Jul 052024

Five Good Covers presents five cross-genre reinterpretations of an oft-covered song.

The United Kingdom woke up to a new Prime Minister on Friday. We don’t yet know what kind of Prime Minister Sir Keir Starmer will be, but we know a little of his music tastes, thanks to a recent profile: “His music tastes are lodged in the mid-80s – Aztec Camera, Orange Juice, Edwyn Collins.” Edwyn Collins?

“Edwyn Collins’s tart cocktail of self-deprecation and self-assurance.” Pete Paphides’ beautiful, magnificent book Broken Greek is a love letter to the music that moves him, regardless of whether it does so for anyone else, or even if others in vast numbers appreciate it. He is not a snob. His musical awakening took place in the late ’70s or early ’80s, so we get some wonderful prose about Orange Juice, the band that Edwyn Collins led before his solo career. Orange Juice’s small output, and fewer hits, nevertheless had a disproportionate influence on music in Scotland and beyond. A recent history and museum exhibit of Scottish pop was named “Rip It Up” after the band’s best-known single. Edwyn Collins had something about him, a big fish in a small Scottish Loch.

After Orange Juice split, Collins continued to be a vital cog in the machine of the Scottish music scene. He produced creditable collaborations with, for instance, Robin Guthrie of the Cocteau Twins and Roddy Frame of Aztec Camera. All recognized his talent, not least himself, but it did not always translate itself to hits.

That changed in 1995 with the release of “A Girl Like You.” The worldwide hit encompasses a remarkable range of Collins’ skills and influences. Those who studied the success of the UK dance phenomenon Northern Soul identified that 121bpm is the most danceable pace for music, leading to dozens of hits at that exact pace in the charts of the ’90s. This song cleaves close to that ideal, and even samples a sixties soul classic.

But there is more. Collins uses a B&M Fuzzbox to achieve the distinctive riff, but enhances the refrain with a clean-sounding vibraphone. Sex Pistol Paul Cook played the drums that are not part of the four-on-the-floor sample. It is a sophisticated musical confection, worthy of the finest Viennese Patisserie. And then there are the lyrics, which add a layer of universality. Who has not started a romance with the belief that their partner is unique? With an unparalleled set of lovely traits, never combined in a single, heavenly creation. That moves everyone.

The song managed to conquer several markets, and chart in many more. It was helped on its way, curiously, by featuring on the critically mauled but subsequently cult film Empire Records. The lyrical message and place in time have enabled it to feature in several more films and TV shows, and have kept the song in the imagination and indie channel playlists ever since.

In 2005 Collins suffered a cerebral haemorrhage, and was near death, and the after-effects of that illness have affected him ever since. However, with the love and support of his family, he returned to music making, including live performances, where his talent and self-belief continue to shine through.

His best-known legacy has spawned many covers; here are Five of the Best of them.

Adorable Pets – A Girl Like You (Edwyn Collins cover)

One of the glories of “A Girl Like You” is the contrast between the fuzz of the guitar and the clarity of the percussion. It evokes a partner who is presentable when necessary, but is not afraid to be in the dive bar at the end of the night. That’s what makes them lovable! One way to accentuate that is to make the clean sounds cleaner and the fuzz sounds scuzzier. That’s the approach that Adorable Pets take to the song on the charity compilation Flannel Dreams.

The Black Keys – A Girl Like You (Edwyn Collins cover)

A song characterized by a fuzzy, accomplished guitar, and driven by an insistent drum beat. Collins might have written it for Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney. On this Jimmy Fallon segment, they take their new lover to their garage band rehearsal room, not bothering to appreciate or note the clean notes from the original percussion, but adding guitar virtuosity.

Marcia Barrett – A Boy Like You (Edwyn Collins cover)

Former Boney M singer Marcia Barrett’s beau is a spruced-up, straight-down-the-line lover. There is much less fuzz, and one can imagine him in a smart suit, impressing both his lover and her parents.

Tibursky and Tiefe Wasser Berlin – A Girl Like You (Edwyn Collins cover)

“A Girl Like You” is usually a floor filler, to a dance beat. However, it can go in another direction. Tibursky is a German artist who declares his love for ’90s classics regularly. Here Tibursky joins Duo Tiefe Wasser Berlin. In this Collins-endorsed version, they imagine the song slowed down by 25% or so—a different dance rhythm, for a different stage in the evening.

The Broke and Broken – A Girl Like You (Edwyn Collins cover)

After many years of listening to this song, I have always associated it with the appreciation of a new or enduring partner. It is a song about love. The Broke and the Broken have a different idea. What if the person was an enemy, an antagonist, a harpy who must be taken down? The English duo ask that question, stripping the song back to a guitar and plaintive, haunting vocals.

Coda: Coldplay featuring Edwyn Collins – A Girl Like You

In 2022 Collins played a triumphant homecoming outdoor gig in Glasgow, alongside fellow indie darlings Altered Images. A decent crowd, featuring many alumni from the bands of the period, gathered to see just how Collins was, nearly 20 years after his illness. It soon became clear that he was in fine musical and health fettle. A few nights later, “A Girl Like You” could be heard echoing around the city. Coldplay had invited Edwyn to join them. Both sides start with trepidation, but soon get into the swing of it. Together, they combine catharsis with a singalong from a jubilant crowd.

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