“Covering the Hits” looks at covers of a randomly-selected #1 hit from the past sixty years.
Today we are inaugurating a new occasional series called “Covering the Hits.” It was inspired by Stereogum’s great new series “Number Ones” reviewing every single #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in order. Than in turn was inspired by the “Popular” series in the UK. The occasion for all this number-one nostalgia? 2018 marks the 60th anniversary of the Hot 100’s advent.
Needless to say, though, our focus is a little different: covers. We’re not writing about the hits themselves; we’re writing about subsequent covers of those hits. Some have been covered hundreds of times; others only a few (surprising but true for many songs that topped the charts). Whatever the case, we’re going to investigate and tell each hit’s cover story, long or short.
Unlike those other series, we’re not going in order. There are over 1,000 #1 hits since 1958. If we went chronologically, we’d never even make it to the Beatles. Instead, we’re using a random-number generator (the digital equivalent of drawing from a hat). And, for the first one, our generator-hat delivered: Tommy Roe’s 1969 hit “Dizzy.”
AllMusic dubbed Tommy Roe “one of the archetypal bubblegum artists of the late 1960s,” which is maybe not the most ringing endorsement. But if you think bubblegum means simple, know this: “Dizzy” contains 11 key changes in under three minutes. Not so simple, huh? That’s like Rush-level music wonkery.
Unlike Rush, though, “Dizzy” sounds like what it was written to be: a pop radio earworm. So, key changes and all, it’s been covered a lot more often than “Tom Sawyer.” Here are the the best:
1969: Hugo Montenegro
Moog synthesizer pioneer Hugo Montenegro turned this cover around fast, the same year Roe’s original charted in fact. As a result, it’s basically a sound-alike copy of Roe’s hit with Moog blasts laid on top. It’s a novelty for sure, veering wildly between conventional pop and some weird outer-space sound effects. A whole album of this might be a little much, but this short burst is enjoyable. And, given that this was a pretty untested instrument before Montenegro, historic.
1978: Wreckless Eric
“Wreckless” Eric Goulden is best known for one song: “Whole Wide World” (covers of which we also recently explored). So it’s fitting he would cover another short-lived hitmaker. Though this cover came out the same year as “Whole Wide World,” it was actually on his second album of 1978. Trying to capitalize on the first album’s hit, no doubt. Unsuccessfully, as it turned out, but it doesn’t mean this little-heard joyous horn blast wasn’t worthy.
1984: Boney M
Every cover on this list shares some essential musical DNA with the original – except this one. Boney M’s futurist electro-disco cover is brilliantly far-out, like Donna Summer meeting Devo. It’s my favorite cover of the bunch as a result. Probably also the one Tommy Roe fans are most likely to hate.
1989: Peg Tassey
In 1989, Vermont musician Peg Tassey recorded a grungey cover that would have fit right into the college-rock movement of Husker Du and the Replacements. We asked her how it came about:
“I first heard Dizzy on the big box radio in my basement that was painted creamy yellow by my Mom. I used to listen to “WABC Cousin Brucie comin’ atchya from Neeew Yorrrk Cityyyyy”, so it was probably on his show. I was around 11 or so and living in Rutherford NJ, just outside of the city. There were all kinds of fun songs on the radio at the time, “Crimson and Clover” By Tommy James, totally bubblegum psychedelic, I loved that one so much and I remember a trip to the shore in the back of my family’s station wagon where me and my 3 sibs laid down, no seat belts, coloring and reading and the song “Sugar Sugar” by The Archies would play, “Lara’s Theme” from Dr. Zhivago, “Build me up Buttercup”, “Hanky Panky”, “Eidelwiess” from The Sound of Music…radio played everything all mixed in back then, it was so much fun!
“Ok back to ‘Dizzy,’ why did I want to cover it? Because I loved it! I wasn’t being facetious. The people that recorded it with me didn’t really know about the song, but rocked it. You can’t go wrong when you unleash Ethan Azarian and Max Schuman from The Hollywood Indians onto a solid bubblegum gem. I sang the vocals in the bathroom for the reverb.”
1991: Vic Reeves ft The Wonder Stuff
The premise of this column is #1 hits on America’s Hot 100. But it was also a #1 hit on the UK Singles Chart – twenty years later, no less, and sung by a comedian. Vic Reeves adapted songs he’d sung on a recent comedy stage show into an honest-to-goodness album of covers and originals. He recorded his “Dizzy” cover with alternative-rock band The Wonder Stuff and there’s no obvious gag to it. Until you watch the music video, that is.
1993: The Cosmic Dropouts
The most recent notable “Dizzy” cover came out 25 years ago (so I think we’re about due for another). It comes from a Norwegian garage band called the Cosmic Dropouts, who have all the psychedelic leanings that name implies. They broke up in 1994 after, their amusing Facebook page states, being “chosen to be Thee Band of rock’n’roll superheroes, to rocket into space, to find possible life on other planets, and, if so…, bring them the greatest gift of all… norwegian garagerock!”