In the late 90s and early 2000s the musical collective Soulquarians made a big mark on hip-hop and neo-soul. In 2000 they created Common’s Like Water for Chocolate album which contained his first grammy nominated song, “The Light.” The J. Dilla produced single sampled blue-eyed soul singer/songwriter Bobby Caldwell’s “Open Your Eyes.” Bobby Caldwell has penned several hits for himself as well as other artist. His most notable song, “What You Won’t Do for Love,” has not only been covered several dozen times, but is the most sampled song in his discography. Dilla certainly shed light on his 1980’s tune “Open Your Eyes” from Cat in the Hat.
Common’s “The Light” sampled parts of the second verse from the original piece, and added a looped drum track from “You’re Getting a Little Too Smart” by The Detroit Emeralds. I love how Dilla’s edit changed the second verse to the hook and manage to give a slight variation to the meaning of the tune. Common composition is a love letter where the hook is now more a message of “I will always be by your side because our love is special,” compared to Caldwell’s proclamation of “pay attention to what’s in front of you before you lose a great love.” I’ve heard a couple of people credit Bilal for the vocals, however this is a straight sample. He and Erykah Badu did the vocals on the live version for Dave Chapelle’s Block Party movie and soundtrack but that is as far as that credit goes.
Common – The Light 2000
Bobby Caldwell’s version is mid-tempo, clean and straight forward. Everything is laid back from the piano and drums to the vocals. He doesn’t force his vocals at all. Even though he uses his full voice it still sounds a effortless and casual. His timbre is naturally bright and a bit biting, yet it fits with easygoing feel of the song. The most intense this version gets is when the guitar comes in toward the end. I don’t even know if I would consider it intense but a little more power behind the track.
Bobby Caldwell – Open Your Eyes 1980
In 2008 Dwele covered a self-produced rendition of “Open Your Eyes” on Sketches of a Man. I’m pretty sure Dwele was inspired to do the song from hearing Dilla’s take. He and Dilla collaborated on several projects, most notably with Slum Village. Dwele ditches the original drum pattern and goes with a beat similar to the syncopated drums in “The Light.” Dwele’s interpretation remains mellow, perhaps even more than Caldwell’s version. Dwele’s falsetto is soothing and refreshing. He too adds electric guitar near the end, but with him layering in mild background vocals the song is more fluid and flowing. If you know Dwele’s music you recognized that even though he stayed true to the authentic version, it is still very much a Dwele constructed song.
Dwele – Open Your Eyes 2008
Most recently John Legend interpreted the tune on his 2013 album Love in the Future. His depiction mimics the first version as far as instrumentation and arrangement. It’s simple, piano, drums and power guitar. He does add the classic John Legend church hum/moan in the background during the chorus but it is so low you feel it more than you hear it. In my opinion, Legend’s voice is a bit too harsh for the song. The entire song is heavy and rounded. I don’t feel the build up as much as I did in the 1980 or 2008 takes. I know he is capable of doing a more lobby/elevator music type tone because his second album. I feel like he either needed to go all falsetto, or a stripped down adaptation with piano only. I think this version was just a little too forceful and he even sounds strained at parts.
John Legend – Open Your Eyes 2013
What do you think? Do you have a favorite version of the song?