Feb 122014

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

When Grant McLennan died of a heart attack in 2006, far too young at age 48, it was a tremendous blow to the Austalian music world. More than a thousand people attended his funeral, and there was an outpouring of tributes to his life and his work, paying homage to him as one of the country’s greatest songwriters. He was even saluted on the floor of Australian Parliament. But in America, where sales never equaled critical hosannas, only a select few thousand knew to mourn – thankfully, those few (The Village Voice‘s Robert Christgau and The Big Takeover‘s Jack Rabid among them) were eloquent in their explanation of what had been lost.

With his songwriting partner Robert Forster, McLennan formed the Go-Betweens in 1977; over the next dozen years, their work became the benchmark for cerebral guitar-pop, creating a thoughtful melodic atmosphere for literate romantics like themselves. They disbanded at the end of the ’80s, reunited at the start of the 21st century, and were more popular than ever before at the time of McLennan’s passing.

Today would have been Grant McLennan’s 56th birthday. Let’s celebrate the man and his music.

Jimmy Little – Cattle and Cane (The Go-Betweens cover)

Many consider “Cattle and Cane” to be McLennan’s greatest song – from 1983’s Before Hollywood, it’s as tantalizing as music gets, with the powerful images of youth so close but forever out of reach. Jimmy Little, an Aboriginal singer/actor, covered it on his 2000 album Messenger, a collection of covers of Australian bands (Nick Cave, the Church, and Crowded House are also represented). Kudos to him for taking on a song that verges on unapproachably perfect and making something new and worthy from it.

Ivy – Streets of Your Town (The Go-Betweens cover)

“Streets of Your Town” was as close as the Go-Betweens came to a hit single, with its breezy melody obscuring a lyric that mentions battered wives. It appeared on Ivy’s all-cover collection Guestroom, where they matched the original musically and then added the French-accented allure of Dominique Durand’s cool vocals.

The Radio Dept. – Bachelor Kisses (The Go-Betweens cover)

Swedish pop doesn’t begin and end with ABBA – their music scene has produced some of the highest-quality alternative music of the last quarter century. One of the bands that gets the most acclaim is the Radio Dept., who shy away from their shoegazing tendencies here to produce a nice feel-alike cover of “Bachelor Kisses.” According to Wikipedia, it was recorded for the August 2007 issue of the Swedish fanzine I Godan Ro; just ten copies of that issue were printed, but this cover has found the much larger audience that it deserves.

Sarah Blasko – Bye Bye Pride (The Go-Betweens cover)

Sarah Blasko’s cover of “Bye Bye Pride” comes from Write Your Adventures Down: A Tribute to the Go-Betweens (one of two Go-Betweens tribute albums; there’s also a tribute album for McLennan). It’s one of the brightest lights on the tribute, with Blasko conveying the song’s rumination and elation in equally excellent measure.

Allo Darlin’ – Dive for Your Memory (The Go-Betweens cover)

The final song on the final Go-Betweens album of the ’80s, “Dive for Your Memory” is about the end of a relationship; the narrator accepts that it’s over, but (unlike his partner) remains convinced that it wasn’t doomed from the start. It’s a song that Morrissey would have given his eyeteeth to write, but without any of Morrissey’s intrinsic pomp. Allo Darlin’, on their Covers EP, does a cover that’s just lovely, with frontwoman Elizabeth Morris sounding resigned but unbowed.

Learn more about the Go-Betweens at their official website, and read this tribute by his friend and colleague Robert Forster.

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