Covers Corner: “The Scientist” by Willie Nelson

Before Coldplay collaborated with the likes of Rihanna, The Chainsmokers, and, most recently, BTS, they were best known for coffee shop ballads that veered into the atmospheric (see: “Viva la Vida”). Songs such as “Yellow,” “Clocks,” “Green Eyes,” and “Fix You” got them noticed. “The Scientist” is another early hit; if I’m being honest, it’s actually my favorite Coldplay song.

“The Scientist” is just so moving. It describes the inability of logic and reason to describe why a relationship might be falling apart. “Questions of science/Science and progress/Do not speak as loud as my heart.” Chris Martin sings feelingly here, especially when he pleads, “Oh, take me back to the start.” You wish for that moment to go back to the good. The song itself is rather spare. It focuses on piano, with eventual soft guitar and drums. Oof.

Willie Nelson’s take on this song is probably one of its better-known covers. His version has twangy guitar rather than piano, and his distinctive, gravelly, grownup-cowboy voice makes the song more mature. Here, the song feels grounded; perhaps that’s because it’s slower. When he sings, “Nobody said it was easy,” you get the sense that he’s speaking from a great deal of experience. Indeed, at the lyric, “I was just guessing/At numbers and figures/Pulling the puzzles apart,” there’s a different level of introspection there than in the Coldplay version. And there’s comfort there, too.

I have to say, I like the Willie Nelson version better, probably for those reasons. The lyrics themselves are lovely, and he gives them a nice extra weight.

Unfortunately, his cover isn’t available on Spotify, so I’ll post the YouTube link instead.

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