Welcome to Cover Me Q&A, where we take your questions about cover songs and answer them to the best of our ability.
Seuras Og is 59 and ought to know better. Tipped toward journalism by his careers teacher, he instead opted for a career in Family Medicine. He lives in Lichfield, England. His Gaelic mother would be proud to see his nom de plume, a direct translation. Less proud that he is still talking about pop music in his 60th year. This is his 3rd year of writing his essays for Cover Me. He particularly enjoys drafting whole album covers like Legend or Hunky Dory.
Rebecca Bakken – Forever Young (Alphaville cover)
This assignment is sheer catnip for me, having collected covers and collated playlists thereof, clearly first on cassette, since forever. Whilst most of these are hardened henchmen of my go-to list, some are more arbitrary and less constant, capable of reselection in a moment of memory, or on the joy of new. The first is one such, not the Bob Dylan song, but a version of the ’80s Alphaville anthem. (“Og” is Gaelic for “young,” btw.) I don’t know much about Rebecca Bakken, other than her usual fare is jazzier than this. That’s probably the newest song here – so sue me, I’m old.
Joe Cocker – Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood (Nina Simone cover)
As is this, originally written for Nina Simone in 1964. Covered a myriad of times, from the Animals to Elvis (Costello), Lana Del Ray to Lou Rawls. This is the best, from the dawn of Joe Cocker’s career, the keyboard solo from Tommy Eyre being a revelation to the teenage me.
Bonnie Raitt – Dimming of the Day (Richard & Linda Thompson cover)
Richard Thompson has been an icon since I bought the single of his early band Fairport Convention covering Dylan in French, “Si Tu Dois Partir.” This is my very favorite of his songs, and a different version of it was always a perennial on the journey tapes I made my long-suffering children listen to as we drove to our summer holiday destinations. It was still uncertain whose version I would choose for this piece, with Any Trouble losing out at the final hurdle in favor of Ms. Raitt. Possibly because it is the great Paul Brady on backing vocals.
Silicon Teens – Just Like Eddie (Heinz cover)
A frivolous one now, but no less loved. The Silicon Teens were arguably a vanity project for Mute records supremo Daniel Miller, who made one album of mainly covers, from which this was the single. I particularly love the repeated “instrumental” break.
Jackie Leven – I Say a Little Prayer (Dionne Warwick / Aretha Franklin cover)
Another favorite artist of mine was the late Jackie Leven, a ridiculously prolific songwriter who operated under the radar of many, yet able to produce record after record of a more authentic brand of Celtic soul than, dare I say, his northern Irish contemporary. A man of few covers, this was one he made his own. R.I.P. big Jackie.
Emmylou Harris – Here, There and Everywhere (The Beatles cover)
I’m not very keen on the Beatles. There, I’ve said it, but that fact doesn’t stop me loving this, a version that claims the song. In the heart of my country initiation, 30-odd years ago, Emmylou, always a consummate interpreter, before and since, sealed her place in my soul. The arrangement is sublime, particularly Willie Nelson’s harmonica player (and nephew), Mickey Raphael.
Black Uhuru – Hey Joe (The Leaves cover)
There has to be a version of this song. It is my rule. I have 36 different versions on my i-pod. For a while I went through a spell of particularly seeking out reggae and cajun versions of songs I like like this, and, this time, the reggae of Black Uhuru outbids Buckwheat Zydeco. To cut the mustard the secret is in the ascending bass line. Without it, it isn’t a true cover.
Oysterband with June Tabor – Love Will Tear Us Apart (Joy Division cover)
Oysterband, previously the Oyster Band and, prior to that, the Oyster Ceilidh Band, are grizzled survivors in a peculiarly English Celtic folk style, oxymoron though that may be, having been around the block for so long that their folk-punk has been in and out of style a number of times. Twice in their career, 20 years apart, they have collaborated with June Tabor, austere doyenne of a traditional folk jazz sensibility. So who better for them to cover than Joy Division?
Cowboy Junkies – Sweet Jane (The Velvet Underground cover)
Keeping the mood somber, hardly anyone can do low-key better than the Cowboy Junkies. Margo Timmins has the voice of liquid heartbreak, the backing bleak and hypnotic in its simplicity, a minor key metronome until the middle eight twists a knife, the vocals keening upward before a brief return. Astonishing. Ravishing.
The Czars – Angel Eyes (ABBA cover)
Finally, another cover that makes acceptable a song I otherwise abhor. Less not keen, I really cannot stand the anodyne Europop of ABBA, however many earnest re-appraisals of their output gets put forth. But, carried in the dark brown honeyed tenor of John Grant, suddenly perfection.