Jul 192024

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

Deep Purple

Well, actually not Deep Purple’s “Hush” at all, even if that is the version that cuts most traction. It’s also the only song that lingers from the pre-Gillan iteration of the UK titans, from when they were carved in soap rather than rock. The learned and erudite know that it was written by Joe South, that doyen of southern soul, but it isn’t even Joe South’s “Hush,” as he didn’t get around to putting it out, himself, until two years after the first recorded version, itself a year ahead the Purps. That honor went to Billy Joe Royal, a recording artist for Royal Records, where South was then a jobbing songsmith. Indeed, “Down In The Boondocks,” Royal’s biggest chart success, was also a South composition. But “Hush,” from Billy Joe Royal Featuring Hush, in 1967, did not chart.

However, Ritchie Blackmore, guitarist for Deep Purple, heard that version. He would later tell Vintage Guitar Magazine, “I thought it was a great song, and I also thought it would be a good song to add to our act, if we could come up with a different arrangement…. We did the whole song in two takes.” Despite being a British band, it bombed at home, but soared in the States, reaching number four on the Billboard chart, effectively making their name, even if the singer and bassist were shortly to step aside. Most UK listeners had to wait until the band re-recorded the song, with their new line-up, in 1984.

Irrespective of all that, Blackmore is quite correct in his assertion as to the greatness of the song, and it has racked up a roster of cover versions. Here are the best five, at least today. (Please note this does not include the version by Kula Shaker, as, regardless of the red-blooded interpretation, it is all rather too much in thrall to the Deeps, as I will this time call them, struggling to find a suitably uniform diminutive.)

Jimmy Somerville – Hush (Billy Joe Royal cover)

This “Hush” comes from Suddenly Last Summer, an all-covers album Jimmy Somerville made in 2009, both Bronski Beat and the Communards behind him. Almost impossible to classify, possibly somewhere between pop, jazz and an out and out torch ballad,vocally at least. Somerville has an unmistakable voice, inviting comparison with Dusty Springfield. Ukulele and piano flitter about for an arrangement that defies categorization. I think it perfection. The rest of the album is equally surprising, with the choice of songs stretching from Pete Seeger (“Where Have All the Flowers Gone”) to Blondie/The Nerves (“Hangin’ on the Telephone”), through to the unbridled trad. arr. of “Black is the Color,” via Patsy Cline and “Walking After Midnight.” Bizarre and brilliant.

Jeannie C. Riley – Hush (Billy Joe Royal cover)

Sticking to, I would hazard, the good ol’ boy vibe of Joe South’s rendition, Jeannie C. Riley ups the twang factor, and then some. If her na na nas sound a little unconvincing, her snarled swipe about the rest of the lyric is anything but, pouring all that Harper Valley P.T.A. bitterness deep into her delivery. Catch her “earrrly in the morning” and yelped “late in the evening” and play that bit again, a few times even, so as to get the full impact, not least as the way-too-prompt fade obscures her repeating the line, clipped way too soon, in her prime. Never to reach the heights of her debut single, this 1973 disc barely dented the country chart, peaking at 51.

Milli Vanilli – Hush (Billy Joe Royal cover)

Yeah, yeah, or whoever was really singing for the disgraced duo, but that isn’t really the point. Here, it’s the arrangement that grabs all attention. Drum machine and a funky electronic riff on repeat shouts the 1980s, and the boys nearly start rapping before sliding into echo and reverb effects. Heaven 17 and their production work for Terence Trent D’Arby had clearly been given a good listen to in the studio. Mind you, producer Frank Farian was never much of a slouch in that direction, his earlier project being Boney M, with a similarly loose relationship between who seemed to be singing and whomsoever actually was. It is a decent song, as, despite subsequent derision, was much else on the debut album, All Or Nothing, repackaged as Girl You Know It’s True for the U.S. market.

