Five Good Covers presents five cross-genre reinterpretations of an oft-covered song.
“Waterloo Sunset” is not just any song…this Kinks song is revered. Millions of Cockneys identify with it like Philadelphia Flyer fans used to identify with Kate Smith’s “God Bless America.” The effect that hearing “From the halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli” has on a Marine is similar to the passions and memories stirred in many Brits when they hear,”As long as I gaze on Waterloo sunset, I am in paradise.” After all, this is the composition that critic Robert Christgau called “The most beautiful song in the English language.” It been voted the “Greatest Song About London” by London radio listeners. It’s the track that on its own would have cemented Ray Davies’ reputation as one of rock’s finest songwriters, even had he not written dozens of other exceptional songs.
Ironically, this 1967 song wasn’t even initially written about London. Originally it was called “Liverpool Sunset” as Ray Davies was infatuated with the port city and all things Merseybeat. One account has Davies changing the setting to his hometown so as not to compete with the Beatles tour of Liverpool, “Penny Lane.” To celebrate this classic song, we take a look at five of our favorite covers
1. In 1996, dance diva Cathy Dennis would shift to Britpop mode and take “Waterloo Sunset” higher up the British charts than any cover before or since. Her version has a freewheeling, sunny, almost Petula Clark-ish feel to it.
2. Devon natives Steve Knightly and Phil Beer make up Show of Hands. In 2005 the folk duo released a full album of covers, tackling everything from Little Feat to Radiohead. The album ends with their relaxed version of “Waterloo Sunset.”
3. The only non-Brits on our list are Seattle’s seminal punk rockers Fastbacks. From the late ‘70s through the early ‘90s Fastbacks went through more drummers than Spinal Tap including, even, Duff McKagen. Their version of “Waterloo Sunset” is part of the Sub Pop compilation Give The People What We Want, a 2001 Kinks tribute that also features Emerald City acts Mudhoney, The Young Fresh Fellows and Mark Lanegan. The backing vocals are a highlight here, recalling the original’s (which were provided by Ray Davies first wife Rasa).
4. Last year’s Peter Gabriel orchestral covers release Scratch My Back caused a lot of people to scratch their heads. Forgoing drums and guitars, Gabriel is one of the few artists who could leave himself so naked and pull it off. The isolation and loneliness expressed in the original is well captured in Gabriel’s cover. “Waterloo Sunset” was not part of the original Scratch My Back collection but is available on the deluxe edition.
5. From the Gabriel version, it’s an easy segue into Andy Mackay and the Metaphors. Mackay was a founding member of Roxy Music, and the Metaphors also include Roxy drummer Paul Thompson. Their ambient instrumental cover shimmers like…well…like a Waterloo sunset. It sounds great and goes even better with the video here.
Want more Five Good Covers? Check out previous installments here.