One of my favorite songs is “Whole Wide World” by Wreckless Eric. It’s deceptively slow punk with a chugging start and soft vocals that crash into the chorus. The chorus itself has the signature sneer of punk, but it’s so heartfelt that the posturing sheen wears away quickly.
Billie Joe Armstrong took a turn at the song and pulled it off. A big reason for this is because of his accent. I believe I’ve linked to this article before, but the surf rock culture that gave rise to California punk also gave rise to its own distinctive vocal style. As Armstrong once said, he’s an American faking a British accent faking an American accent. That’s perfectly suited to a classic punk song like “Whole Wide World.” He doesn’t have quite the same grit, nor is his voice nearly as exaggerated, but it’s pretty near perfect to my ears. I feel like I don’t often feature covers that are so closely matched to each other like that. Recently, covers seem to be slow acoustic renditions of pop songs. Which isn’t a bad thing! I’m fascinated by those trends. But here, I like the strong echoes of the original that run through Armstrong’s rendition of “Whole Wide World.” As usual, I’ve included both below. Give a listen and let me know: are they really that closely matched? Which do you like better? (I honestly can’t say myself.)
I first heard The Flying Pickets’ cover of this song when it was used to creepy effect on The Americans. (I get a lot of song recommendations from TV, now that I think about it.)
What’s fascinating to me about these two versions is the tone they take. Even though it’s the same song, the arrangement makes the perspective completely flip. The Yazoo original is spare and electronic, with a tight beat that’s ’80s to the core. Its tone is more hopeful, more of a love song. The lyrics seem to be describing a current relationship with a pensive sort of joy.
Meanwhile, The Flying Pickets took a mournful route. Because theirs is a choral/acapella version, the song echoes. This makes it sound like they’re reminiscing about the past. “Only You” isn’t somber in their hands, exactly; it’s just melancholy.
For this reason, I like the original better. To be sure, I can get in my feels when I listen to music, and there’s a time and a place for that. But here, with lyrics reaching out, talking about no one else, only you – I’d like to hear about someone in love.
I’m honestly surprised that I haven’t written about this song, and particularly this cover, before. It’s really what started my obsession with the Mary Chain. I heard “Worry About It Later” by Brakes on an MTV show, then had Touchdown, its album, on repeat for months afterwards. From there, I dove into Brakes’ back catalogue. Give Blood isn’t my favorite of theirs, but “Sometimes Always” was the standout. I thought that it was an original until I did more research. And, well, the rest is history: I’m pretty much always listening to at least one Mary Chain song, I’ve been to three of their concerts, I know most of their releases, I’ve listened to interviews, etc., etc. As a friend of mine says, it’s on brand for me that my favorite band is an obscure indie rock outfit from the ’80s.
What’s interesting about the Brakes version is that it’s gender-flipped. The Pipettes provide Hope Sandoval’s vocals, but Eamon Hamilton is the main narrator. Instead of “you sure are lucky son/lucky son of a gun,” we get: “you sure are lucky girl/luckiest in the world.” That line spoke to me somehow when I was listening to this song over and over in my early college years. Although Brakes largely follows the acoustic sound of Stoned and Dethroned in their cover, they offer a punk-tinged edge on the bridge. There, the guitar is just a little bit louder and sharper. (All of Give Blood, really, is punk: see the short, blistering “Cheney” for an example. Eamon’s sneering accent is the perfect finishing touch.)
With these two songs, I can’t really pick a favorite. The cover is special to me for what it started; the original is special to me just because I love the Mary Chain. Below, as usual, are both.
I read a great article in Pitchfork about So by Peter Gabriel; they’ve been revisiting “significant albums of the past” recently. I’ve been listening “In Your Eyes” on repeat for the past several days, so the timing was perfect. Speaking of perfect timing: I’ve been itching to do another Covers Corner, and I’ve had this one on the list for a while.
