“Covering the Hits” looks at covers of a randomly-selected #1 hit from the past sixty years.
“Hey Paula” is the sort of song that cries out for a good cover. It’s a tight, catchy slice of bubblegum pop, but one almost unlistenable today in its original 1963 recording by Paul & Paula (though it was clearly very listenable then – it wouldn’t be in this feature if it hadn’t topped the charts). More power to anyone nostalgic to the original release, but I have a hard time imagining this inspiring any new Paul & Paula fans today. I have a stronger tolerance for treacle than some, but this is well over my limit:
So, for the latest entry in our new series investigating covers of randomly-selected Billboard #1 hits, let’s see who can redeem “Hey Paula.” Spoiler alert: It’s not this first duo.
1974: Ernie Sigley & Denise Drysdale – Hey Paula
“Hey Paula” was actually a number-one hit twice over. Eleven years after Paul and Paula took it to the top stateside, Australian television personalities Ernie Sigley and Denise Drysdale topped the charts down under. Inexplicable.
1981: The Ventures – Hey Paula
The year “Hey Paula” came out, the Ventures released five separate full-length albums. This pace was not unusual. And the reason they churned them out so fast is they used a relatively simple formula: Take popular songs, ditch the lyrics, and play them with twangy guitar and a surf-rock drum beat. I can’t actually figure out when their “Hey Paula” first came out, though it’s appeared on a ton of compilations. The earliest this authoritative-looking discography has is 1981, so we’ll go with that unless anyone can tell me different.
1982: Danny Ray & Shirley James – Hey Paula
“Hey Paula” works quite well as a sort of rocksteady reggae song. Better than you’d expect, at least. The treacle factor is tempered with some groovy guitar licks and horns.
1994: R. Stevie Moore – Hey Paula
R. Stevie Moore’s “Hey Paula” comes off a compilation titled Unpopular Singer, and it’s an apt branding. His outsider-art version of “Hey Paula” was never going to get near any chart. He’s released over 400 full-length albums since the mid-’70s from his bedroom, becoming known as the “Grandfather of Home Recording.” His cover of “Hey Paula” is lo-fi as hell, off-putting in what seems to be a very deliberate way.
Grade: Either an A- or a D, depending on my mood.
2013: Pat Waters – Hey Paula
It’s surprising it took fifty years for someone to turn this into a twangy country slow song, but Pat Waters and his duet partner do an able job. If, like me, you’re not opposed to some cheese, but want a version that pulls it back just enough, this is a good one. Bonus points for an excellent guitar solo – something more versions of “Hey Paula” could frankly use.
2016: Dean and Britta – Hey Paula
Dean and Britta – that’s dreampop duo Dean Warheim of Galaxie 500 and Britta Phillips of Luna – are pretty much the perfect duo to modernize “Hey Paula.” Their 2016 cover features a healthy heaping of retro nostalgia, but with just enough fuzz and reverb to make it sound less Happy Days and more Twin Peaks.