badly. In other words, “Hey, I just need you to be around to boost my ego and tell me I’m attractive. Then I’ll leave you for your best friend as soon as I tell you I’m officially over my last relationship.” Sorry, Cat, not buying it as a reluctant love song.

Crow’s version is like she is having a long, heart-to-heart with the guy that likes her. It’s apologetic and honest. For a commercial single, it bears no resemblance to the original. This may be one of the few times this sentence will ever be written – it benefits from overproduction. She keeps the opening almost the same. But the chorus is a sweeping, dramatic affair as the guitars and drums pipe in after the first verse. However, she corrects Stevens’ mistake and returns to mid-tempo. When she tells him in the second verse that she “still wants you by my side/to help dry the tears that I cried,” it does not sound manipulating. Instead it’s a sincere, heartfelt gesture. She’s going to keep her promise and date him once she’s ready. With Crow, the declaration that the “first cut is the deepest” is not an excuse so she’ll have a backup. It’s from her experience and she wants to take it slowly. Crow repeats the second verse to extend the song longer and adds her own background vocals.

This is the best Sheryl Crow has sounded in years. It’s as though she had gotten a glimpse of the shadow of herself, didn’t like it and recorded the cover. Now, if only she applied this much thought and interpretation to her own work.

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