One Great Cover looks at the greatest cover songs ever, and how they got to be that way.
Prior to Saint Etienne, a bevy of notable names stepped up to cover Neil Young‘s “Only Love Can Break Your Heart,” with varying degrees of success. Elkie “Pearl’s a Singer” Brooks wrung out the simple—almost childlike—lyrics of the classic 1970 ballad on a moribund disco version of 1978. Stephen Stills rediscovered its 3/4 time and added a self-written verse on a schmaltzy non-hit version of 1984. Psychic TV made an agreeably acid-tinged waltz out of it (yes, one of those) in 1989.
However, it was the UK trio of Bob Stanley, Pete Wiggs, and Moira Lambert, going by the name of a French soccer team, who made the song the basis of a massively influential post-house sound in 1990. That’ll be the great cover you’re looking for. And that’ll be the great cover that launched Saint Etienne’s long and remarkable career in samples, beats, and basslines.
But just how an old folk-rock number by a nasal-voiced Canadian hippie made the journey to cutting-edge electronic pop in the days of UK rave is a question worth asking.