Five Good Covers presents five cross-genre reinterpretations of an oft-covered song.
“She’s Gone” by Daryl Hall & John Oates was born old school. Even though the sign over the door of what was primarily known as “Soul” has long been replaced with the marginally more modern and wider sonic net of “R & B,” “She’s Gone” remains proud, righteous and straight up SOUL to its core. It’s an unabashed, beauteous love letter to the glorious Motown sounds that preceded it a decade before its creation, all harmony, hook, and heartache. It is forever immune from descriptive modernization.
John Oates’s explanation of the song’s genesis in his fine, funny 2017 memoir Change of Seasons was surprisingly comic, given the song’s theme of loss. It’s based on a very brief fling he’d had with a woman he’d encountered on an arctic night in an NYC diner at 3 a.m., who was wearing a pink tutu and cowboy boots (like you do). They dated for a few weeks until she vanished as quickly as she’d appeared, exerting the ultimate romantic gesture of cruelty by standing him up on New Year’s Eve. He says when he realized “she was going to be a no-show on that night of nights,” he thought, “If she’s not coming tonight… then she’s gone.” With that, a chorus was born. John shared the story and his melodic snippet with Daryl the next day, who then sat down at his black Wurtlizer and fleshed out the legendary intro and verses… and voila, “Everybody’s high on consolation,” forever and ever amen.
John knew the song was special. After they’d recorded it, he made this unbelievably prescient observation in his journal:
3/2/73, She’s Gone–I’m putting it down in writing. This is the one. I believe in this one.
While it took a while for the rest of the world to catch up to his private pronouncement, John’s intuition was correct. “She’s Gone” had first been released as a single on Atlantic Records in 1973 with middling success, only getting as high as #60 in the Billboard pop chart. In 1974, Daryl and John parted ways with the label and signed on to rival RCA. Their very first single released through their new label was besotted ballad “Sara Smile,” which deservedly found its way into the Top 10. Unsurprisingly, Atlantic wanted to cash in on some of the new-found success they’d missed out on. So in 1976 they re-released “She’s Gone” as a single into a world that, thanks to “Sara Smile,” was officially more aware of and hungry for this Daryl Hall & John Oates rock ‘n soul sound. The song rocketed to #7 in the pop chart, and “Sara’s” eccentric and lustrous older sibling finally got the recognition it deserved.
As ubiquitous and popular as later H & O mega-hits “Maneater” and “You Make My Dreams” are, “She’s Gone” may well be the quintessential H & O song, encapsulating who they are at their genuine core; emotional, intuitive stewards and sons of soul history. As John himself said, “I don’t think our lives would have been the same without that song. It still feels so timeless, a most incandescent moment. And in a way, it defines Daryl’s and my musical partnership.”
Despite its ongoing popularity, “She’s Gone” hasn’t been the recipient of as many officially sanctioned cover attempts as you might expect. That’s a shame, as there can never be enough people singing about being “worn as a toothbrush hanging in the stand.” But within the existing ones, there live a handful of absolute beauties by artists who have completely embraced the song’s idiosyncratic majesty and lovingly breathed in all of its “carbon and monoxide” and made something beautiful. Check them out below!
The Bird and the Bee – She’s Gone (Hall & Oates cover)
Changing pronouns in songs can be a pretty dicey proposition. It tends to suggest an underlying fear or preoccupation on the part of the performer over how they may be perceived. Sometimes it’s so misguided as to be funny. Sometimes, when you know an artist’s backstory, it’s sad. Most of the time it’s best not to do it at all. In other words, if you need to change the pronouns within a song in order to perform it with conviction and your name isn’t Nina Simone, then maybe it’s not the ideal song to be covering.
All of which is a roundabout way to say “He’s Gone” is generally a pretty lame approach to take to “She’s Gone.” Especially in light of how well-known and established the song is; it’s just never going to sound quite right. “She’s Gone” is a not a Mad Lib or “Happy Birthday” where you insert what suits you. Regardless of how you identify, it’s about a girl leaving you. And so “He’s Gone” has to go.
