Feb 092024

In the Spotlight showcases a cross-section of an artist’s cover work. View past installments, then post suggestions for future picks in the comments!

The Feelies

In 2023, the Feelies released Some Kinda Love: Performing the Music of the Velvet Underground, a live album recorded one night in 2018. Listeners heard a band that had clearly absorbed the VU into their DNA long ago, making their recreations sound almost effortless. They even play the brief instrumental burbling at the start of “Sweet Jane.” The audience cheers heard between songs are loud and enthusiastic, and no matter which band’s music they’re there to hear, you can tell they love the other band too.

For this night, the Feelies were more about being Velvet Underground fans than Feelies. Because because? Well, their version of “What Goes On” sounds more like the VU and less like the Feelies’ own studio-released version, from 1988’s Only Life. Now there was a band who set out to make a song their own. Not to knock the modern day Feelies, not at all, but that VU night really was designed to be more commemoration than innovation. It’s those earlier covers we’re focusing on today, the ones that saw the band out to, as Lou Reed called his own live album in 1978, take no prisoners.

The Feelies – She Said She Said (The Beatles cover)

The Feelies’ first album, Crazy Rhythms, had what’s arguably their best-known cover, a wonderfully frenetic take on the Beatles’ “Everybody’s Got Something To Hide Except Me and My Monkey.” They would go on to release another Beatles song, on the 1986 No One Knows EP that would later be enfolded into their second album, The Good Earth. Here we see the way “She Said She Said” sounded in a live setting from that era (Athens, GA in ’87, to be specific), fairly faithful up to an extended and very interesting coda. (Another Beatles cover worth checking out: “Love You To” by Feelies offshoot The Trypes.)

The Feelies – I Wanna Sleep In Your Arms (The Modern Lovers cover)

The Feelies were regularly compared to the Velvet Underground long before their live album, thanks to their zippy rhythm guitars, their deadpan vocals, and their one-chord drones. Another ’70s artist who heard plenty of VU comparisons was Jonathan Richman, a VU acolyte from his teens onward. So it only makes sense that the Feelies would cover Richman’s first band, the equally legendary Modern Lovers. They take the punky “I Wanna Sleep in Your Arms” and somehow make it a Feelies song without ever making it not a Modern Lovers song.

The Feelies – Dancing Barefoot (Patti Smith cover)

Brenda Sauter, the Feelies bassist, takes a rare lead vocal in the band’s cover of Patti Smith’s “Dancing Barefoot” and acquits herself admirably. The song is identifiably Patti Smith’s, but the vibe is entirely the Feelies.

Yung Wu – Powderfinger (Neil Young cover)

Yung Wu were a not-quite-offshoot of the Feelies. The lineup was the same, only with percussionist Dave Weckerman on lead vocals, and the band sounded less jittery and wound-up than in their better-known incarnation. Even at an easier pace, the band could still do a good rock cover, as shown by their version of Neil Young’s “Powderfinger.”

The Willies – Fame (David Bowie cover)

Jonathan Demme was in danger of being half-forgotten, but the rerelease last year of the documentary Stop Making Sense hauled the late director back into the spotlight. Demme was a music fan who put together soundtracks that were as indelible as his films – you can thank him for discovering Q Lazzarus and “Goodbye Horses” – and he was a big fan of the Feelies, directing their “Away” video and giving them a cameo in his Something Wild as the high school reunion band the Willies. “It’s a deadpan cameo, a private homage,” said NPR, “but in every way it also serves the dominant narrative interests, and it feels like a gift.” No matter how dorky Jeff Daniels is dancing here, you can’t blame him for wanting to get up with his get-down.

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