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  • Writer's pictureBenjamin Kassel

In its various forms, "Beggin'" has been a standout song for over a half-century...

...and I had to figure out which one version I liked / wanted to write about the most.

When two versions of a song become popular, you know it's got good bones. When four versions and another re-touching — if not more — become hits, you know it's a compositional masterpiece.

Such is the case for a soul song composed in the mid- to late-60s by the Four Seasons' keyboardist/backing vocalist Bob Gaudio and the Angels' Peggy Farina (now Santiglia): "Beggin'." An impeccably catchy take on Northern soul, the song's simple harmonies and soaring chorus gave it staying power and then some.

"Beggin'" was first released by Gaudio and his bandmates, the Four Seasons in 1967, to #16 on the Hot 100 in the US. However, it didn't chart in the UK, but Timebox's psychedelic pop cover a year later did. After four decades, the track was given new life in 2007 first with a remix by French DJ Pilooski and shortly thereafter with a cover by Norwegian hip hop duo Madcon. Another decade after that, a rock cover by X Factor Italia runners-up Måneskin took their native country by storm — only to explode onto the international scene following the band's triumph at the Eurovision Song Contest 2021.

All five versions brought something new to the table, something for me to individually enjoy about each of them:

  • The Four Seasons' original was prime Northern soul in its 60s heyday.

  • Timebox's cover retained the catchiness, but gave it a new style.

  • Pilooski revived the original version and gave it a new sheen.

  • Madcon added rapped sections to truly move the song into the 21st century.

  • Måneskin took Madcon's version and made it funk rock.

The song's continued success in various forms is even more of a credit to writers Gaudio and Farina for crafting a track with such staying power, as well as original producer Bob Crewe for his guidance and the Four Seasons for their artistry.

I heard "Beggin'" throughout my Tuesday, but in a mix of all the different versions. In deciding between them for today's Senior Year Soundtrack entry, I listened to each take individually for the qualities that set them apart. In the end, I decided on Madcon's cover for its simultaneous preservation of the core of the original composition, and its production and stylistic updates that place the track into two eras and genres at once. While one may expect these dualities to be conflicting to the point of muddying the song, the elements actually flow together seamlessly, as if they were all planned for 40 years prior.

Madcon's cover largely retains the instrumentation and form of the original, remade using contemporary production. The result is an incredibly clean Northern soul sound that feels at home in the late 60s as much as it does in the 2000s — when it still sounds fresh. I think Northern soul fits the 00s because of its combination of Motown-derived harmonies with breakbeat-like drums, making an incredibly danceable strain of R&B with one foot firmly placed in the 60s, but the other leaning more toward the end of the 20th century. Madcon also proved that Northern soul beats are great candidates for rap, which is how they put their unique spin on "Beggin'."

In their cover, Tshawe Baqwa takes on Frankie Valli's vocals, transforming them from their original, clean pop delivery to a slinkier, soulful form that makes you feel the titular begging for his love to reciprocate his affection all that much more. The increased desperation likely also comes from the melody being at the higher end of his vocal range, as opposed to Valli, whose piercing falsetto gave him around another octave past the peak of "Beggin'." This quality is a side effect of Madcon retaining the original version's key. Often, that's a risk because of the identity the original retains, but here I believe it works to their artistic advantage because of the effect it has on Baqwa's performance.

Then there's the most unique aspect of Madcon's cover: the aforementioned rapped verses, performed by the duo's other half, Yosef Wolde-Mariam. Not only are they thematically spot-on, augmenting the established lyrics, but they're extremely catchy. As much as I talked about the memorability of the chorus earlier, Wolde-Mariam's raps get in my head just as much, likely thanks to the multiple repeated rhythms throughout both of his sections. Each of those rhythms becomes its own hook, and they lend themselves to a dynamic delivery, bordering on the nature of being sung. Listening to the raps after knowing Måneskin's cover, it's clear as to why Damiano David opted to go all the way with those sections and sing them — Wolde-Mariam did a lot of the work for him, especially in the final "keep walkin' on" section.

Covers can be a very delicate art, because it's hard to balance the new take's originality with reverence to the base version. With their take on "Beggin',"Madcon took the somewhat difficult approach of retaining much of the original, while adding one new element — but that addition proved to be a smashing success. The rapped verses gave their version much of its unique, contemporary character, and helped it achieve sale and chart success on a greater scale than the original (#5 in the UK and #1 in four European countries). Furthermore, their contributions to Gaudio and Farina's song proved to be an inspiration for the even bigger cover that followed in their wake. Madcon may not have been the originators of "Beggin'," but they are most certainly a major inflection point in the song's illustrious history.


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