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.