“Fantasy” by Earth, Wind & Fire (1977)/”Fantasy” by Me’Shell NdegeOcello (2005)

Song lyrics have become a lot more literal over the years. I don’t think a song like “Fantasy” could be a hit in 2019. The millennials wouldn’t cotton to it. And I can’t really speak to how people felt when EW&F released the original version of this song-after all, I was an infant at the time. But even though I didn’t come to the party day and date with the song’s release, I’d imagine that for those who were there (and conscious of music) at the time, “Fantasy” felt like an exploration, something futuristic and aspirational. When I listen to it now, I can easily picture it being the theme of a fantastical film about a faraway land. Actually, I just clicked onto the Wikipedia entry for “Fantasy”, and it says that Maurice White was inspired to compose the song after watching “Close Encounters Of The Third Kind”. So I’m not far off.

Two decades after The Elements scored a hit with “Fantasy”, Meshell Ndegeocello re-worked the song for an Earth, Wind & Fire tribute album called Interpretations. In her hands, “Fantasy” turns more sinister. The bright horns and Philip Bailey’s airy falsetto are replaced by low-slung guitar riffs and Meshell’s half-spoken/half-sung monotone. She begins the cover by offering a dedication to soldiers fighting in Iraq, and while her version feels escapist, the need to escape feels much more real and urgent than it does in Earth, Wind & Fire’s original. Sy Smith’s chorus offers a temporary respite from that urgency…but Meshell quickly grounds the song back into reality. It’s a stunning interpretation.

One version sounds like a wonderful daydream, the other version sounds like someone trying to escape from a nightmare. Both versions are powerful.

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