Covers Corner: “Sometimes Always” by Brakes

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.

Covers Corner: “Sledgehammer” by Harry Styles

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.)

Covers Corner: “Temptation” by The Limousines

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.

(I am loathe to post YouTube links instead of Spotify, but this was a limited release on their website 10+ years ago and isn’t available anywhere else.)

Covers Corner: “Uncle John’s Band” by Jimmy Buffett

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.

Here’s to more warm days to come.

Covers Corner: “You Can’t Hurry Love” by Phil Collins

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?

Covers Corner: “Only Wanna Be With You” by Post Malone

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.

Covers Corner: “Keep the Car Running” by Foo Fighters

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?

Covers Corner: “Bad At Love” by Old Dominion

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.

The original:

Old Dominion’s cover:

Covers Corner: “Foreverly” by Billie Joe Armstrong & Norah Jones

Yes, this is the first time we’re doing an entire album of covers for this feature! Foreverly is actually one of my favorite cover albums, just because it’s so unique. Who would have thought that the Green Day frontman would duet with someone best known for Come Away With Me softness? What’s more, that the two of them together would record covers of Everly Brothers hits? It’s a bunch of tastes that, surprisingly enough, taste really good together.

The album starts out sparse, with “Roving Gambler,” a ballad describing the narrator’s downfall due to their gambling addiction. The twanginess of the guitar sets the stage for what’s to come. And indeed, the acoustic vibes continue with “Long Time Gone.” That song is one of the standouts on the album for me. I especially love the electric guitar that sneaks in towards the end. It’s a little reminder of Armstrong’s punk roots. “Lightning Express,” the follow-up, is weaker; like “Roving Gambler,” it’s a ballad, but the story drags on just a little too long.

The other song that I like a lot from Foreverly is “Oh So Many Years.” It has sad lyrics (“Each night within my lonely room/I cry dear, over you.”) but the melody is lovely. Here, Armstrong and Jones’s voices blend together in an especially nice way. Armstrong doesn’t have a particularly deep voice, and Jones doesn’t have a particularly high one, so they support each other’s harmonies quite smoothly.

Overall, the album provides an update to traditional melodies and songs, without taking away their heart. It’s a fun curio.

Covers Corner: “Royals” by Bruce Springsteen

I have Lorde’s seminal album Pure Heroine on my list for a Throwback Thursday retrospective. In the meantime, I wanted to share a fun cover of her most famous song. The Boss did his own version a few years ago, and there’s lots to unpack.

At first glance, Springsteen doesn’t seem to pair that well with Lorde. Many of his songs are blue collar in nature; see Born in the U.S.A. or Thunder Road. Meanwhile, Lorde’s aesthetic is a slightly darker side of pop. Give the cover another listen, though, and The Boss is a better fit for a cover than you might assume. “I’ve never seen a diamond in the flesh…/And I’m not proud of my address/In a torn-up town, no postcode envy.” Doesn’t that sound like an echo of “Born to Run”? “In the day, we sweat it out on the streets of a runaway American dream/At night, we ride through mansions of glory/In suicide machines.” Let’s go back to Lorde: “We count our dollars on the train to the party.” Springsteen peoples his albums with “tramps like us” and shell-shocked veterans; in “Royals,” Lorde is also looking in from the outside.

Vocally, Springsteen is also a good match. Lorde stands out from her teen idol peers because her voice is so much lower. The Boss’s voice more grizzled now than when Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. came out, carries the cover without sounding strained or awkward.

I also like hearing Springsteen say “You can call me King B.” In the audio, there are a few laughs in the audience at the line. He’s completely unselfconscious, and the vibe extends to the casual, even country-esque vibes that his cover has. (That harmonica alone!)

In terms of comparing cover to original, I’ll definitely go for Lorde’s version. But again, as with so many of my “Covers Corner” posts, I love seeing what other artists bring to the table when they try their hand at recording something completely different. And in this case, it’s a rock’n’roll institution singing a teenage pop song.

It has to be heard to be believed:

And here’s Lorde’s original, just in case you haven’t heard it in awhile: