Some covers are more equal than others. Good, Better, Best looks at three covers and decides who takes home the gold, the silver, and the bronze.
This is the year Roxy Music finally gets into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Babies have been born since they were first eligible who are now old enough to legally drink. Would that they were also being introduced to the stylings of Bryan Ferry and company, who married prog and glam and were New Romantic before New Romantic existed. How is it possible that a band had to get rid of Brian Eno because he was holding them back?
Eno was more than gracious about that – he’s declared Stranded, the first Roxy Music album without him, to be his favorite. His taste proves impeccable once again – Stranded has a (UK) hit single in “Street Life,” a perfect ode to heartbreak in “A Song for Europe,” and one of the greatest centerpieces of all ’70s rock albums, “Mother of Pearl.”
Centerpieces of albums are hard to define, but to paraphrase Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, you know it when you hear it. You definitely hear it with “Mother of Pearl” – the first part of the song consists of a rockin’ Saturday night, the second part a Sunday morning of regrets and the embraces of those regrets. Drummer Paul Thompson deserves singling out here for his work, helping the song to sound like it’s unfolding as much as it’s progressing, but it’s Ferry who earns the spotlight. Sounding like he’s “about to sink his teeth into your neck” (Thanks, Rolling Stone!), Ferry sings of heartbreak with lyrics like no one else’s (“But no dilettante / Filigree fancy / Beats the plastic you”). Little touches kept appearing – a wondrous “Again?” after “Well, I’ve been up all night,” a single ripple of castanets at “But you are my favorita,” a whispered “FEW-CHAAAAA” at “Just give me your future,” and on and on and on and onnnnnnnnn.
The covers of the song that exist (artists do tend to shy away from achievements) focus on the second part – Ferry himself did a solo remake that left out the first ninety-odd seconds. These covers can’t top the original, but that isn’t the intent with any of them – they’re out to acknowledge, to bring the song to others. They also show more than a little courage in stepping up to the original, and if they don’t hit it out of the park, they make solid contact and send it out to more. These three go for extra-base hits, and of them…
The Scribble cover is good.
The MotherofPearlMusic cover is better.
And the Pretty & Twisted cover is best.
Scribble – Mother of Pearl (Roxy Music cover)
There were a number of bands with the name Scribble; one was an 80s post-punk synth band formed around Johanna Pigott, which gained cult interest and little more. Their cover of “Mother of Pearl” appeared on 1985’s So Far, a collection which one blogger called “[a]n ideal wintertime record that feels more and more like a favorite sweater with each listen.” It included a cover of “Mother of Pearl” that has an antigravitational feel to it, adrift and at the mercy of its listeners.
MotherofpearlMusic – Mother of Pearl (Roxy Music cover)
[Name removed at artist’s request] is a young German woman who records covers on her YouTube channel, titled MotherofpearlMusic. So it makes sense that she’s a big Roxy / Ferry fan (such a rare thing in today’s youth) and that one of the first covers she recorded for the channel was “Mother of Pearl.” It’s far and away the most viewed cover on her channel, with most of the comments registering amazement that a voice and an acoustic guitar can convey all the feeling in Ferry’s complex original. It clearly has a place in MotherofpearlMusic’s heart, and she makes it feel more real.
Pretty & Twisted – Mother of Pearl (Roxy Music cover)
Some years after Johnette Napolitano of Concrete Blonde let Joey know she wasn’t angry anymore, she teamed up with the subject of that song, Wall of Voodoo’s Marc Moreland, to form Pretty & Twisted. It was a side project that didn’t last, which was a shame because their self-named sole album is one that still stands up well today – “a wonderful slice of adult alternative rock that is both melodic and intelligent,” says Allmusic.com. The cover of “Mother of Pearl” featured on that album stands out for its arrangement. Nothing languid about this track – it’s punchy, it’s driven, and its urgency becomes more and more compelling and Napolitano and company turn it back into a Saturday night song on the prowl.
Read some more about Roxy Music in our archives.