Five Good Covers presents five cross-genre reinterpretations of an oft-covered song.
The Korgis really were an extraordinary group. With a name derived from the name of ubiquitous ’80s synthesizer makers Korg, they evolved out of the eccentric and often unclassifiable ’70s UK band Stackridge, at a time when fashion demanded shorter and hookier songs, shorter hair, skinny ties, and shiny suits, i.e. the ’80s. Stackridge were resolutely unfashionable and nominally prog, although their music could be an odd amalgam of twiddly instrumentals, folk, psychedelia and music hall. Their instrumentation could include anything from flutes and fiddles to dustbin lids, and bear tribute to the days when record companies had money to invest in the sometimes vainglorious pursuit of a hit, allowing a band to mature over several albums, rather than today’s one strike and you’re out.
Anyway, the band had ground to one of their periodic halts, leaving Andy Davis and James Warren without an output for their undoubted melodicism. Buoyed by the success of their first single “If I Had You” from their first record in 1979, they were allowed to make a second, from which this slice of prime and vintage cheese comes. “Everybody’s Got To Learn Sometime” made number 5 in the UK charts and 18 in the USA, but there wasn’t really enough other good material to keep the Korgis fully afloat and, conflicted by personnel issues in what was always little more than a backing band for the core duo, following several lackluster releases they folded. The occasional subsequent resurrection took place, arguably best defined by re-recording and re-releasing their two greatest hits in an unplugged format. Forgive me if this sounds harsh, as those two songs, and especially this one, have such charm and strength as to be sufficient legacy for most artists, even if the unmistakable echo of late period John Lennon lurks in the hinterland, particularly in the heavily treated vocals. This was something the duo even themselves would later acknowledge in this song, a single in 2006.
In terms of covers there have been many that are eminently forgettable, especially in the lazy dance format, as well as extraordinary pompfests like this. The one I really wanted to hear and/or find was the Richard Thompson version from one of his tours promoting 1000 Years of Popular Music, introducing it as the only good song of the 1980s, no less. I couldn’t find it anywhere. But I did find these…
The Dream Academy – Everybody’s Got To Learn Sometime (The Korgis cover)
Um, it is indeed a dreamy version, almost an accidental appearance on the “Life in a Northern Town” hit makers’ second album, included at the last minute to capitalize on the involvement of Fleetwood Mac guitarist Lindsey Buckingham on snare drum. (Can you tell?) The tune and the arrangement seem almost at cross-purpose, yet it somehow holds it together, largely courtesy the glorious oboe of Kate St. John. The swirly vocals evoke the angst in the song perfectly, with a sense of ennui as pervasive as the faded scent of patchouli.
Sharon Corr – Everybody’s Got To Learn Sometime (The Korgis cover)
This is so much better without the video, from which this piece spares you, as it shows the triumph of the suits over the personal input of the singer, the visual equivalent of the dreary drum track. Try and filter that out as, despite a largely identikit version to the original arrangement, there are some pleasant tinkles of piano, and Corr’s voice is appropriately unemotional. I don’t necessarily mean this faint praise to sound so damning, as she wears the song as least as well as her sister might in the eponymous family band, having (to my ear) a stronger voice.
Glasvegas – Everybody’s Got To Learn Sometime (The Korgis cover)
This is either wonderful or terrible, depending on the state of your head, which more or less sums up Glasvegas altogether. Like a messy Jesus & Mary Chain tribute band, in the cold sober morning it sounds less the force it is on a Saturday night in Leith, belly full of “heavy” Scottish ale, or your euphoric of choice. It shouldn’t work but it does, appearing on the US version of their debut LP, a haze of feedback and fuzz-blurred guitar and rudimentary drums, the vocal keening a plaintive take-it-or-leave-it lament, until the vitriol-laden chorus. Is there a genre called threatening ballad?
Beck – Everybody’s Got To Learn Sometime (The Korgis cover)
Beck’s cover is possibly better known than the original, to a younger audience anyway, familiar with the film wherein it features, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. This plays it fairly straight by this modern day renaissance man’s oeuvre, the string arrangement folding into the chorus deliriously (possibly the work of his father), while reminding us what a fine singer he can be when he chooses. The mood overall is similar to his personal high water mark, the melancholia-steeped Sea Change.
Erasure – Everybody’s Got To Learn Sometime (The Korgis cover)
Erasure don’t (can’t?) really do wistful; everything turning into fizzy pop in their hands, which, I guess, either you get or you don’t. I have to admire the almost HI-NRG flourishes in this, rendering Warren’s words to disposable pap, if none the worse for that, it being more about the extensively loved-up melody. A bit like watching someone jive to a slow song at a wedding, it maybe suits better a non-anglophone audience and, with that reservation, is a job well done!