Five Good Covers presents five cross-genre reinterpretations of an oft-covered song.
When Bruce Springsteen was touring behind his 2005 album Devils and Dust, he closed his shows with a cover of the song “Dream Baby Dream” by the protopunk band Suicide. Most fans of the Boss were unfamiliar with it, and didn’t know how to take the moody mantra, sung over the drone of a pump organ and an offstage synth – “Glory Days” it ain’t. It turned out Bruce had been a fan of Suicide’s since meeting them in a studio in the ’70s, and had claimed in one interview that “You know, if Elvis came back from the dead I think he would sound like Alan Vega.” As for Vega, once he’d heard Springsteen’s interpretation, he said, “Now I can die…. He interpreted my song, he did it his way, and such a great way that I’m going to have to sing it that way, or not sing it at all anymore…. On my death bed, that’s the last thing I’m going to listen to. I’ll play it at my funeral.” So it’s safe to say he liked it.
Later, Bruce would record a fuller studio version that scored a thank-you-fans video and appeared on 2014’s High Hopes, giving the song its widest exposure yet. But he was never the only one to fall sway to the song’s hypnotic pull. Here are five covers of “Dream Baby Dream”; some predate Springsteen’s playing it, some postdate it, and all of them know how to take a hold of the listener.
MP3: Luna – Dream Baby Dream (Suicide cover)
If there’s a Dream-Pop Hall of Fame, Dean Wareham’s plaque is one of the most revered, thanks to his work with Galaxie 500, Luna, and Britta Phillips, among others. No stranger to cover songs (check out Lunafied, Luna’s all-cover album), he makes “Dream Baby Dream” sound like latter-day Velvet Underground trying out a little light surf music percussion.
MP3: Neneh Cherry and the Thing – Dream Baby Dream (Suicide cover)
Neneh Cherry was the daughter of jazz trumpet legend Don Cherry. The Thing are a Scandinavian jazz trio named after a Don Cherry song, founded for the express purpose of playing Don Cherry songs (they’ve expanded their catalog since). Talk about two artists destined to collaborate. They did so on 2012’s The Cherry Thing, which includes an eight and a half minute long cover of “Dream Baby Dream” that allmusic.com claims “puts Bruce Springsteen’s contrived version to shame.”
MP3: Savages – Dream Baby Dream (Suicide cover)
If you haven’t heard Savages, the British quartet made up of four women (never has the term “all-girl band” been more inappropriate for a band with no boys in it), go to YouTube and check out some of their live concert videos. Imagine Joy Division fronted by Patti Smith, with rich, scalding guitar work, and you’re getting the idea. Here’s their live cover of “Dream Baby Dream,” only a minute shorter than Neneh Cherry’s, and conveying the sense of an imposing wall closing in.
MP3: Black Tambourine – Dream Baby Dream (Suicide cover)
Black Tambourine had a career that went by faster than a falling star, but their sound would go on to be emulated by bands that had no idea it was Black Tambourine they were emulating. They were shoegazing before shoegazing was even named, and their melodic noise became the foundation of much of the indie rock of the ’90s. In their original incarnation, they recorded fewer than a dozen songs; when a new compilation of their catalog was being prepared, they reunited to record some live favorites; “Dream Baby Dream” was one of them.
MP3: Joyce Murphy – Dream Baby Dream (Suicide cover)
This version sounds far closer to the Bruce Springsteen aesthetic than the Suicide one; indeed, it’s featured on a webpage as “a song made famous by Bruce Springsteen.” That web page, incidentally, belongs to Barretstown, an organization based in Ireland which brings seriously ill children and their families to camp for some fun-based therapeutic activities. Founded in 1994 by Paul Newman, it hosted Joyce Murphy after her sister died of cancer; Murphy came back to cover “Dream Baby Dream” for a charity single. Said the Barretstown CEO, “We chose this song because of the absolute simplicity and positivity of the lyrics, and the quiet uplifting nature of the melody, which seem to capture the Barretstown spirit.” That’s a dream we can all get behind.