Five Good Covers presents five cross-genre reinterpretations of an oft-covered song.
Yesterday we learned that Kim Carnes was not the first to sing about Bette Davis’s eyes. Jackie DeShannon kicked off the admiration six years earlier. Despite this, Carnes’s version is the one we typically think of with its distinctive synth opener and its punctuating claps throughout.
These five covers keep the Bette Davis fan club going and bring their own approach to the Carnes version. Some combine similar elements; others go a completely different route. All are good, so let’s “turn the music on you” and listen to (more) covers of “Bette Davis Eyes.”
Sexton Blake – Bette Davis Eyes (Kim Carnes/Jackie DeShannon cover)
This version provides a riff on the opening riff, but otherwise keeps the steady percussion of Carnes’s version. Josh Hodges, of the Portland band Sexton Blake, sings the song at a slightly slower tempo as if in a daze, perhaps hypnotized by those eyes. The guitar leading into the choruses matches the original and adds melody to the fairly monotone vocals. The synth makes an appearance at the end, but it does its own thing rather than calling back to the riff we may expect.
Rogue Wave – Bette Davis Eyes (Kim Carnes/Jackie DeShannon cover)
The acoustic guitar takes the lead on the distinctive opening, with something like a steel-drum sound tinkling along with it. The synth and clap elements become more apparent as the song progresses, though. The overall feeling of the song is dreamy. The tempo is unrushed, and some of the accompanying instruments throughout have a toy-like sound that adds to the fantasy.
Dean Ray – Bette Davis Eyes (Kim Carnes/Jackie DeShannon cover)
This cover by an Australian X Factor runner-up starts with a guitar solo that transitions into the “Bette Davis Eyes” tune. The guitar remains prominent throughout, showing off some fast finger picking and strums. Dean Ray goes off the beaten path towards the end, adding a fast-paced guitar solo and his own emphasis on “oh, she’s got it.” This helps us remember that having Bette Davis eyes is not just about the eyes themselves, it’s about the swagger that comes along with them.
Space Cadet – Bette Davis Eyes (Kim Carnes/Jackie DeShannon cover)
The song gets a heavier rock interpretation in Space Cadet’s cover. The electric guitar subtly hints at the Carnes opening riff throughout, and we get the classic rock band style buildup to the chorus, with escalating percussion and guitar. This version also doubles down on the raspiness of Carnes’s version, and this is especially evident on emphasized words like “precocious” and “pro blush.” Towards the end, we also get an electric guitar solo of the chorus melody.
Mina Caputo – Bette Davis Eyes (Kim Carnes/Jackie DeShannon cover)
Mina Caputo’s cover is the least traditional one here. In fact, the melody is completely changed. This version has an intense ambiance (we can see why all the boys are thinking about spies), with a big and sonorous beat marking the slow but deliberate tempo. Lighter backup “she’s got” vocals add to the sense of urgency that the sparse but persistent instruments provide. If you’ve ever wanted a more reflective version of the song, this cover might be what you are looking for.