Creepy Covers

Cover versions of songs are fascinating. Maybe we should do cover versions of scientific papers. Well … maybe I could name a few that look like this already, but that might be considered provocative.

So there  I was listening to  Amanda Palmer Performs The Popular Hits Of Radiohead On Her Magical Ukulele .  I know this sounds like a dumb jokey idea but actually the result is scarily beautiful. AFP is fucking brilliant. Up in my premier league of modern female divas with Judith Shimer, Holly Brewer, and Aoife O’Donovan. Her version of Creep is however rather more tongue in cheek than the other songs. Well, I thought, it is such a personal song about Thom Yorke’s angst, his peculiar brand of insecurity and arrogance, that, if you are not Thom Yorke, it must be hard to do anything other than make something  quirky out of it.

Seems the world disagrees with me. Over at YouTube I  found that Creep seems to be one of the most covered songs ever – there are just dozens and dozens of versions. I guess it touches a nerve. Almost everybody either has a core of insecurity, or wants to give the appearance of one. (Love me! I’m vulnerable!). But I found most of these versions unsettling. The performers were mostly beautiful people, or brashly confident performers – more like the object of Yorke’s song than its subject. Very few have any sense of angst, or irony, or anger with the world, or the cruelties of biology. Somehow they have just picked up that the song is emotional and about “love”. Did they actually listen to the words? I realise that I am getting a bit can-white-mens-sing-the-blues-ish, but it felt all wrong. Even more bizarrely, there are versions by safe-as-milk choirs. The ambiguity of genuine admiration and bitter sarcasm disappears completely.  Sigh.

I can’t possibly show you them all, but here are a few. Its a bit of a long haul, so feel free to try a few seconds of each. You’ll get the idea.

First, the original :

Here is Carrie Manalakos. A very good singer; but she is perfect. I cannot see her being awkward in front a boy. Sorry Carrie, but you are not a creep.

Here is the Pretenders version. Very emotional in some generic sense, but for goodness sake, Chrissie Hynde is a confident and powerful woman.

Here is a live Amanda Palmer version. Its turned into a different song, but at least she knows. Also, although Amanda now has legions of adoring fans, it easy to imagine her as a  teenager frightening away the handsome square-jawed football jocks. Fun and funny.

Next up, the Seattle Ladies Choir. Really. Mangles the tune as well as the meaning.

Here is Jim Carrey. Its pretty grim. Skip this one if you like.

Now the Macy Gray jazzy version. Nice song, nice performance until you remember what it is supposed to be.

Here is the only one that works for me. Homeless Daniel Mustard.

If you are still up for it, search out the Kermit version, and the Damien Rice version, which are good in their way. There are also endless bedroom singer versions, which are at least genuinely vulnerable.

Bottom line – although I love music, I think I realise more and more that for me rock music is a kind of theatre. If you just sing a song, you ain’t gettin it.

16 Responses to Creepy Covers

  1. Andrew Liddle says:

    I’m disappointed no one has commented on this article yet since I enjoyed it a lot, so now someone has. Maybe you can do a `cover versions’ series, to rival Telescoper’s Lookalikes.

    Always a little disappointed when Thom Yorke sings `so *very* special’ …

  2. andyxl says:

    Why thank you sir. But did you agree, or was I too hard on those didn’t-get-it covers? BTW, I feel we must give credit to my esteemed colleague Omar Almaini, who started all the Lookalike thing in 2008, via this very blarg, comparing Keef to Chas out of Chas and Dave, and Brain Cox to James Blunt. See here

  3. Andrew Liddle says:

    You were spot on, I think. Homeless Daniel is arguably better than Radiohead themselves.

    As I’ve been struggling to learn Exit Music (for a Film) on my own ukulele, it was a shame to find that AFP’s version doesn’t feature her Magical Ukulele at all.

  4. Mark Taylor says:

    No doubt you’re right about them not getting it.
    But personally (I admit to being a bit of a
    the cover versions I’d single out for criticism are the ones that
    sound more or less like the original.
    Listening to someone spectacularly not getting it is quite good fun.
    Let’s hear it for the Seattle Ladies Choir (though I don’t necessarily
    need to go and seek out their versions of Freak Scene, Hurt and
    Self Esteem as well).

    • andyxl says:

      Sorry your comment took a while Mark .. somehow ended up in the Spam collection..

      • andyxl says:

        Just skimmed your collection. What a treasure trove! At random, I tried the Ukrainian’s version of Ca Plane Pour Moi, which was just splendid. Maybe you can take up Professor Liddle’s challenge.

  5. Omar says:

    Andy, I’ve been racking my brain to find a good lookalike for you, but to no avail. Telescoper’s contention that you look like Griff Rhys Jones is not far off (a strong resemblance in this photo in particular), but I think we need to add a big dollop of Phil Collins seasoned with just a little bit of Patrick Stewart.

  6. Sometimes getting it wrong is a delightful art form in itself.

  7. Have you heard the Scissor Sisters doing Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb”?

  8. Martin E. says:

    another fine music lesson from Prof. L. Love AFP, but Mr. Mustard wins. [did I mention I had a moment with AFP yonks back when she did a thing with our local Th-e-a-ter and they were crap and she was ace? I’m talking Dresden Dolls era. Oh, I did? Again??

    • andyxl says:

      Did I mention that my daughter’s friend’s dad is a dentist, and that he fixed a tooth that AFP chipped while doing a gig here in Edinburgh?

      Hang on, what do you mean a *moment*????

      • Martin E. says:

        She was taking a break knocking back a beer at the bar, which oddly enough, I was sitting right next to. The actors were doing some pretentious crap and I looked around and there she was. She looked at me and we both (I think) expressed “this is crap, you/I don’t need this”. I got a micro-smile of acknowledgement. I will treasure it forever, natch.

  9. Nick says:

    For sheer uniqueness I have to add Bill Bailey’s cover of creep with an Indian sitar band

  10. andyxl says:

    Oh yuss. Lovely. Many thanks.

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