There are few songs more quintessentially ‘80s than A-Ha’s “Take On Me.” From the iconic synth-driven keyboard riff to the then-groundbreaking animated video, everything about it is reminiscent of that decade. In the years since it was an MTV staple, it has been covered by ska bands, punk bands, bluegrass outfits, folkies and even the likes of Weezer and Metallica. The song rejoined the animated world when it was included in the recent release of the video game The Last of Us Part II, the sequel to one of the most beloved games of the 2010s about a post-apocalyptic world ravaged by disease and zombies.
“Creep” is the song that made Radiohead. It didn’t happen overnight, as it went only to #78 in the UK when it was originally released. But it soon became a hit in other countries – including the US, where it is still their biggest hit – and was re-released in the UK, this time going to #7. There are still people out there who think Radiohead are the “Creep” band.
There have been a lot of acoustic covers of “Creep,” especially lately. In June 2020 alone there have been at least three prominent covers. Whether it’s the pandemic, or whether it’s because “Creep” is really a ballad, it’s become a staple.
Hildegard von Blingin’ seeks to change that. A “bardcore” artist who has sprung up on YouTube just recently, she covers pop hits of the last few decades as Medieval music. (The name is a reference to Saint Hildegard of Bingen, often recognized as the first major composer of European music.)
Barrett Strong‘s “Money” was Motown’s first serious hit (though it was released it when the label was still known as Tamla). Though many prefer Strong’s original version, the song’s fame increased with a fairly straightforward version by The Beatles and the cheeky New Wave one-hit wonder by The Flying Lizards (a fave of Barack Obama’s in his college years). In the Strong and Beatles versions, the lyrics are a celebration of greed and avarice. Only the Flying Lizards’ interpretation really hints at the likely tongue-in-cheek nature of the words.
Nick D’Virgilio is the drummer for American prog rock band Spock’s Beard and English prog rock band Big Big Train. For his upcoming second solo album Invisible, due out June 26th, he assembled a bunch of famous prog rock musicians to take on this classic track, with a pretty different approach from the most famous versions.
Bjork‘s “Army of Me” is one of her most iconic songs of the ’90s, thanks in part to the Michel Gondry-directed video. The song deviates a little bit from her normal trip hop sound, to something closer to industrial pop. The song is about Bjork’s difficult relationship with her brother and how he needs to get his act together.
The Gay Agenda is a self-described “homo riot hardcore punk” band with extremely provocative imagery inspired by street artist Homo Riot, among others. Their version of “Army of Me” leans much more into metalcore than hardcore, with rumbling bass recalling the original’s pulsating bass keyboard, pummeling metal guitars, and screaming/growling vocals that fall somewhere on the spectrum between metalcore and black metal. It’s intense.
Angelique Kidjo – Beds Are Burning (Midnight Oil cover)
Last night, UK singer-songwriter David Ford took his long-running annual charity concert “Milk and Cookies” to the internet. One feature of the show is covering songs he says he has no business covering, and the evening featured many, from an amazing looped-instruments version of Lizzo’s “Good As Hell” to songs by the Bee Gees and John Lennon chosen at random from a UK-number-ones sheet music book (the randomizer first tried to assign him R. Kelly, which he wisely vetoed).
But perhaps the high point was one of the most unlikely covers. It’s not that this song doesn’t get covered much – far from it, it’s in every wedding band’s repertoire. But, Ford explained, he wanted to find the happiest song he possibly could and make it a bummer: