In 1972, Canadian band Skylark released their recording of one of the most widely covered power ballad from that era. Famed singer/songwriter and producer had put together the band Skylark in the early 70’s with lead singer Donny Gerrard. Their demo album contained the song “Wildflower” which started as a poem by David Foster’s friend Dave Richardson about his girlfriend. One story says, Richardson penned the poem after seeing his nurse girlfriend sadden by the loss of two patients she had grown close to. Composer Doug Edwards read the poem and came up with a tune for it and the results spawned a classic crossover hit. Skylark’s original version spent 21 weeks on the Billboard Hot charts and many of it’s cover versions were chart toppers as well. The song starts off dramatic with drums and power guitar that swells with stings then quickly mellows out in time for Donny’s smooth, graceful and sincere vocals to glide over the background. The song is overall soft rock perfection both sonically and lyrically.
The following year New Birth recorded the song inputting a bit more soul then the original. Lead singer Leslie Wilson’s voice was more raspy, and adding a horn accompaniment made the song bigger during the buildups. Even though the original recording fits the lyrics better, of all the versions I’ve heard (and there are a lot), I love this version the best. It may be my marching band bias, but the brass and the way the strings flourish in the New Birth rendition is everything. You feel every syllable Wilson utters. According to New Birth, they got so much good feedback performing the song live that they decided to record it. I’m not sure who was performing it live first, but they both have similar band accompaniments, at least as far as instrumentation goes. According to an interview with Howard Burchette of The Funk Show, both of New Birth’s lead vocalists Melvin and Leslie Wilson said they were the second to recorded it and O’Jays were third. Their recording was released in October of 1973, and from the digging I found the earliest recording of an O’Jays live concert recording was in December of 1973. Regardless they both have standing interpretations of the tune.
Eddie Levert said he thought it was a real pretty song and when he first heard it he thought “it sounded like a, well to tell the truth, it sounded like a white guy trying to do a black thing, but we come to find out later that it was a black guy trying to do a white thing.” Their version brought a focus to the lyrics since it was a much slower take, and their gospel harmonies and well matured voices bring something a bit more sorrowful to the piece. They managed to make the song ten minutes though (so unnecessary), and even though they can sing their butts off it was way too long. By the end of their version you get the feeling Eddie is into hearing his voice more then displaying the song. What they did right for the song though, was to bring additional ways to harmonize the background vocals, and the powerhouse of a band.
The next year, 1974, Memphis alto-saxophonist Hank Crawford recorded a funky-soul up tempo version that took advantage of the brass sound the covers before his added. His take on the song has been sampled by both 2-Pac, “Shorty Wanna be a Thug”, and Kanye West, “Drive Slow”, both sampling similar riffs from the first verse of the song. His rendition isn’t the only to be sampled though, Jamie Foxx’s “Unpredictable” and Gravediggaz’s “Unexplained” used New Birth’s cover. With the sampling and many covers of this song from the date it was first recorded to now, it has proven to be a timeless classic. Feel free to share, comment and/or discuss your favorite version.
Hank Crawford – Wildflower
Kanye West – Drive Slow remix
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Wildflower by Skylark “Wildflower”
Wild Flower by New Birth “Wild Flower”
Wildflower by Hank Crawford “Wildflower”
Wildflower by Skylark Wildflower (Original Hit Version)
Wild Flower by New Birth Wild Flower
Wildflower by Hank Crawford Wildflower (Album Version)