Five Good Covers presents five cross-genre reinterpretations of an oft-covered song.
January 2023 was not a good month for guitar heroes. Not three weeks after Jeff Beck passed away, Tom Verlaine followed him to the great gig in the sky. Both were hailed from all corners of the music world and valued for their contributions to their instrument. Verlaine had one advantage to music fans’ hearts that Beck didn’t – he was the front man for Television, writing the band’s songs and singing them with a voice of strangled urgency.
Millions of people listened to Television’s Marquee Moon this week, whether in memoriam or to find out what all the fuss was about. The opening track, “See No Evil,” was a thrilling introduction to one of the era’s greatest albums. It saw great interplay with guitarist Richard Lloyd (that’s Lloyd doing the solo), and bassist Fred Smith and drummer Billy Ficca held down a solid rhythm that allowed Verlaine and Lloyd the chances to drive, lift, and soar.
Marquee Moon was a gateway for a lot of musicians, many of whom paid tribute to Verlaine and Television over the years by covering the band’s songs. Here are five “See No Evil” covers – one almost forty years old, one almost a week old, all of them saluting Verlaine and his six strings.
R.E.M. – See No Evil (Television cover)
“I have lost a hero,” Michael Stipe said in a statement released after Verlaine’s death. He went on to praise Tom for “the rigorous belief that music and art can alter and change matter, lives, experience. You introduced me to a world that flipped my life upside down. I am forever grateful.” This admiration comes as no surprise to longtime fans of R.E.M., as the band frequently covered “See No Evil” in their ’80s shows, with Stipe leading off by saying, “This is the greatest rock song of all time.” This video has multiple rare sights – Stipe with dyed hair, bassist Mike Mills without his glasses, and Peter Buck contributing a backing vocal.
Joe Jackson – See No Evil (Television cover)
In 2015 Joe Jackson stepped out with Fast Forward, his 19th studio album. It consisted of four groups of four songs recorded in four cities with four different bands backing Jackson. The quartet of New York songs included a cover of “See No Evil” with a killer solo from Bill Frisell. Jackson sounds nothing whatsoever like a man in his sixties as he pushes the song into different territory.
TRISTEN – See No Evil (Television cover)
Tristen Gaspadarek was born in Illinois and is now based in Nashville, but you wouldn’t guess it listening to her cover of “See No Evil.” She sounds vaguely European, picking her way through Verlaine’s imagery with the tentativeness of someone speaking a second language. That doesn’t harm the song at all; instrumentally, it’s pretty much a soundalike, with a solo that’s a little different but equally tasty.
Stock Exchange Girls – See No Evil (Television cover)
According to their Bandcamp bio, the Stock Exchange Girls come from all over the world – Ukraine, Canada, Italy, Sudan and Mexico, to be specific. They released their first album last year, She-Wolves of Wall Street. It includes a cover of “See No Evil” that turns the guitar solo into a synth solo, and that’s not all that’s changed. The song’s now an indie dance-floor filler, mixing bubble-gum cotton candy with fiberglass insulation until you’re hard pressed to decide which part is dangerous and which part is irresistible.
stvz – See No Evil (Television cover)
Covers don’t get more recent than this – it was posted on Bandcamp on February 1st, a.k.a. the day before yesterday, and clearly meant partly as tribute, partly to catch the ears of people seeking out “See No Evil” in the aftermath of Verlaine’s death. Opportunistic or not, this cover comes from a very different place; it’s a bedroom studio recording with an acoustic background, moving very much at its own pace, and is no less of a tribute for it.