Welcome to Cover Me Q&A, where we take your questions about cover songs and answer them to the best of our ability.
Here at Cover Me Q&A, we’ll be taking questions about cover songs and giving as many different answers as we can. This will give us a chance to hold forth on covers we might not otherwise get to talk about, to give Cover Me readers a chance to learn more about individual staffers’ tastes and writing styles, and to provide an opportunity for some back-and-forth, as we’ll be taking requests (learn how to do so at feature’s end).
Today’s question, in honor of the month of June: What cover song would you like to have played at your wedding?
My wife wanted to get married at her high school, the Ethel Walker’s School in Simsbury, Connecticut, and we booked the place for August. My father, a lover of regulated temperature, wanted to confirm that the room had air conditioning. It didn’t, but my future father-in- law assured him that it would be fine, because it never got that hot in the Connecticut hills in mid-August.
He was wrong. The week leading up to the wedding was part of an historic heat wave, with temperatures each day in the 90s. Even with large fans deployed around the room, people sweated through their clothing, the bar was so busy, it ran out of glasses, and most pictures of the reception are filled with red-faced revelers with their hair pasted to their heads. Except for my wife, who, somehow, appears cool and relaxed in every shot.
Luckily, most people who remember that day recall both the heat, and that it was, nevertheless, lots of fun. So, it is only fitting that if I could go back to that day, I’d insist on hearing this great Buster Poindexter cover of Arrow’s “Hot, Hot, Hot,” both for the obvious reason, but also because it, like my wedding, was happy, exuberant and fun.
When Stevie Wonder recorded “For Once In My Life,” he made it an upbeat declaration, one of excitement and fun. It was originally written as a ballad, though, and had a number of successful versions that gave pause to the lyrics. One of these was the Temptations‘ cover, recorded around the same time as Wonder’s and showcasing Paul Williams pouring his heart, soul, and everything else into his singing.
The 1968 TV special TCB featured Williams giving the song an epic, definitive performance. Where Wonder sounded like he was emerging from an explosion of joy, Williams sounds like he’s emerging from the wreckage of another kind of explosion, long after it’s died down. He’s coming back into the light, a light he’s given and given but never received before, and it’s almost too much to bear.
At least that’s how I hear it – I’ve watched/listened to this dozens of times, and that ending has never failed to give me literal goosebumps. I think it would be a perfect first dance song for a wedding day, and I’d very much like to use it for mine.
Weddings are weird; for one day, you have to celebrate the life-changing union between you and your partner while also catering to all your friends and family as they watch and judge you during one of the four or five most important days of your life. No pressure.
As a single 23-year-old son of divorced parents, I’m cautiously optimistic about weddings. I want to believe that life and marriage will always be beautiful and timeless, but I also know that any committed relationship takes hard work and is often long and boring. As someone who is mindful of selecting the right songs for such an important event, I want to pick a wedding song that captures my hopeful realism while also avoiding the same bland karaoke music that implies that everything will be sunny and carefree for the rest of our lives.
Since I’m not a real Beach Boys fan, I have to go with Peter Gabriel’s cover of the Magnetic Fields’ “The Book Of Love.”
This cover works on multiple levels. First, most people who attend weddings like Peter Gabriel, so it’s a crowd pleaser that won’t offend my grandma. Second, this song is gorgeous; with those slow strings, it’s the perfect slow-dance and slideshow song, the double whammy for any wedding song. Third, but most importantly, are the lyrics. This being a Magnetic Fields song, there’s a beautiful blend of offbeat humor and potent bluntness. I like the idea that there’s an actual book of love somewhere that we all refer to that’s both transcendental and dumb. And isn’t real love long and boring? At my wedding, I want to play a song that’s so upfront about love and relationships, and if my best bet is to disguise it as Peter Gabriel song then so be it.
I also have to point out that I first heard “The Book Of Love” through this Peter Gabriel cover during the series finale of Scrubs, a show that, goofy daydream bits aside, was also rooted in hopeful realism. In the finale, the song plays as JD walks out of Sacred Heart for the last time and has a final daydream sequence looking ahead at an ideal future. It’s a moving moment of looking towards the future, and I want to bring that moment to my own wedding with someone I love and who wants to share that transcendental boredom.
Would I? Did I? (Sorry, that’s we, perhaps where I went wrong…) The problem is I have already had two weddings. And two divorces. So why would I be planning a wedding, let alone the playlist?
Nah, don’t answer that, of course I’m planning a playlist. I’m even planning the playlist for my funeral (which, with any more weddings, will likely be sooner rather than later). It’s what I do.
I have to say I am ashamed to say I don’t even recall the song played for the first dance at my first. The second time wasn’t a cover, but, my ex did send me a link to a cover version of it recently – Ellie Goulding’s take of the Waterboys’ “How Long Will I Love You.” It had made her cry in the film within which it featured, Richard Curtis’ About Time. I’m not going to answer the question raised in the song or whether I did.
But as to the hypothetical next time, that’s a tough one. Bonnie Raitt’s take on “Three Time Loser,” maybe?
Enough already, I’m a romantic.
The answer is easy – “Let It Be Me.” It was originally a French song, a chanson even, written in the mid-50s, two years before my birth, by Gilbert Becaud and Pierre Delanoe. Translated lyrics by Mann Curtis enabled it to become sufficiently well known to have by now garnered 195 copies, according to the cover song bible site Second Hand Songs. I didn’t know that when I first heard it, but it registered sufficient that I filed it away for reference. It really is an astonishing song. I confess I don’t know how straight a translation of the original it is, but it clearly offers hope to the disappointed, succor to the despondent. And the variety of artists covering is astonishing – I’m featuring the Rosie Thomas and Ed Harcourt version, but there are many others just as notable, from the Everly Brothers to Freda Payne, from Sam and Dave to Leonard Nimoy, from Paul Weller to the Dum Dum Girls.
Anyhow, you know who you are – if you are reading this, let it be me….
Back before they were winning Grammys and recording with Taylor Swift, the Civil Wars just had one live album to their name. It contained early versions of some of what would become their best-known songs, like “20 Years” and “Poison & Wine.” It also contained a couple brilliant covers, which is how we first discovered them – early enough that we labeled them “Under the Radar.” They wouldn’t remain under the radar for much longer, but even after all their success, I think a career highlight for them remains their early cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Dance Me to the End of Love.”
Cohen’s ’80s original is a beautiful song, but it has one impediment to wedding play: it sounds like ’80s Leonard Cohen. A lot of cheap drum machines and chintzy synths, plus Cohen’s voice, is an acquired taste even with more tasteful production. I maintain his version holds up despite that, but it doesn’t exactly scream popular-appeal. The Civil Wars’ beautiful acoustic cover does. They performed it many times over their too-brief career, but I still love this grainy black-and-white video that first brought it – and them – to my attention.
If you have a question you’d like us to answer, leave it in the comments, or e-mail it to covermefeature01(at)gmail(dot)com.