Timmy Thomas’s gorgeous, spare soul mantra from 1973 “Why Can’t We Live Together” is as much a meditation or prayer as it is a pop song. The hauntingly sad organ, the desperate wanting of the lyrics and Thomas’s plaintive, pleading vocal have sealed its destiny as a soul classic. There have already been a number of moving and reverential covers. Sade’s version from her 1984 debut album Diamond Life in particular which captures the feel and emotion nearly well enough to rival the original.
Of course, most of the earth’s population became familiar with the song not through covers, but via the ubiquitous specter of Drake’s 2015 megahit (an understatement) “Hotline Bling,” which was built around a substantial sample from Thomas’s original recording. Drake is a huge Sade fan, so it’s likely that his first contact with the song was her cover.
Four years later, Thomas’s classic is back again – this time in a more traditional form via the soundtrack of HBO’s Big Little Lies and Jim James. James of course made his name leading modern day classic rock mavens with a widescreen twang, My Morning Jacket, but he’s also released a cache of fine solo albums and is no stranger to the world of covers, a bunch of which we’ve featured before.
His version of “Why Can’t We Live Together” features a a typically beautiful, keening vocal and displays unerring faithfulness to the feeling of the original. It also welcomingly reminiscent of Peter Gabriel’s “Biko” in parts with its austere grace. James recently said he’s long loved the Thomas song and added, “We need a song with a message of peace and love so much in these troubled and confusing times.”
The Jim James version of “Why Can’t We Live Together” is available on Big Little Lies (Music From Season 2 of the HBO Limited Series) out now.