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!
There are people out there whose time in college was accompanied by a Robyn Hitchcock soundtrack. Back in the ’80s, when alternative/indie music was known as “college rock,” Hitchcock and his off-off-kilter music figured prominently. Those people who loved “Balloon Man” and “My Wife and My Dead Wife” would in all likelihood react very badly to the idea that the surrealist scamp who wrote those songs turns 64 years old today. If it’s any consolation, his songs, both solo and in collaboration with the Soft Boys and the Egyptians, remain as timeless and vital as ever.
Hitchcock calls his songs “paintings you can listen to.” Here are five artists who liked those paintings enough to put them on their own canvases.
Uncle Tupelo – I Wanna Destroy You (The Soft Boys cover)
Underwater Moonlight, the 1980 album by the Soft Boys, didn’t get all that much love at the time of its release, but over the years that followed, it proved to be extremely influential, with its opening track “I Wanna Destroy You” getting live cover treatment by R.E.M., the Replacements, and more. Another too-late-lamented band, Uncle Tupelo, covered it as a B-side to “Gun” in 1991, turning in a performance that was less roots than rock.
Guided By Voices – Underwater Moonlight (The Soft Boys cover)
The title track to Underwater Moonlight finds two statues coming to life – or are they a real couple, together a half-century? Either way, the song has real magic to it, a magic that Robert Pollard of Guided By Voices finds in this officially unreleased cover.
Neko Case – Madonna of the Wasps (Robyn Hitchcock cover)
1989’s Queen Elvis saw Hitchcock singing “Madonna of the Wasps,” an is-this-love song that had nothing to do with the singer, who was in her “Like a Prayer” days at the time. On her 2013 album The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You, Neko Case easily pulls the song from its jangle-pop roots into her Americana arms, a lucky place for any song to be.
Vic Chesnutt – She Doesn’t Exist (Robyn Hitchcock cover)
On the original “She Doesn’t Exist,” from 1991’s Perspex Island, R.E.M.’s Michael Stipe provides background vocals. One degree of separation later, Stipe’s fellow Athenian Vic Chesnutt released his version as a bonus track (remember those?) on 1993’s Drunk. Unlike Hitchcock’s original, Chesnutt’s version has a good beat that you can dance to, even if he couldn’t.
The Wonderminers – Heliotrope (Robyn Hitchcock cover)
The most obscure of these artists, the Wonderminers are a Finnish guitar-pop band that take on “Heliotrope,” from Hitchcock’s 1996 album Moss Elixir. It’s a pretty song, made even prettier here by the nice light harmonies.