Nov 032020
 

“Covering the Hits” looks at covers of a randomly-selected #1 hit from the past sixty-odd years.

mo money mo problems covers

The three most prominent “Mo Money Mo Problems” covers aren’t really covers at all. But they’re at least cover-adjacent, so we’ll start there.
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Oct 162020
 

“Covering the Hits” looks at covers of a randomly-selected #1 hit from the past sixty-odd years.

Don't You Forget About Me covers

Keith Forsey and Steve Schiff wrote “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” while scoring The Breakfast Club. They sent it to Simple Minds, a favorite group of theirs. Simple Minds turned it down, preferring to do songs they themselves had written. Bryan Ferry turned it down. Billy Idol turned it down. Eurythmics turned it down. Cy Curnin of the Fixx turned it down. The record company suggested Corey Hart; Forsey turned them down. Chrissie Hynde loved it, but was pregnant and didn’t want to do the accompanying video, so she badgered her husband to try it. Her husband was Jim Kerr, of (wait for it) Simple Minds.

Once the band came around, they followed Forsey & Schiff’s demo pretty closely, with Kerr throwing in the “Hey, hey, hey, hey” and a few “la la la”s toward the end. After its release, while grateful for the doors it opened, the band sometimes sounded like they wished they’d stuck to their guns and kept turning it down. “(The lyrics) sound pretty inane to me,” Kerr later said. “Sometimes I play it and I just puke.”

It seems like the only people who ever loved the song were the target audience. They took the song to number one and permanently lodged it in the collective conscious of the class of ’85. When Simple Minds performed it at Live Aid (at Bob Geldof’s insistence), the Philadelphia crowd went crazy, and the band realized what they had on their hands was more than just another hit. Thirty-five years later, “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” can bring the era back like few other songs.

Such a song becomes an easy target for artists wanting to cover it. In Spin‘s definitive oral history of the song, Forsey says, “For me, the song only goes one way, and what we did when we did it was the way.” That’s as may be, but that didn’t stop many others from taking it their way. As Schiff says in the same article, “The song has really gone off on its own and has become that thing for other people, and that comes across when somebody else does it. You know, walking by bars in New Orleans, at a karaoke bar and it’s there. It’s sort of fun where it can pop up.”

Seven of them pop up below. Enjoy!

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Jan 172020
 

“Covering the Hits” looks at covers of a randomly-selected #1 hit from the past sixty-odd years.

black and white covers

Unlike most #1 hits we’ve covered so far, Three Dog Night’s 1972 chart-topper “Black and White” is itself a cover. The song, written by Earl Robinson and David Arkin (Alan Arkin’s father), was first recorded by Pete Seeger in 1956. Even in Three Dog Night’s marginally more rockin’ arrangement, it still sounds like a Seeger song, and not exactly a top-tier Seeger song at that. “A child is black, a child is white / A whole world looks upon the sight” sounds like folk music’s “Ebony and Ivory.” The fact that Three Dog Night took this well-meaning trifle to number one shows just how high the band was riding after the previous year’s “Joy to the World.” Continue reading »

Sep 202019
 

“Covering the Hits” looks at covers of a randomly-selected #1 hit from the past sixty-odd years.

just like starting over covers

In October of 1980, John Lennon’s “(Just Like) Starting Over” was released as a single, serving as a harbinger for his first new album in five years. The critics were not about to swoon over his return; while it was nice to see him making music again, some scorned his contentedness and the song’s studio-bound ’50s sound; one British mag went so far as to headline their review “Get Down Lazarus.” Which Lennon did, to what must have been tremendous mortification on the headline writer’s part.

Lennon’s death virtually guaranteed a number one song; “(Just Like) Starting Over” reaped the morbid benefits. To this day, it serves as a bittersweet epitaph, and about as untouchable by cover artists as a song can get. What’s the point? It’s its own tribute, and bettering it is a thankless task.

But that doesn’t mean nobody’s tried…
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Apr 192019
 

“Covering the Hits” looks at covers of a randomly-selected #1 hit from the past sixty-odd years.

Harry Chapin

No number one hit says “massive guilt trip” like Harry Chapin’s “Cat’s in the Cradle.” It’s become a shorthand reference to neglectful father-son parenting, featured in popular culture from Simpsons to Shrek the Third, and Stevie Wonder only wishes he prompted as many phone calls just to say “I love you.”

It started off as a poem by Sandy Chapin, Harry’s wife, inspired by the relationship between her first husband and his father. “He came home and I showed him the poem, and he sort of brushed it aside,” she said. But a year later Harry had become a father, and found himself living the life his wife had written about; he wrote music and a chorus, and David Geffen selected it to be a single. “You can’t do that; it’s ridiculous,” Sandy told him. “That song will only appeal to 45-year-old men, and they don’t buy records.” Harry himself wanted to re-record the song, saying “It’s terrible, just terrible. It’s much too fast a tempo.” Both of them were proved very wrong, as the song went to #1 in December 1974.

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Mar 262019
 

“Covering the Hits” looks at covers of a randomly-selected #1 hit from the past sixty years.

love will never do covers

We continue our week-long series of features on every 2019 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee with one of the biggest pop singers of the past thirty years: Janet Jackson. She’s sold over 100 million records, has an entire Wikipedia page devoted to everyone she’s inspired, and – most importantly for this series – had ten #1 hits. So, to tweak the usual “Covering the Hits” formula a bit, I limited the randomizer to one of those ten. And it picked “Love Will Never Do (Without You),” the Rhythm Nation 1814 standout that turns 30 this year.

Despite being a smash at the time and a hit with an enduring legacy (Pitchfork named it the 27th best song of the 1980s just a couple years ago), “Love Will Never Do” has been covered less than you might think. Once you eliminate the million sound-alike covers and karaoke instruments, Spotify only boasts a handful of covers, and YouTube not many more. But we dug deep, to bring you the best covers out there. Continue reading »