Max Merritt & the Meteors – Hush (Billy Joe Royal cover)

Whoa, you didn’t see that one coming, did you? A big-band jazzy instrumental, this came from the New Zealander’s last album in the Southern Hemisphere, Stray Cats, before he re-located and reformed the Meteors in London. where they were regulars on the pub rock circuit. As punk took away their soul and horn heavy jive, Merritt moved again, this time to Nashville, embarking on stage three of his near six decade career. Ill health took him back South, this time to Australia, until his death, in 2020, still performing, with his last album released posthumously. If in doubt, he is the guitarist in this version.

The Prisoners – Hush (Billy Joe Royal cover)

I guess midway between the above and the rockier metal versions, the Prisoners carry a heft imbued with a cocky r’n’b swagger, akin to the early Stones and Pretty Things. The beat drums and the scuzzy organ, offering nothing as casually insouciant as Jon Lord, are the most striking features, along with the throaty gargle of singer Graham Day. Defiantly garage, they were lynchpins of the so-called Medway Scene, Kent, United Kingdom, home of similar ne’er-do-wells, such as Billy Childish and his myriad bands. The organist was James Taylor (not that one), whose eponymous quartet later became prime movers in the acid jazz movement. Thought irretrievably lost in action, despite all members continuing careers in music, the band this year re-formed and released a new album, Morning Star, a mere 38 years since the last. I hope they still play “Hush,” available on a recent compendium of rare and unreleased material.

Jul 192024
David Archuleta Covers Sabrina Carpenter

Former American Idol contestant David Archuleta has been wooing listeners with his dulcet voice since 2008. Recently, the pop singer decided to cover Sabrina Carpenter. First, the artist performed “Espresso” in concert and now he has tackled her heartrending, chart-topping song “Please Please Please.”

Something about the purity in Archuleta’s voice makes his timbre the perfect fit for a new rendition of the tune. The song’s lyrics detail a relationship where the main character is afraid that their new partner will break their heart. And Archuleta tales these feelings of insecurity and vulnerability and channels them through the voice. Continue reading »

Jul 192024
Shonna Tucker

A long-gestating bluegrass tribute album to Bob Seger is has finally been released. A standout highlight is former Drive-By Trucker Shonna Tucker fronting a cover of “Hollywood Nights,” Seger’s 1978 classic. Recorded 10 years ago she formed a bond with the material and its theme, and we can now all share in that. Continue reading »

Jul 172024
simple plan can you feel the love tonight

According to a recent Disney announcement on YouTube…“Mickey & Friends introduce A Whole New Sound, an album featuring a selection of Disney’s greatest hits covered by iconic alternative, rock, and pop-punk bands. Join Mickey & his friends as they explore their interests in fun new ways.”

This statement has certainly gotten pop-punk and alt-rock fans feeling stoked. And while there isn’t an official release date yet, Simple Plan’s cover of the Elton John classic is a promising teaser. Continue reading »

Jul 172024
ice nine kills

As a part of the soundtrack to the Sumarian Comics American Psycho series, horror-metal band Ice Nine Kills have teamed up with ’90s Ska kings Reel Big Fish to release a version of Katrina and the Waves‘ “Walking on Sunshine.” Continue reading »

Jul 152024
wayne shorter wargames

Relentless invention and forward movement marked saxophonist Wayne Shorter’s work over his 70-year career. Towards the end of his life, before he passed in 2023, he was curating some of his unreleased work, and came upon a recording of a concert from 2014, when his new Quartet reached a musical peak for his return to the Blue Note label. This will be released as an album later in the year, and as a prelude, we have the band’s interpretation of the end title theme from the movie WarGames, titled “Edge of the World.” The original was performed by Arthur B. Rubinstein, along with colleagues from The Beepers. When the movie came out in 1983, it represented a cutting-edge representation of the existential danger of Artificial Intelligence. In 2024, we need a timely reminder of that potential. Continue reading »