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.
Continue reading »