“Covering the Hits” looks at covers of a randomly-selected #1 hit from the past sixty-odd years.
In October of 1980, John Lennon’s “(Just Like) Starting Over” was released as a single, serving as a harbinger for his first new album in five years. The critics were not about to swoon over his return; while it was nice to see him making music again, some scorned his contentedness and the song’s studio-bound ’50s sound; one British mag went so far as to headline their review “Get Down Lazarus.” Which Lennon did, to what must have been tremendous mortification on the headline writer’s part.
Lennon’s death virtually guaranteed a number one song; “(Just Like) Starting Over” reaped the morbid benefits. To this day, it serves as a bittersweet epitaph, and about as untouchable by cover artists as a song can get. What’s the point? It’s its own tribute, and bettering it is a thankless task.
But that doesn’t mean nobody’s tried…
Tom Jones – (Just Like) Starting Over (John Lennon cover)
… well, it might be a stretch to say Tom Jones is out to better John Lennon in his cover of “(Just Like) Starting Over.” His version times out half as long, bringing it under two minutes, and he’s not out to do anything more than nod in the direction of Lennon (who once asked Jones, “How you doing, you Welsh poof?”), but do it in his own big-lunged way.
Flaming Lips – (Just Like) Starting Over (John Lennon cover)
You might be expecting the Flaming Lips to go all-out trippy in their cover of “(Just Like) Starting Over.” If you are, boy, are you in for a surprise. Wayne Coyne gets as tender as can be, showing his singing chops, making it as much his song as one can.
Rubberband – (Just Like) Starting Over (John Lennon cover)
Listening to the opening seconds of Rubberband’s cover of “(Just Like) Starting Over,” you’ll have no idea what they’re about to play until the lyrics begin. The arrangement has nothing to do with what Lennon wrote, which is its greatest appeal – hearing the song reinvented is truly refreshing.
Marcela Mangabeira – (Just Like) Starting Over (John Lennon cover)
If Rubberband’s version was refreshing, what does that make this bossa nova cover by Marcela Mangabeira? Well, “relaxing” begins to cover it, as it covers just about any bossa nova song. To me, it brings out the romance of the lyrics, the seductive invitation to make love nice and easy and in an innocent way.
Kat Edmonson – (Just Like) Starting Over (John Lennon cover)
Only in her mid-twenties when she recorded her cover of “(Just Like) Starting Over” for her debut album Take to the Sky, Kat Edmonson sounds decades older, or at least like an old soul dropped off in the 21st century. Her vintage vocals, lagging behind the beat and making you lean in to hear more, are a master class in the power of anticipation, and it’s a true treat to find yourself paying attention to the words and realizing that they matter once again.