The reason I wanted to, er, cover this cover is because I like “Sledgehammer” and I think that Harry Styles is a unique choice to do it. He’s been leaning into the artsy, gender bending side of music of late. “Sledgehammer” isn’t really that: it’s bluntly sexual and masculine. But Harry takes it on well. His voice actually sounds a lot like Peter Gabriel’s, which is impressive. Besides, the benefit of a cover is that oftentimes you can hear the lyrics more clearly. This is definitely the case here. Harry enunciates the lyrics without sounding forced or robotic. It helps me get more out of the song. Another aspect of Harry’s cover that I really like is that the backup singers stand out a lot more. They carry the chorus and call-and-response in a way that’s drowned out in the original.
What Harry maintains from the original is a sense of joy and even play. (I mean, as I mentioned in a previous Monthly Obsessions post, the metaphors in the lyrics can get a little ridiculous.) His voice is light and smooth; it’s like he’s singing with a straight face despite lines like “I will be your honey bee.” There’s seduction there. He manages to make the song subtle. It doesn’t hurt that the cover lacks the heavier drums that Peter Gabriel’s version has.
In terms of “which is better,” I’m leaning towards the original, actually: maybe that’s because it’s the one I heard first, or because I, too, enjoy silly come-ons made extra obvious. But as usual, I’m leaving both below; let me know which one you like! (I am, as usual, loathe to include YouTube links, but the Harry Styles version isn’t available on Spotify.)
I had a completely different Covers Corner lined up, but then I was reminded of this one, which has long been a favorite of mine. The echoing, “I do believe, I do believe, I do believe” gets stuck in my head all the time.
I’ve talked about The Limousines many times before, so this time I’ll focus on the song itself. In their hands, it opens with this machine gun of a dance beat, urgent in its potency. Eric Victorino’s distinctive vocal fry adds a great layer. When he says, “Hey!” and jumps into the chorus, there’s a hint of boyishness, but he turns fierce at just the right moments. The lyric, “Bolts from above hurt the people down below/People in this world, we have no place to go” is muffled and calls to mind his song “The Future,” which might be one of my favorite Limousines songs.
New Order and their predecessor Joy Division are fixtures of the new wave ’80s. With The Limousines’ electronica cover, they hurtle right into the 21st century.
It’s sunny where I live for the first time in ages. That got me thinking about the “Summertime Jamz” (yes, with a zed) playlist that I made years ago. I listen to it during the colder months when I’m daydreaming about warmer climes. Now that we actually have warm weather around here, it’s time to break it out again. One of the first songs I put on there was “Uncle John’s Band” as covered by Jimmy Buffett. I was never a Deadhead (far too young for that era, and not my style of music in general), so this post is primarily going to talk about the cover rather than the original.
I’ve heard this song so many times I know a̶l̶l̶ ̶t̶h̶e̶ ̶r̶u̶l̶e̶s̶ ̶b̶y̶ ̶n̶o̶w̶ the lyrics by heart. I find some of the lyrics moving: in one interpretation, they’re about John the Baptist. “Come hear Uncle John’s Band/playing to the tide…/He’s come to take his children home.” Beyond that, the song is almost melancholy. It’s a story of loneliness; living in a silver mine called Beggar’s Tomb and hoping someone will listen to you. I like songs that are contemplative that way.
The steel drums are what prompted me to put it on my summertime playlist in the first place. It calls to mind “Kokomo” and island escape. Besides, Jimmy Buffett is summertime music; I think I have one of his other songs on that playlist as well.
The spirit of the ’60s has been alive and kicking around here, especially since a few days ago when I heard that Ronnie Spector passed on. The news prompted me to listen to girl groups left and right. “Be My Baby” is without compare of course, but today I want to talk about another group, the Supremes, and a cover of one of their songs that’s personally meaningful. “You Can’t Hurry Love” is a classic from the era. It got a modern update in the early ’80s when Phil Collins revisited it.
His version was actually a staple of my childhood. Beyond the nostalgia factor, I just love the drums here. It makes the cover so danceable and hopeful; it supports the message of the song. Phil Collins’s voice is light, reflective as he talks about the possibilities of love. The interpretation is refreshing. It’s a cover, but I feel like its bright rhythm honors the spirit of The Supremes.
