Jul 172015
 

Five Good Covers presents five cross-genre reinterpretations of an oft-covered song.

elvis_nick

Let’s start with a given — the best version of “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding” is a cover. It would be hard to dispute that Elvis Costello’s version is the standard to which all others fall short, including the original. I’ll pause here to allow those readers unaware that Elvis wasn’t the first to record the song to go on the Internet and confirm this. (Don’t feel bad, by the way—we self-proclaimed cover experts don’t know everything, either.) That’s right, the song was written by Nick Lowe and originally recorded by his pub-rock band Brinsley Schwarz and released on the band’s 1974 album The New Favourites of… Brinsley Schwarz. Although Lowe had written the bulk of the songs on the band’s prior five albums, he has claimed that it was the first truly original song that he ever wrote. However, he has admitted to having stolen a lick from Judee Sill’s “Jesus Was a Cross Maker.” (See if you agree.)

Brinsley Schwarz’s version is a Byrds-esque bit of nostalgic folk rock. Lowe wrote it in 1973, when the hippie era of peace and love was being supplanted by harder edges, harder drugs, alcohol and cynicism. As Lowe has said, “this song was supposed to be an old hippie, laughed at by the new thinking, saying to these new smarty-pants types, ‘Look, you think you got it all going on. You can laugh at me, but all I’m saying is ‘What’s so funny about peace, love, and understanding?’” It is, in that version, a perfectly fine song. But it took a fan of the Brinsleys, who would one day rename himself Elvis Costello, to turn the song into something more. Lowe acknowledged that Costello “brought it to the world, so to speak. Because when he recorded it, he gave it that anthemic quality which everyone reacted really well to.”
Continue reading »

Jul 152015
 

Five Good Covers presents five cross-genre reinterpretations of an oft-covered song.

rosemary-clooney

Rosemary Clooney’s lengthy career, though it felt a tumultuous ebb and flow, was anchored by a voice so smooth Bing Crosby called her “the best in the business.” She used that tender yet powerful voice to breathe life into an unexpected, and hastily written, Italian-American hit. Allegedly, Bob Merrill wrote “Mambo Italiano” while at an Italian restaurant in New York City. He phoned in the song (humming melody and all) to meet his deadline. This ode to the essence of a culinary experience brings with it a force majeure that seems to keep the song from ever being laid to rest.
Continue reading »

May 222015
 

Five Good Covers presents five cross-genre reinterpretations of an oft-covered song.

dreambabydream

When Bruce Springsteen was touring behind his 2005 album Devils and Dust, he closed his shows with a cover of the song “Dream Baby Dream” by the protopunk band Suicide. Most fans of the Boss were unfamiliar with it, and didn’t know how to take the moody mantra, sung over the drone of a pump organ and an offstage synth – “Glory Days” it ain’t. It turned out Bruce had been a fan of Suicide’s since meeting them in a studio in the ’70s, and had claimed in one interview that “You know, if Elvis came back from the dead I think he would sound like Alan Vega.” As for Vega, once he’d heard Springsteen’s interpretation, he said, “Now I can die…. He interpreted my song, he did it his way, and such a great way that I’m going to have to sing it that way, or not sing it at all anymore…. On my death bed, that’s the last thing I’m going to listen to. I’ll play it at my funeral.” So it’s safe to say he liked it.
Continue reading »

May 082015
 

Five Good Covers presents five cross-genre reinterpretations of an oft-covered song.

logical

Written by Supertramp’s Roger Hodgson (with an assist on the second chorus’s vocal harmony by Rick Davies), “The Logical Song” not only has more words of three or more syllables (twenty-seven!) than some bands have in their entire discography; it also has a warning about using schooling as a brickbat that resonates even more post-No Child Left Behind. Plus which, that saxophone break would send any contemporaries whimpering their way back to Baker Street. It was the band’s biggest hit off their biggest album, Breakfast in America; that unforgettable cover model, Kate Murtagh, is 94 and still going, much like “The Logical Song” itself.
Continue reading »

Apr 172015
 

Five Good Covers presents five cross-genre reinterpretations of an oft-covered song.

Of all the songs inextricably linked to moments in movies, few pairings initially appear more incongruous than the closing minutes of Real Genius that follow Lazlo driving away in his mobile home after a house has exploded due to a space laser and a giant tin of Jiffy Pop. As Roland Orzbal sings about hating “this indecision / married with a lack of vision,” neighborhood children fill wagons with edible detritus and Val Kilmer laughs in slow motion, biting popcorn snowflakes out of the air.

Though illogical, the scene is far more successful than the song’s on-the-face-of-it-more-fitting incarnation as a spooky Lorde cover on the soundtrack for the second installation of The Hunger Games. The reason children playing in popcorn works better than children forced to kill children is simple: the song isn’t about the fact that “everybody wants to rule the world” so much as it is about the more heartening notion that “when they do / I’ll be right behind you” and that we’ll be “holding hands as the walls come tumbling down.”
Continue reading »

Apr 032015
 

Five Good Covers presents five cross-genre reinterpretations of an oft-covered song.

Indeed, who knows, it being all of 45 years since this song first graced any an ear. For many, their first encounter with “Who Knows Where the Time Goes?” happened thanks to the Judy Collins version; many others were introduced via the Fairport Convention version, which of course included Sandy Denny as lead vocalist. But she actually first recorded the song with her earlier group, the Strawbs. (I’m choosing to ignore the lyrical shift from morning sky to evening sky to purple sky.) Folk will vie with each other as to which is the true “original”, and Sandy is no longer, these thirty-odd years, able to adjudicate. I dare say there is even an as-yet-discovered demo knocking around, Sandy solo, but so much of her vault has been plundered that maybe I’m wrong. (And, of course, I am! And it is definitely purple!)
Continue reading »

Mar 272015
 

Five Good Covers presents five cross-genre reinterpretations of an oft-covered song.

Lemmy has admitted to being more of a slot machine man than a poker one, but the Motorhead bassist knew which topic would make a better lyric (“when it comes to that sort of thing… you can’t really sing about spinning fruit”). “Ace of Spades,” his paean to gambling that sure sounds like it’s about more than your typical deck of cards, is his band’s signature work and the proto-speed metal song. Anyone can perform it and sound dynamic – even a bunch of plastic dolls.
Continue reading »

Jan 302015
 

Five Good Covers presents five cross-genre reinterpretations of an oft-covered song.

Kirsty MacColl was still in her teens when she wrote and recorded “They Don’t Know.” It should have been a major smash, and in a way it was, peaking at #2 on a UK airplay chart; unfortunately, her distributor picked a horrible time to go on strike, which meant the single never got released, which meant it never placed on the sales-based UK Singles Charts. It took Tracey Ullman’s near-soundalike cover four years later to bring the song into the top ten where it belonged. Kirsty helped out with the backing vocals (that’s her a cappella “BAY-ee-BEE-ee!”), and she never resented Tracey for coming up with the brass ring that in a perfect world would have been hers; instead, she said things like “I don’t mind a bit of reflected glory” and “I’m grateful for (her) paying the rent.”
Continue reading »