“Covering the Hits” looks at covers of a randomly-selected #1 hit from the past sixty years.
In 1960, Victor and Everett Walker opened the first Walker Bros. Original Pancake House in Wilmette, IL. By the end of the decade, Victor retired, having sold his restaurant and the 15 KFC franchises he owned. At age 50, he was fixed for life – as were his three sons. One of them, Victor Jr., dated a woman named Sara Allen for a while in college. She broke up with Victor Jr. (but remained friends) and began going out with Daryl Hall, who would write “Sara Smile” about her and write many other songs with her.
Hall knew the young Vic and later referred to him as a “burnout.” “He came to our apartment, and he was acting sort of strange,” Hall said in an interview. “I said, ‘This guy is out of his mind, but he doesn’t have to worry about it because his father’s gonna bail him out of any problems he gets in.'” That thought led to a song. “But you can’t write, ‘You’re a rich boy’ in a song,” Hall said, “so I changed it to a girl.”
Result: “Rich Girl,” which in 1977 became the first of six Hall & Oates songs to go to number one. So if you’re ever at a Walker Brothers and having one of their legendary apple cinnamon pancakes, spare a thought for dumped young Victor, the one who inspired Hall and Oates to reach their very first peak.
Hall & Oates songs have consistently garnered quality covers, and “Rich Girl” is no exception. Let’s trace its cover history over the years.
1978: Nina Simone – Rich Girl (Hall & Oates cover)
Nina Simone’s 1978 album Baltimore has fans, but Nina Simone isn’t one of them. She didn’t like the arrangements, the song selection, the cover photo, or the recording process (“Five guys from the States took me to a basement in Belgium, where I was forced to sing songs in order to get out of there”). But even if she was denied any artistic say, her voice showed no sign of wear or rust (it was her first album in four years). She sings “Rich Girl” with feeling, fire, and full-on conviction.
2008: Everclear – Rich Girl (Hall & Oates cover)
The Vegas Years was an Everclear compilation of cover songs they’d recorded over their career. Art Alexakis said about “Rich Girl,” “I think we rocked it up a lot more… It’s just one of those songs I always loved, and it was one of those songs that you’d listen to with your mom and the guy would say ‘bitch’ and you’d sit there going (giggles).” He doesn’t just nail the appeal of the song, he nails the song as well.
2009: Diane Birch – Rich Girl (Hall & Oates cover)
Daryl Hall had Diane Birch on his Live from Daryl’s House web program; when he introduced her, he cited Laura Nyro, Carole King, and early Elvis Costello as reference points before adding, “and a little early me.” Birch made that reference point a little more evident with her YouTube cover of “Rich Girl.” All we see are her hands, but as long as we’re hearing her sing and play, it’s all good.
2010: The Bird and the Bee – Rich Girl (Hall & Oates cover)
Daryl Hall singled out the Bird and the Bee’s cover of “Rich Girl,” from their all-H&O cover album Interpreting the Masters, Vol. 1, as one of his favorite covers of his work. It’s easy to see the appeal – the song sounds fresh again without being radically altered, thanks to the new wave chill of the vocals and instrumentation. TB&TB don’t make the song their own, but that was never the point, and they certainly prove themselves fine interpreters of true masters.
2012: Lake Street Dive – Rich Girl (Hall & Oates cover)
Lake Street Dive’s 2012 covers EP Fun Machine saw the band bring their soul-jazz chops to a handful of pop classics, ranging from the Drifters’ “This Magic Moment” to George Michael’s “Faith.” The “Rich Girl” cover features trumpet and stand-up bass in an acoustic setting, allowing the song to both breathe and bounce.
2013: Mick Rogers – Rich Girl (Hall & Oates cover)
Best known for his tenure with Manfred Mann, guitarist Mick Rogers covered “Rich Girl” on his 2013 album Sharabang. He puts a new spin on the music; anyone hearing the song sans vocals would be hard pressed to recognize it as a Hall & Oates tune. The circular guitar figure at the start is fairly hypnotic, and the solo toward the end is expressive in all the right ways.
2017: Nathan & Eva – Rich Girl (Hall & Oates cover)
“Rich Girl” is a YouTube bedroom-cover favorite, one that can recreated in a quiet setting with an acoustic guitar or a keyboard with little to no trouble. Here’s one of the best, recorded by Nathan and Eva Leach (joined here by their older brother Ben), with nice harmonies and a very gentle vibe. Spoiler alert: unlike Everclear, they clean it up for the kids.
Listen to more Hall & Oates covers in our archives.