This is the 60th post in a weekly series. Read about it here and see the list of previous songs here. A new post about a different song is posted each Monday. You can listen to the songs in a Spotify playlist.
Ike & Tina Turner’s 1971 album “Workin’ Together” was the duo’s most successful record, in part because it had Ike & Tina’s biggest-selling hit, the funky cover of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Proud Mary.” But there plenty of other gems on “Workin’ Together,” including covers of The Beatles’ “Get Back” and “Let It Be.”
Also on that album was “Funkier Than a Mosquita’s Tweeter.” Though never a single in its own right, it was a B-side to “Proud Mary.”
Written by Ike Turner with Tina’s sister, Alline Bullock, the song featured Tina Turner on vocals backed up by the Ikettes. On its face, the song was a narrator berating a “dirty, dirty old man”:
You’re nothin’ but a dirty, dirty old man
You do your thinkin’ with a one track mind
You keep preachin’ ’bout heaven and glory
But on your face, it shows a different story
Clean up your rap, your story’s gettin’ dirty
Wash out your mouth, your lies are gettin’ rusty
Can’t believe nothin’ you say
I’m around and I see what you do
You know you’re funkier than a mosquito’s tweeter
You got a mouth like a herd of boll weevils
Same ol’ game, same ol’ thing
You never changed, always rappin’
‘Bout the same ol’ thing, yeah
I say “on its face,” because given what we now know about the Turners’ relationship, it’s not hard to hear Tina’s fiery delivery and think that could be directed at anyone other than Ike. It certainly could be about anyone, real or fictional, but she sang with such a sense of loathing and disdain that in hindsight would seem appropriate for her then-husband.
But the lyrics never mention Ike by name, and the subject of the song is addressed vaguely enough that it doesn’t have to be about him. When it’s sung by Tina Turner, it’s easy to project those lyrics onto Ike, but in the subsequent cover versions, the song could be directed at any number of people. And that’s part of the song’s appeal, because there’s enough latitude for us to assign that song to any one of the “dirty, dirty old man” in the world.
Nina Simone recorded “Funkier Than a Mosquito’s Tweeter” for her 1974 album, “It Is Finished.” Tina Turner performed the song with only two settings: angry and angrier. But jazz singer Simone vacillated between several tones and volumes, imbuing the version with a complex texture.
Of all the additions and tweaks Simone made, including changing “Mosquita’s” to “Mosquito’s,” the best might be prefacing this part…
Blowin’ minds is a thing of the past
You blew your chance that’s why it never last
You wanna be a graduated mother
But in reality you’re just another brother
…with this part:
I got something to tell ya
I got something to tell you, baby
That you ain’t hip to, baby
By the time the five minutes were up, it was obvious Simone had no love lost for the subject of the song.
A remix of Simone’s version later appeared on “Nina Simone: Remixed & Reimagined.”
UK duo Esssa slowed down “Funkier Than a Mosquito’s Tweeter” for the duo’s 2001 release, “Magneto Essa.” This funky electronic version built up the song’s tension over five minutes, never fully erupting the way the Simone’s version did. But this version borrowed Simone’s “I got something to tell ya,” repeating it over and over in a creepy way that sounded like a weirdo crank calling someone.
Brazilian singer Vange Milliet covered “Funkier Than a Mosquito’s Tweeter” for her album “Tudo em mim anda a mil.” The arrangement was similar to Simone’s, but thanks to the trippy keyboards and the pointed delivery, Milliet made this song all hers.
Nikka Costa’s 2001 album “Everybody Got Their Something” demonstrated that the former child singer had matured into a bluesy songstress. Her 2005 follow-up, “can’tneverdidnothin’,” was even more impressive, blending multiple genres. Her cover of “Funkier Than a Mosquito’s Tweeter” started of slow and quiet, but by the end, Costa was belting out over a flurry of horns and drums. In other words, she started off with the cool feel of Simone’s version before a Turner-like finish.
Though Five Star Affair’s funky cover of “Funkier Than a Mosquito’s Tweeter” was not purely a capella, it did include some vocal flourishes, including a repeated loop that sounded like someone saying, “Ahh ahh, ticky ticky.” As one does.
