Five Good Covers presents five cross-genre reinterpretations of an oft-covered song.
I sometimes wonder if I’ve heard “Learn to Fly” more times than any other song. This isn’t because it’s my favorite song ever or anything. It’s a quirk of technology.
In the early file sharing days, the days when it was high-speed if your 128kbps MP3 took “only” 20 minutes to download, Winamp was the digital music player of choice. When you added a song to Winamp, it simply appeared at the bottom of a single long playlist. And when you opened Winamp, it would start playing that playlist right from the top. For whatever reason, the first MP3 I ever downloaded was “Learn to Fly,” so every time I opened Winamp, the “Learn to Fly” riff would kick right in. That happened probably once or twice a day. For several years. Hard to think of any other song that can compete for that level of play.
Believe it or, not everyone has listened to “Learn to Fly” quite as often as I have. It’s not the Foos’ most-covered song (that would be “Everlong”). It’s not second or third, either (“Times Like These,” “Best of You”). But I’d maintain that, Prince aside, it might be their best-covered song. At least two covers on the list below are absolute all-time classics, and the rest are no slouches themselves. And, twenty-plus years after the song’s release, the covers keep coming. When I was researching this, I found a cool string-quartet cover on YouTube. Written underneath the video: “Uploaded five hours ago.”
Run and tell all of the angels. These could take all night. Here are the best “Learn to Fly” covers.
Juliana Hatfield – Learn to Fly
I interviewed Juliana Hatfield for my book on tribute albums. To my surprise, in many cases she didn’t care all that much about the artists she was paying tribute to. But those were other people’s projects. Her own tribute albums, full-album covers of The Police and Olivia Newton-John, she cares about very much (a teased R.E.M. sequel hasn’t come about…yet?). I’m assuming that’s true too on the covers record she titled simply Juliana Hatfield, mixing songs by Teenage Fanclub, Liz Phair, and, yes, the Foos. She adds a little electronic crunch to a lilting folk-rock number. Sounds more Lilith Fair than Lollapalooza, but without losing an ounce of the song’s energy or catchiness.
Gallant – Learn to Fly
With more than a touch of The Weeknd, Los Angeles R&B singer Gallant’s “Learn to Fly” features thudding percussion, gospel builds, and stacks of gorgeous falsetto. Unlike Hatfield’s version, it retains almost nothing from the original save the lyrics and – loosely – the melody.
Ituana – Learn to Fly
Ituana’s version comes off an album titled Vintage Café: Lounge & Jazz Blends, which should give you some idea what you’re in for. It’s also Volume 13, which indicates they’ve been at this for a while. This bossa nova group is semi-anonymous, but did score a genuine hit when their “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” cover was used in the Big Little Lies finale a couple years ago.
Inercia – Learn to Fly
I was glad I looked close enough at the names in my Googling to realize Ituana and Inercia are two totally different artists who have covered “Learn to Fly.” Inercia is a rock band from the Argentinian city of Rosario, and their version, appropriately enough, rocks harder than any other on this list. Oh, and did I mention they translated the entire thing into Spanish?
Deer Creek Boys – Learn to Fly
On a whim, I searched “Learn to Fly bluegrass.” Whaddya know, “Learn to Fly” must work well as bluegrass, because a bunch of people have tried it (wonder if they dress like this). Best one I found was by Virginia quartet Deer Creek Boys. They released it on an album, but, as is often the case with bluegrass, it’s fun to watch ’em do it live.
Several years ago, a town in Italy tried to entice the Foo Fighters to play a concert there by filming a “Learn to Fly” cover with 1,000 – yes, you read that right, 1,000 – musicians. And, look, do two hundred drummers playing at once lead to a track you’ll want to listen to often? Probably not. But it’s a fun video of a huge number of Italians having a blast playing and singing along. And, get this, the gambit actually worked!