Some covers are more equal than others. Good, Better, Best looks at three covers and decides who takes home the gold, the silver, and the bronze.
Sting was drunk, staggering around his hotel room in Munich, singing “Walking ’round the room.” The following morning, a more sober Sting remembered what he’d done and developed that alcohol-induced ditty into a full song. “But ‘Walking Round the Room’ was a stupid title,” he said later, “so I thought of something even more stupid.” That’s how “Walking on the Moon” got its start, and over a third of a century later it’s still going strong.
Sting’s six-note bass riff, Andy Summers’ plangent chord, and Stewart Copeland’s inventive drumming combined to actually give the impression of what a lunar stroll might feel like. Many artists have covered the song, but to these ears the Police own the outer-space-reggae approach wholly and absolutely, and anyone who wants to improve on the cover is required to go in another direction. The following three artists due just that, to great success – but some degrees of success are greater than others…
The Darkest of the Hillside Thickets version is good.
The Merrie Amsterburg version is better.
And the Acusmatic Group’s version is best.
If the Police had been a little more punk and a little less polished, and if they’d written “Walking on the Moon” before they decided to push any boundaries, it might have sounded like the reading the Darkest of the Hillside Thickets gave it. If that sounds like damning with faint praise, it shouldn’t – this is a good, brisk pop-punk number, with some nice stop-start moments. They even use Sting’s patented “ee-ohh-ohhs.”
Merrie Amsterburg gives “Walking on the Moon” a different pulse, propelling it with a quietly nervous guitar figure instead of that bass riff. It’s a different kind of moonwalk, one that turns dreamy at the bridge, as the music turns to gently lapping waves. It’s a cover that doesn’t have the itchy edge of the original, but that’s the point, and one the song makes well.
The Acusmatic Group’s cover of “Walking on the Moon” changes the song into something else entirely – namely, a lost theme to a classic blaxploitation flick. The flute, the wocka-chicka-wocka-chicka guitar, the touches of triangle and clavinet… Everything comes together to change spacy to street-smart, and the song will never be the same. All it needs is lyrics. Might I suggest, Who’s the white kinda-dick that’s the sex machine to all the chicks? Sting! Daaaaaaaaamn right!
The original “Walking on the Moon” can be found on Amazon.