Five Good Covers presents five cross-genre reinterpretations of an oft-covered song.
Despite his being one of the honorees, Todd Rundgren will not be attending the 2021 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony in Cleveland. He already has plans that evening–namely, playing his own headlining show a few hours away in Cincinnati. But that isn’t the only reason he won’t be there. Truth be told, Todd doesn’t think too highly of the Hall, telling Ultimate Classic Rock that it is “an industry invention” and that “true halls of fame are for retirees and dead people, because your legacy has been established. I’m too busy working to worry about my legacy — and plan to continue working until whenever.”
But he is well aware that Hall inductions are a meaningful thing to the majority of artists who get the nod, going on to say that he’d “striven since the nomination to just not say anything. Because I don’t want to rain on anybody else’s parade. A lot of artists take this seriously. Just because I don’t, doesn’t mean I should try and spoil it for them. I would just like it to elapse without any kind of bad vibes or anything being a result of it. I’d just like it to happen and be over with.”
The fact that Todd doesn’t care about his induction doesn’t change the fact that he is a melodic wizard genius. A spectacularly soulful weirdo. An eloquently empathetic pop poet who wants to keep pushing forward for as long as he is able. It’s okay if he’s not into basking in his legacy or in need of official validation of his achievements right now. He’s still got work to do.
Still, in light of his induction, we hope Todd won’t mind if we take this opportunity to celebrate one of his most embraceable heartbreakers and hookfests, 1978’s “Can We Still Be Friends.” For years the lush lament was thought to have been inspired by Todd’s high profile break-up with girlfriend Bebe Buell, but he later clarified that wasn’t the case. In a 2015 interview with Songfacts, Todd adamantly declared that “it’s really a song about the best possible way to end a relationship. It isn’t necessarily about a specific person.”
“Can We Still Be Friends” was a minor hit, getting as high as #29 in the U.S. pop chart, and has since been employed in several film and TV soundtracks, the most famous and fabled being Dumb and Dumber and Vanilla Sky. The song has also inspired some interesting covers over the years, running the gamut from bare-bones bedroom recordings to outright kitchen-sink craziness.
We now present some of the coolest covers of “Can We Still Be Friends”. And hey, please join us in wishing the ever awesome Todd Rundgren a happy induction…or at the very least, one totally kick ass night in Cincinnati.
Sui Generis- Yo Soy Su Papá /Can We Still Be Friends (Todd Rundgren cover)
Sui Generis were one of the biggest bands in Argentina in the ’70s and remain absolutely beloved to this day. Their utterly infectious, idiosyncratic pop rock has inspired multi-generational devotion and garnered millions of plays on Spotify and YouTube ( you can get a taste here). These facts are all the more impressive when you consider the band was only in full operation for four years, officially breaking up in 1975. They made three studio albums during their brief existence, did a couple of reunion shows along the way, and in 2001, founding members Charly García and Nito Mestre briefly reunited to record an album called Sinfonías para Adolescentes (Symphonies for Teenagers). It is a genuinely weird, slick mixed bag of originals and covers, and it’s home to a maniacally wonderful version of “Can We Still Be Friends” that is unlike any other. Not only do the duo perform the song in Spanish, they alter the lyrics, turning it from a wistful break-up postmortem into a father-son tale (the chorus is “I am his father”). There is a slightly drunken quality to whole affair and it occasionally sounds as if two songs are playing at once. There are crying babies, swirling strings and a cornucopia of weird flourishes (is that a kazoo in there?). You know what the craziest thing is, though? How all these fantastically quirky bits and pieces have united and morphed into such an amazingly coherent and gorgeous cover.
Robert Palmer- Can We Still Be Friends (Todd Rundgren cover)
Soulful, throaty rock chameleon Robert Palmer’s version of “Can We Still Be Friends” was released as a single in 1979, but didn’t end up charting in the U.S. or the U.K. Its synthetic drum track, slightly cheesy keys, and general lack of decoration give the track an almost demo-ish quality, so maybe it wasn’t sonically punchy enough to appeal to the masses. Yet that unobtrusive background serves as the perfect runway for Palmer to take off from, and he does so commandingly. The vocal here is positively stellar and the flashes of Palmer’s sweet trademark rasp on the chorus are a joy.
Mandy Moore- Can We Still Be Friends (Todd Rundgren cover)
Back in 2003, actor and sporadic pop star Mandy Moore released an of covers titled, uh, Coverage. An absurdly eclectic collection of songs from the ’70s and ’80s by everyone from XTC to John Hiatt to Joni Mitchell, it is, what do you know, amazingly good. It is also home to one of the absolute finest covers of The Waterboys’ “The Whole Of The Moon” I’ve ever heard (seriously). Considering her previous musical excursions were of the MTV Total Request Live bubblegum pop variety, Coverage was a disconcertingly great surprise. Not only because of its wonderfully nerdy track selection, but because of Moore’s ecstatically emotional vocal performances. Who knew? Which brings us to her version of “Can We Still Be Friends.” Plushly produced, big ‘n bright with a bridge worthy of 10cc, it celebrates and honors the original impeccably. But the heavy lifter here is Moore, and it is her vocal, which gets gloriously Ronstadt-esque over the last minute, that ultimately sets this version airborne. P.S. Just want to note that Moore’s frothy 1999 debut single “Candy” still rules.
Lir Shilton- Can We Still Be Friends (Todd Rundgren cover)
As lo-fi bedroom versions of the “Can We Still Be Friends” go, Lir Shelton’s version is top of the heap. Shelton strips the song down to the absolute barest of bones. With its whispery vocal, delicate picking and intimate vibe, there is something hypnotically good going on here.
Colin Blunstone- Can We Still Be Friends (Todd Rundgren cover)
Colin Blunstone is best known as the lead singer of seminal ’60s band The Zombies, but he’s also kicked out a slew of solo albums over the years. His 1979 full length Late Nights in Soho was issued through Elton John’s now-defunct Rocket label, but was only ever released in Europe. It’s a bit of an obscurity, to say the least. Hiding amongst its sweetness is a particularly fine and faithful cover of “Can We Still Be Friends”. Blunstone’s plaintive, low key and lovely voice leads the way, of course, but the spaced out and slightly foggy production is the song’s secret weapon and what lifts it to shine as brightly as it does.
A great little read. One of my favorite songs from Todd. And Robert Palmer never really made a bad record. Maybe one day you’ll do an item on either one of them (or both !) on Picking Up Rocks? And you may not be aware of Rod Stewarts version or too polite to mention it – not Rod’s finest 3.48m – it sounds like it’s playing too fast. I hadn’t heard the Mandy Moore version before – Ronstadt-esque is a perfect description. I rather like it! I listened to the opening of the Sui Generis and thought – oh no, this versions not for me- but I thought if you felt it strong enough to feature here then it deserved my full attention. I’m glad that I made the effort – it’s EPIC and excellent! Keep up the great work Hope.