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.
Happy Valentine’s Day!
“When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”
In the 1962 John Ford western The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, newspaperman Maxwell Scott finds out that the actual facts about the storied career of senator Ransom Stoddard (played by Jimmy Stewart) weren’t quite as colorful and exciting as tradition had made them. Realizing that reporting the truth would not be in his best interest (because the better story would sell more papers), he tears up his notes and delivers the line above. There’s a bit of that story in the history of The Romantics; we’ll see it in a moment.
The Romantics hail from Detroit, Michigan, and were influenced both by local musicians such as the MC5, Mitch Ryder, and the Stooges, and by the raucous, hard-driving sound of British punk. In both cases, it was the energy and spontaneity of the music they were listening to that captured their imagination. They steered away from the negativity inherent in some of the lyrics and ethos of the time, choosing instead to keep making music as much fun as possible. Shunning the “new wave” label, they chose instead to describe their music as “English pop with an American energy.”
They played their first gig as a band on Valentine’s Day 1977, and here’s where much of the rock press has decided to “print the legend.” The legend is that the band took its name from the holiday spirit surrounding that first gig. When asked, though, the band will tell you that the real inspiration for the name came from a Creem magazine about another artist they admired: Bryan Ferry. Ferry was describing Roxy Music’s current project, and used the term “romantic” a number of times, which clicked with them, and the name was forged. So there’s the truth, not quite as catchy as the legend.
Regardless, few songs are as catchy as the Romantics “What I like About You.” It’s been covered more than 20 times (according to SecondHandSongs), has appeared in numerous commercials and as the theme song to a television show, and is a perfect song to tell your own valentines what you like about them. Many of the covers out there (including Poison’s) are pretty faithful to the original. Here are three that are worth a look. Of these three versions:
Jetty Rae did a good job.
Lillix did it better.
Suicide Machines did it best.
Jetty Rae- What I Like About You (The Romantics cover)
Jetty Rae is a singer-songwriter and acoustic guitarist, born in Oregon but now claiming Charlevoix, Michigan as home. Her influences include Lauryn Hill, Brandi Carlile, and Eva Cassidy, and you can hear all of them in her somewhat bluesy, somewhat jazzy acoustic cover of this pop-rock staple. Her voice and her guitar playing are clear and spot-on, and she retains the fun and underlying sexual playfulness of the original.
Lillix – What I Like About You (The Romantics cover)
Lillix, formerly Tigerlily, was an all-female band from British Columbia in Canada. A la the Runaways, the band formed when the founding members were all in high school. While they initially found some success (the version above appeared on the soundtrack of the movie Freaky Friday), label troubles and poor record sales stalled their career, and the band is not currently active. Their musicianship on this version is strong, and the performance by a female band lends a slightly different dynamic to the song. It would be great for all of us if they found future success in new endeavors.
The Suicide Machines – What I Like About You (The Romantics cover)
The Suicide Machines hailed from Detroit, just like the Romantics. Unlike the Romantics, they more readily embraced the punk-like sensibilities and attitudes their counterparts avoided. (Take a look at the image in the video to see what I mean.) Suicide Machines have been on-again, off-again for a while, and over time have made adjustments both to their sound and their lineup. Their cover of “What I Like About You” is from 2008, during their heavy pop/rock influence phase. This cover is faster and edgier than the original, but stays basically true to the music, down to the harmonica solo. The Suicide Machines have a new release due out on March 27, 2020; it will be great to have them back and to see where they land stylistically.