Five Good Covers presents five cross-genre reinterpretations of an oft-covered song.

“Hello It’s Me” by Todd Rundgren had a very long gestation period. Originally recorded in 1968 and released as the B-side of the Nazz’s “Open My Eyes,” it was re-recorded in 1971 and released on 1972′s Something/Anything? album; a year later, it came out as a single, at which point it went top-five and became Rundgren’s biggest hit. The wait may have been prolonged and inexplicable, but that Carole King-with-soul sound made the wait totally worthwhile.

Long after other AM radio favorites from 1973 have faded from the collective memory, “Hello It’s Me” keeps popping up. It appears in the soundtracks to The Virgin Suicides and Duets. That ’70s Show featured it in the pilot. It even served as the background music to a Tums commercial. And, of course, there are artists out there who have their own interpretations…

MP3: Matthew Sweet & Susanna Hoffs – Hello It’s Me (Todd Rundgren cover)
Sid ‘n’ Susie, a.k.a. Matthew Sweet and Susanna Hoffs, covered “Hello It’s Me” on their cover collection Under the Covers Vol.2. “Does Sid worship Todd?” the liner notes ask facetiously. “Do you really need to ask?” No, indeed – this is a true-blue devotee’s cover, one that refuses to mess with perfection.

MP3: The Isley Brothers – Hello It’s Me (Todd Rundgren cover)
The Isley Brothers wouldn’t dream of messing with “Hello It’s Me” either – instead, they bend the song to their will, giving it the quiet storm treatment and gliding from introductions to suggestions of a late-night visit. In the time it takes to finish saying hello, the song leaves wistful behind in favor of sensual.

MP3: Mary J. Blige – Hello It’s Me (Todd Rundgren cover)
Mary J. Blige’s cover of “Hello It’s Me” (a bonus track on 2007′s Growing Pains, if you knew where to look) may have been informed by the Isleys’ version, but this is not a copycat cut. Far from it – the bass burbles, the sound swings, and Blige delivers a vocal that’s infused with sheer joy.

MP3: Carla Lother – Hello It’s Me (Todd Rundgren cover)
A jazz-folk singer-songwriter from Winnipeg, Carla Lother gives a performance of “Hello It’s Me” that was scolded by one reviewer for not being as smarmy or tongue-in-cheek as the original. Frankly, if a cover this dreamy and enchanting is wrong, nobody should ever want to be right.

MP3: Joe Pernice – Hello It’s Me (Todd Rundgren cover)
Joe Pernice’s It Feels So Good When I Stop is a soundtrack. What makes this unusual is that it’s the soundtrack to a novel. Doubly unusual: it’s one that Pernice wrote himself. In the book, the narrator associates Todd Rundgren’s music (performed or produced) with his first serious girlfriend and how she left him; this makes all Rundgren-related music off-limits. After hearing “Hello It’s Me,” the narrator decides, “It was almost time to start thinking about thinking about forgiving him.” Pernice’s cover gives that absolution, even as it holds the pain and loneliness of the breakup close by.

Get the classic Something/Anything? on iTunes or Amazon.

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