Five Good Covers presents five cross-genre reinterpretations of an oft-covered song.
Many if not most of Burt Bacharach’s big hits were first released by other artists, usually Dionne Warwick. One big exception was “Trains and Boats and Planes,” a tale of transcontinental love which Bacharach thought was “too country” for Warwick; Bacharach and his writing partner Hal David had written the song for Gene Pitney to sing. Pitney, however, had other ideas; he rejected it and told Bacharach, “It’s not one of your better ones.”
Never one to sulk when insult was added to injury, Bacharach went to London and recorded the song with an orchestra. No lead vocalist, Bacharach assigned the lyrics to the Breakaways, a girl group who also sang backing vocals on Petula Clark’s “Downtown” and Jimi Hendrix’s “Hey Joe.” Their cool, detached voices suited the impassive song perfectly, but the bridge (“You are from another part of the world…”) proved to be too tricky, and Bacharach covered for them by making it an instrumental passage.
Today the song has earned its reputation as one of Bacharach’s better ones, Pitney notwithstanding. His version was a hit, and so was Warwick’s well-nigh-inevitable cover. The dozens of other covers that followed proved the song was strong enough to thrive under any approach, either with or without the bridge. Here are five of them.