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.”
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Oct 072013
 

In Memoriam pays tribute to those who have left this world, and the songs they left us to remember them by.

[A]nybody who hasn’t heard Judee Sill should really do themselves a favor and buy either Judee Sill or the follow-up, which I think is slightly preferable, Heart Food. And both those albums are… well, it’s been said many times before, but she is a female Brian Wilson or he is a male Judee Sill. They’re just stunningly beautiful. It’s J.S. Bach with a 12-string guitar and a ready tune on her lips. She’s really stunning, really stunning. Leagues away from all the other kind of corny bootheels-in-the-dust, denim-flares-California-West-Coast thing of the early ’70s. She just makes them eat cactus, as far as I’m concerned. She’s phenomenally good. – Andy Partridge, XTC

Judee Sill was jailed for robbing liquor stores, forging checks, prostitution, and possession of narcotics. The last would kill her in 1979, shortly after her 35th birthday. She recorded two albums for David Geffen before making a remark in a radio interview that ended her relationship with him, his label, and the music business. She had a prickly personality and the appearance of a severe librarian. And she claimed her biggest influences were “Pythagoras, Bach and Ray Charles.”

Admit it – you want to know more.
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