They Say It’s Your Birthday celebrates an artist’s special day with other people singing his or her songs. Let others do the work for a while. Happy birthday!
Nick Lowe, who turns 67 today, has one of the most secure spots in the ’70s rock pantheon. He started the decade with pub-rock founders Brinsley Schwarz and ended it with “Cruel to be Kind,” a song that made it to number 12 on charts in the UK, the US, Canada, and New Zealand (a more impressive feat than reaching #1 in all four countries, to my mind). He also produced the first five Elvis Costello albums and the Pretenders’ debut single “Stop Your Sobbing,” among others, and his “What’s So Funny ‘Bout Peace, Love, and Understanding” will never die as long as there’s a karaoke bar.
It’s not only Elvis Costello and Bill Murray that have found value in performing that song, or other songs of Lowe’s. Here are a few favorites from our collection of Basher covers.
Amanda Shires – I Love the Sound of Breaking Glass (Nick Lowe cover)
If you only know Amanda Shires as Mrs. Jason Isbell, shame on you – she’s been a professional musician over half her life, joining the Texas Playboys at age 15, and has five albums and multiple studio sessions to her credit. She’s a born interpreter as well, as she proves on her cover of “I Love The Sound of Breaking Glass” from the tribute album Lowe Country. It smooths out the original’s jitters and makes it mournfully sweet.
J Church – Mary Provost (Nick Lowe cover)
Marie Prevost was a movie actress in the ’20s and ’30s who, Hollywood Babylon has it, was found dead and partially consumed by her dachshund. Lowe’s “Marie Provost” retold her story, its chorus starting with the unforgettable couplet “She was a winner / That became a doggie’s dinner.” J Church’s “Mary Provost” (like Lowe, they get her name wrong) moves the needle from Lowe’s ’70s indiepop to their own ’90s indiepunk.
Geraint Watkins – Heart of the City (Nick Lowe cover)
Geraint Watkins is a longtime collaborator of Lowe’s, appearing on several of his ’90s and ’00s releases; Lowe returned the favor by backing Watkins up on a couple of his solo records. One of those, 2008’s In a Bad Mood, features a cover of Lowe’s “Heart of the City” that has none of the original’s cheery recklessness; instead, it has a poky Cajun shuffle. Where Lowe sounded like he had to find that heart, Watkins sounds content to just keep looking for it.
Sun Valley Gun Club – The Beast in Me (Nick Lowe cover)
Lowe wrote “The Beast in Me” for his former father-in-law Johnny Cash’s first American Recordings album, but he also released it himself on The Impossible Bird. Both releases happened in 1994, a point that becomes relevant thanks to the Sun Valley Gun Club, self-described as “a Northern California band that has arguably listened to way too much Pavement”; their album 1994 Mixtape, which consists of covers of songs that came out that year, leads off with their cover of that song. For more, check out their Soundcloud page.
Shovels & Rope (featuring Lucius) – What’s So Funny ‘Bout Peace, Love & Understanding (Brinsley Schwarz cover)
We’re avowed fans of Lowe’s most famous song here at Cover Me; one of our writers even named Elvis Costello’s cover as his all-time favorite. Late last year, Shovels & Rope released Busted Jukebox Vol.1, a great covers album featuring multiple guest artists to bring each song home. “We felt compelled to put something positive out into the world during a tense time,” they told NPR, “so we recorded a sweet, lullaby-type version of this song.” They also asked Lucius for help: “They only sing the background vocals on this recording, but their contribution is so powerful that it pretty much steals the show.” Not to mention your heart.