How to Do a Cover Version (Part One)


Ok, time to turn this blog into something slightly different from my mission statement. I’ll still keep going with the embarrassing memoirs (I’m sure both of you regular readers are gripped), but in the meantime, I think I need to add a new element or two. This is purely to keep me interested, you understand.

So, I have this theory. About cover versions. Actually I have several theories about cover versions, and here they come:

1) There’s no point in doing a cover version unless you add something to it

2) A good cover version makes you seek out the original

3) The version you hear, know and become familiar with first is the one you love, no matter how good the original is.

(Does three count as several?)

Let me give you an example of the latter. In 1986, The Communards, a band comprised mostly of ex-Bronski Beat’s Jimi Somerville and now fully fledged man of the cloth Richard Coles, released a cover version which was, to use Top of the Pops vernacular, an absolute smasher.

The Communards take on Don’t Leave Me This Way, whichever way you look at it, is a total belter, and it’s a shame that they never really escaped the public perception of them being a covers band. They probably didn’t help themselves, mind, as their next big hit was another cover version, this: Goodbye, and so the die was cast. Bronski Beat, as I’m sure you know, delivered a few great singles (one of which was a cover), before Jimi jumped ship leaving the other two flailing on the shores of Past-Their-Sell-by-Date-Bands-Whose-Talent-Has-Moved-On Island (see also Haircut 100), pleading us to Hit That Perfect Beat (a song so bad, even I don’t own a copy of it).

Jimi has one of the most unique voices in pop music, and it’s a shame that he seemed determined to posit himself as nothing more than a high-pitched walking karaoke bar. Even when he went solo he covered this and this. Leave them alone, Jimi! (A very close friend of mine DJ’d at a private party once, dropped the original of the latter as his first tune, only to be greeted with the phrase “Poof, are you?” by a pot-bellied beer chugger).

But I digress. I know there are older and better versions of Don’t Leave Me This Way out there, and I’ll leave you to seek them out for yourself, but it’s The Communards version that always gets me. Memories, see? I was at sixth form when it came out, an important period for me, a time when I learned to love not just pop music but also slightly off the wall, non-chart-bothering songs too.

But there’s one person I admire and adore in pop who puts everyone else to shame when it comes to cover versions (and with non-chart-bothering songs, now I think about it): David Gedge and his band The Wedding Present. Now, I’m hoping Gedge’s is a name you’re familiar with, and I can hear my friends groan from here when I mention my love of The Weddoes (slightly quieter than when I mention Quo, but still…). Apart from Super Furry Animals (who, I’m sure you’ll agree are fucking awesome – see you at Brixton!), The Wedding Present are the band I’ve seen most often, and I would urge you to catch them at any possible opportunity.

Gedge has always been a fan of pop music and has turned in a remarkable string of cover versions, some of which I already knew the original of, but most of which made me go and check out the covered artist’s back catalogue.

Today’s post falls into the first category, one I, and you, know well, covered in the way that only the Wedding Present can:

Happy Birthday – Altered Images

Happy Birthday – The Wedding Present

Just to tie things up nicely, since they get a name check in the cover version, here’s the original of a  certain someone’s most famous song: a song so synonymous with them that most people don’t realise it’s a cover version. Now that’s how to do a cover version.

More soon.