Apr 292014

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

“Come Back Jonee” may not be the most memorable song from Devo’s 1978 debut album Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo!, but even on an album with no weak cuts, it’s a standout track, headlong and hummable, and deservedly got released as a single. Sort of a new generation’s “Johnny B. Goode” crossed with JFK, it tells the tragic tale of a musician who died too young, but if Johnny’s life passed him by like a warm summer’s day in Bad Company’s “Shooting Star,” Jonee’s life passed him by like an out-of-control roller coaster.

These five artists didn’t cover “Come Back Jonee” in the hopes of scoring a hit song – Devo’s the sort of band that speaks to its listeners in a language that’s only common to the two of them, and something in that language summoned these people to this song. Let’s hear the results of that talk…

Harlem – Come Back Jonee (Devo cover)

The Austin garage trio Harlem may be on indefinite hiatus now, but while they lasted, they were fun enough to be called “the best band on Twitter” and cool enough to record a cover of “Come Back Jonee” that sounds like Duane Eddy dropped by an underground unplugged show and nobody wanted to turn him away.

Deborah Harry – Come Back Jonee (Devo cover)

Saturday Night Live‘s sixth season was notoriously bad, but they did a great job booking musical guests that season, featuring performers from Aretha Franklin to Captain Beefheart. One of the episodes was hosted by Deborah Harry, who performed this cover of “Come Back Jonee” with the help of her Blondie bandmates Chris Stein and Clem Burke.

Accomplice Rex – Come Back Jonee (Devo cover)

Main Man Records, an indie label from the Northeast, put together a Devo tribute album (Q: Are We Not Devo? A: We Are A Main Man Tribute) that reimagines the first album, along with a few later tracks. Accomplice Rex, a one-man project from the great Northwest, made his recording debut here; his request to cover “Race of Doom” didn’t work out, but his “Come Back Jonee” certainly does, achieving the distinction of being more electromechanical than the original.

Claw Hammer – Come Back Jonee (Devo cover)

Another tribute to the first album, this one called Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are NOT Devo! and performed in its entirety by Claw Hammer (according to Trouser Press, “The result falls somewhere between tribute and ruination”). The music to their version of “Come Back Jonee” is fairly close to the original, but Jon Wahl’s vocal is way more unhinged, and that’s saying something.

Catherine – Come Back Jonee (Devo cover)

Catherine came from Chicago around the same time as the Smashing Pumpkins, and the two bands were often compared and contrasted (and in the case of Pumpkins bassist D’arcy and Catherine drummer Kerry Brown, married). This often led to Catherine being called Pumpkins-Lite and worse, but by the end they had forged their own solid identity. “Come Back Jonee” is the B-side to their single “Four Leaf Clover,” from their final album Hot Saki & Bedtime Stories, and it gives the song a hazier, dreamier feel.

The original “Come Back Jonee” can be found on iTunes, Amazon, and YouTube (the cowboy outfits were bought by Neil Young, but that’s another story).

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