The Supremes’ original has the echoing quality common to songs of that era. That sound always makes me think of black and white TV. Their harmonies are beautiful. In their hands, the lyrics have a bit more of a longing feel: talking to their mama about when love might arrive. The eventual trust and faith expressed in The Supremes’ voices as they rise and fall brings to mind the gospel roots that many Black girl groups of the era had.
I can’t decide which version I prefer, and indeed, maybe that’s a question for the Covers Corner feature that I’ll set aside for now. What do you think?
It often seems like only a matter of time before most ’90s-era staples get a 21st-century revisit. With today’s cover, we’re treated to a double whammy: Post Malone’s cover of the Hootie and the Blowfish hit was released to commemorate Pokémon’s 25th anniversary. That just demonstrates the age of the song and the franchise.
I have to admit, the song choice for the anniversary is a little weird, especially since Pokemon was originally developed for kids. If you look closely at the lyrics, they’re a bit adult. For example: “I just wanna love you, but you wanna wear my ring” or “You get so mad at me when I go out with my friends.” But the editing itself works. It’s electronic (fitting for a video game and anime series) and Post Malone’s voice is ever-so-slightly distorted. His vocals are their trademark slurred; this time, they’re processed through an 8-bit filter.
With Hootie and the Blowfish, the vocals are much bouncier. They’re bolstered by that strummy guitar that was so popular back then. (See also: “Loser” by Beck or much of Blues Traveler.) The song slows down for the chorus and just emphasizes the declarations of love. It’s such a story of a back-and-forth relationship: “You can call me your fool/I only wanna be with you.” Yet somehow the song manages to avoid a Nice Guy pratfall.
It’s a tossup for me as to which of the two songs I prefer better. As usual, I’ve posted them both below; let me know which one you like.
I’ve been on a Nirvana/Foo Fighters kick lately, so it seems only fitting that the latest entry in my Covers Corner series features them. It’s also a great crossover because “Keep the Car Running” is one of my favorite Arcade Fire songs, after the iconic “Wake Up.”
The Foo Fighters’ take on the song actually retains much of the spirit of the original. It even features the stringed instrument section. I love Dave Grohl’s voice here. He has excellent range: it can go from grunge to gentle, and in this cover, the gentleness is what’s at the fore. That softer tone is especially evident with the lines, “If some night I don’t come home/Please don’t think I’ve left you alone.” There are also nice acoustic vibes and the beat is so uplifting. Even when the drums crash in, they’re restrained.
Meanwhile, Arcade Fire’s original opens more slowly. Like many of their songs, it’s atmospheric, yet solid. Interestingly, at certain points Win Butler’s voice does actually sound somewhat similar to Dave Grohl’s. (I enjoy parsing the differences between cover and source, but sometimes it’s the similarities that are fun to discover, too.) The story that I get from the Arcade Fire version is just that, a story. Somehow the Foo Fighters cover makes it feel like something that actually happened. Perhaps it’s how many layers of sound are going on: distance versus immediacy.
It’s hard to say which version I like better. What about you?
Halsey is known for songs that chronicle vulnerability and hesitation to let someone in. Even when the relationship does start, she remains guarded. In “Finally // beautiful stranger,” she admits that she “used to think loving meant a painful chase.” It takes effort for her to let herself fall in love. “Bad At Love” is another open song. She chronicles a few hookups she’s had and what made them end. Was it drugs? A “get back in the kitchen” attitude from a guy? She keeps trying, but “always makes the same mistakes.” It’s difficult to tell whether the song is hopeful or not. Halsey’s version is interesting musically because while the beat is slowed down and trap-influenced, she sings really fast.
Old Dominion takes their turn with the song for a Spotify Single. They give it an urgent, rock-heavy tone that really works; it calls to mind mid-00s pop-punk. That attitude is especially true at the chorus. Matthew Ramsey almost yells that he’s bad at love. It seems defiant, deflective; stay away or you’re going to get hurt. The twist of the cover is that Old Dominion keeps all the pronouns. It’s still a bisexual song, but now it’s sung from a male perspective. That captures the essence of “Bad At Love,” I think – not just the queerness, but that anyone, regardless of gender or attraction or inclination, can make mistakes in relationships. The important part is to keep trying.