At this point, anyone considering covering an H & O song should be required to spend some time with The Bird and the Bee’s superb 2010 cover album Interpreting The Masters Vol.1: A Tribute to Daryl Hall and John Oates. With pronouns intact, heart and soul on full display, it’s a master class in cover song etiquette and execution. For their cover of “She’s Gone,” the duo dials back the drama and leans in on the tears. Over spare electronic instrumentation, Inara George delivers a vocal that is both warm and world-weary, transforming a soulful barn-burner into a slow embrace with perfection.
Tavares – She’s Gone (Hall & Oates cover)
The five Rhode Island brothers known to the world by their surname Tavares hit #1 on the 1974 Soul Singles chart with their version of “She’s Gone,” two whole years before the H & O version achieved its greatest success (!). Once these guys wrapped their tonsils around it, the song’s true soul credentials were officially sealed forever. While the Tavares take is exceptionally faithful to the original, it does offer the treat of both an extraordinarily Ernie Isley-esque guitar threading its way through the entire song, and some very sweet and glossy string flourishes. As an added bonus, love hasn’t taken a plain old toll on Chubby Tavares but “her dirty toll.”
Emm Gryner – She’s Gone (Hall & Oates cover)
I first became aware of singer-songwriter Emm Gryner after seeing her open for former Suede guitarist Bernard Butler back in 1998. She was amazing, sealing my fandom not only because of her sublimely melodic songs, but because she offered up an anecdote about Paul Weller recording down the hall in the same studio as she was and how ridiculously star-struck she’d felt. Not only was she a brilliant musician, but it was clear from the way she was gushing that she was also a nerdy pop fan. She then played a stunning cover of one of his songs. Turned out that was only the beginning.
Over the past twenty-plus years, Gryner’s admiration for melodic pop maestros has manifested itself in a series of truly sublime cover themed releases (read more about those here). Amongst them was a four-song EP solely dedicated to Daryl Hall and John Oates titled, yes, She’s Gone. It was the perfect title, for as good as the EP’s three other covers are, her version of “She’s Gone” is absolute fire. You get an entire minute of Gryner’s handsome voice front and center, accompanied by keys and some unobtrusive strings before her duet partner enters the song: a set of gloriously loud and scenery chewing drums. Once they join the proceedings, “She’s Gone” morphs from sweet lovelorn pop into an epically wonderful rock power ballad. Insert devil horns here.
Shaun Escoffery – She’s Gone (Hall & Oates cover)
On his 2007 version of “She’s Gone,” British singer Shaun Escoffery’s vocal is so upfront and intimate that it often feels as if he’s singing directly into your ear. It rests on a laid-back acoustic groove within which are subtle (listen closely) nods to 10cc’s ethereal classic “I’m Not In Love.” The overall sound is a throwback to the type of R & B ballads Brian McKnight and Joe were kicking out in the ’90s. The lights are low and so is Shaun.
Glenn Tilbrook- She’s Gone (Hall & Oates cover)
Is Squeeze man Glenn Tilbrook’s version of “She’s Gone” a brilliant and seminal cover? In a word, no… but it’s so absurdly sweet, heartfelt and goofy that it’s hard not to be charmed by it, hence its inclusion here. Squeeze were set to open for H & O on their 2020 tour, only to have everything come to a complete halt once the pandemic arrived and turned our collective world upside down. In the interim, Glenn’s been posting spontaneous and eclectic covers on his YouTube channel. Let Glenn explain:
“In my pre-pandemic life I would have been on the road today travelling from Mountain View, CA to Phoenix, AZ, really stuck in to our tour with Daryl Hall & John Oates and KT Tunstall. So this week’s selection is a tribute to and a cover of an early Hall & Oates song, ‘She’s Gone’ from 1973. What a fantastic song!”
P.S. If you are a Daryl and John fan with a lot of time on your hands and an insatiable, irrational love for the band, I heartily invite you check out this piece I wrote in attempt to explain their magical power and defend their pop genius. Go for that.