Five Good Covers presents five cross-genre reinterpretations of an oft-covered song.
The message that there is a place for everyone in this world, no matter what challenges they have to endure, is cathartic. Daniel Johnston struggled with finding his own path through the wilderness, often pressured by society or the medical establishment to imitate whatever their normal was. His music spoke to everyone universally, beamed out to our worlds and beyond. His songs and personality made him a beloved son of Austin, along with the similarly troubled Roky Erickson. Their flaws and strengths melded together: insight, folly, madness, anxiety, and joy, connecting them to people who went through the same shit they did, just not as scaled up or fucked up.
From great pain comes great music.
Johnston’s stories are legendary, from removing the keys and throwing them out of a small plane his father was flying (spoiler alert: they lived), to becoming famous simply because Kurt Cobain wore a t-shirt with Johnston’s cartoon frog on it. He struggled to sell records and find an audience, but the music industry wasn’t seeing him—they were looking for the next Seattle.
Others found him. A documentary was made of Johnston’s life. An Austin non-profit took his inspiration to remind people to check on each other by asking, “Hi. How Are You?”
“True Love Will Find You in the End” is certainly an oft-covered song; I listened to snippets of easily a couple of hundred versions to find my favorites below. I can’t defend my choices for being the best, as the nuances that speak to me may not speak to you. But every single artist here stutters, “The light, the light,” and that became a must have for this collection. I hope you believe them all.
Basia Bulat — True Love Will Find You in the End (Daniel Johnston cover)
Bulat’s song is exactly the kind of cover that proliferates on YouTube, just a raw and simple solo performance with just a woman and a guitar, trying to get you to hang on just one more day.
Crybaby — True Love Will Find You in the End (Daniel Johnston cover)
Crybaby’s Danny Coughlin sings a loungey number that brings to mind Morrissey smacking a 1953 Chevy Bel Air convertible into a Wile E. Coyote tunnel painted on a Phil Spector wall of sound. At least, that’s what I hear.
Wilco — True Love Will Find You in the End (Daniel Johnston cover)
Wilco doesn’t do anything different than many artists covering this song. But it’s Wilco, and that’s good enough for me.
Slipstream — True Love Will Find You in the End (Daniel Johnston cover)
Slipstream is the project of longtime collaborators Jonny Mattock and Mark Refoy, of Spiritualized, Spaceman 3, and too many side projects to mention. Whereas Spiritualized did the slow walk of Johnston’s original, here Slipstream speeds it up and infects it with some paisley underground. This one showed up just a couple months ago.
Headless Heroes — True Love Will Find You in the End (Daniel Johnston cover)
Headless Heroes, a covers project featuring a ton of side musicians, is far and away my favorite cover of Johnston’s song. Woody Jackson’s slide work fills a lake of tears, but vocalist Alela Diane throws us a life preserver.
Have a favorite? Tell us in the comments.