At more than eight minutes long, Corey Wilkes’ “Funkier Than a Mosquito’s Tweeter” was a slow burn. And while the jazz-tinged cover was nice… It was more than eight minutes long.
At just 39, blues rock guitarist Joe Bonamassa has already had a storied career: he opened for B.B. King when he was 12 and has released more than a dozen albums on his own label. On his 2009 album, “The Ballad of John Henry,” he remade “Funkier Than a Mosquito’s Tweeter” into a guitar-driven rock song that lasted five minutes. It wasn’t the last song on the album, but it might as well have been; the epic cover would be a perfect closer.
Most of the covers started out slow and worked toward a climax. But The Bad Dogs’ “Funkier Than a Mosquito’s Tweeter,” which appeared on the 2009 album, “Good Time, Bad Girl,” stood out because it didn’t wait before becoming a party of horns, drums, and guitars. Additionally, the song stood out for its high-pitched vocals, which were a contrast to the deep voices of the previous singers.
Jazz and soul singer Morgan James recorded a live Nina Simone tribute album called, “Morgan James Live: A Celebration of Nina Simone.” In addition to singing “I Put A Spell On You,” James performed “Funkier Than a Mosquita’s Tweeter” (using the same spelling that Ike & Tina Turner used).
James had used that same arrangement at a performance two years earlier…
In both versions, she drew upon the flourishes Simone had added to make it distinctly hers, particularly the quiet vocals and the jazz-influenced percussion. But this was not Nina Simone karaoke: James used her own arrangement, and she added some of her own repeated lines.
James performed the song again in 2016, though in a much understated way, with a percussionist instead of a full band.
On her 2016 album, “I’m Doing Fine,” Cherrill Rae turned “Funkier Than a Mosquita’s Tweeter” into a dance track. And not just any dance track, but the kind you’d hear at a gay bar in smaller-sized city. Of course, I could just be projecting, the same way I’m projecting when I say I couldn’t listen to this without picturing several men in a club sashaying and wagging their fingers to this jam. Of course, I must admit that I couldn’t listen to it without wagging my finger myself. If someone did ever play this in a club, it might be the first time anyone has danced to the words “boll weevils” in a gay bar.
These artists were able to put their own spins on the song, though most of them didn’t veer too far from the source material. For many of these covers, the source material was Simone’s version, not the Turners’ version. Just go back and listen to how many included Simone’s added “I got something to tell ya” part.
We’ve reviewed other songs where one cover strongly influenced subsequent cover versions, such as Aretha Franklin’s “Respect,” Jeff Buckley’s “Hallelujah,” Soft Cell’s “Tainted Love,” and Kenny Rogers’ “Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In),” just to name a few. And we’ve seen Simone influence cover songs before, as we saw when reviewing versions of “I Put A Spell On You.” Her cover of that song is one of the definitive versions, if not the definitive version.
“Funkier Than a Mosquita’s Tweeter” stands apart from those songs because those songs were high-profile, whether because they were hits, radio staples, or featured in TV and movies. And this song ended up being the Jan Brady to “Proud Mary”‘s Marcia Brady.
Thus, these covers of “Funkier Than a Mosquita’s Tweeter” are remarkable just for the sheer number of them. Whether you’ve known this song for years or you’re just learning about this song by reading this post, you’re probably at least a little surprised by the number of covers, right? I was.
I said earlier in the post that it’s hard to hear the Ike & Tina version without thinking that she’s singing those words directly to him. And that’s got less to do with the specific lyrics than it does with his overall reputation. Given that we know about his mean and abusive past, it’s hard not to think about that when listening to any song on which Ike Turner performed.
Which is why this song – and its covers – feel so powerful. I might find it hard to listen to the original version without thinking of Ike, but I can listen to nearly a dozen other versions, all of which are divorced from him. In the hands of these cover artists, whether it be a famous person like Nina Simone or one of the lesser known singers, the song has a chance to breathe on its own, unencumbered by the weight of any feelings I might have toward Ike Turner. When listening to the song performed by someone else, the song can be about any number of dirty old men. There’s certainly no shortage of them.
Of course, maybe I’m just projecting again.