Cover me gladly: ‘Take on me’ by A-ha from ‘The Last of Us 2’

Spoilers ahead: I will try not to give away too much but as with all texts discussing a thing, it’s impossible not to say anything at all about the thing. So tread lightly or avoid this article completely if you want to go into the gaming experience innocent like a newly born child.

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Favorite Song: Tears for Fears ‘Head over Heels’

In my personal opinion, nearly every Tears for Fears single is the perfect amalgation of why 80s pop was and is incredible. They truly are the sound of the 80s and their music ages so well, like every truly great pop song.

 

The trope of annoying the librarian because you have a crush on her, dumping your keyboard on her desk and having  achimpanse in the reading room. How rude.

Also, if I may be so bold: 80s Ian Stanley might have been the only living keyboard player ever who was the most attractive band member. If you wonder what happened, since he is the only original member who did not return for the bands reunion: he became a pretty prolific music producer, so there’s that.

Now, “Head over Heels” has hit me right in the guts in 2001 when I was 17 and saw “Donnie Darko”. This song is the introduction to the typical 80s high school life. The scene was specifically written and edited for the song and it shows. I haven’t watched that movie in years but this song is basically the whole mood of the entire movie, this hightened sense of surreal wonder.

 

What starts out as a love song, gets a little political (?) at the end. Even though the beginning is about trying to ask someone out, by the end, we have to ponder heavy lines like “It’s hard to be a man when there’s a gun in your hand” – I guess, Tears for Fears were never meant to be the band that writes “just” a love song.

Especially, since the song is supposed to be a twin with “Broken” which is just a super sad song of having given up all hope. The lines “one little boy one little man” as well as “funny how time flies” are repeated in “Broken” and in that way, this could be read as two songs about innocence (which always is hopeful) and the loss of it. The little boy (Head over heels) and the little man (broken). In “Head over Heels”, the demands that society puts on young men already weigh on the protagonist/narrator, so by the end, he already is turning jaded. But that’s just my two cents. I know that not every song is supposed to have a clear cut interpretation.

The amazing thing about the entire song is that the big musical promise the intro makes (a keyboard extravaganza leading up to greatness and really showing those butterflies of first crushes) is completely delivered by the song’s dramaturgy with the chorus as well as those heartfelt interludes. When Roland Orzabal sings “I feel so” in his high-pitched voice and then immediately drops into the chorus, it’s like my heart stops, it’s absolutely beautiful.

This song changes constantly. Again, this is like the ups and downs of being in love, this confusion and its perfectly delivered by Roland Orzabal who puts so much emotion in his vocals, it’s unashamedly 80s because it’s all so extreme and so much but it’s perfect that way. I love big emotions in pop music, give me all the pathos!!!

Cover me: “Hazy Shade of Winter” by Simon and Garfunkel, the Bangles and more

Back in the day, when Paul Simon wrote “Hazy Shade of Winter, the song revolved around a melancholic poet wondering about his life and achievements, an ode to midlife crisis even though Simon was in his twenties back then.

Even though the song itself was more energetic and aggressive then what the duo usually wrote and performed, it still had a certain young debonnaire-charm about it.

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Coversongs: ‘It takes a muscle’ by Spectral Display

I had NO idea that M.I.A.’s amazing version of “It takes a muscle” was a cover song. Even on Wikipedia, the first sentence to the song is “is a song by British recording artist M.I.A.” and only then says that it’s a cover. In my opinion, that’s shoddy since it should say: “is a song by Spectral Display, more known for the cover version by M.I.A.”

M.I.A.’s version is lovely because she amped up the slight reggae feel of the original and performs it in a nearly playful way which makes it a cute, fun love song to relax to. It also works quite well on the dancefloor when everybody is already super drunk because you can just sway forth and back for a couple of minutes. I like that the cover kept a little of the 80s vibe but modernized it. It’s a gorgeous cover version.

Spectral Display are from Dutch and the song was released in the early 80s and is a super weird, chill reggae-synth love song that is honestly, it’s own gem. I absolutely adore M.I.A.’s version but this original is such a beast! It’s really stripped down during the verse and then during the chorus a synth wall creates this dramatic feeling and then the song goes into this absurd synth solo (which only ever can be absurd).

This version is a lot more melancholic and feels almost surreal which I guess fits the feelings when you’re falling in love. It doesn’t feel playful but rather heavy, even a little sad. This and the cover show how you can shift the whole mood of a song with slight changes in the production, it’s fascinating, really.

Spectral Display were founded in 1980 by keyboarder and producer Michel Mulders and discovered Henri Overduin who wrote the lyrics (which are genius) and sang the song. As far as I can tell, they only released two albums, their self-titled debut in 1982 and “Too much like me” in 1983.

There’s a ridiculously horrendous homepage out there, saying that the band is back (dated: 2012) and they are working on new music.

Cover me: The Police and “King of Pain” by Alanis Morissette

First things first: “King of Pain” by the Police, released in 1983 on their album “Synchronicity” is a perfect song. The simple percussion at the beginning, Sting’s voice having this weird echo as if he’s singing from the other side of the room and then this dirty piano and the key change towards the chorus that doesn’t even feel like a chorus before everything gets into focus.

The amazing thing about this song – a real skill of the Police – is a really sad song that at first glance does not sound like a sad song but immediately feels like one. It’s the best example of that weird juxtaposition that so many 80s songs had, with those danceable beats and deep, sad truths.

With that being said, Alanis Morissette’s cover version (recorded for her Unplugged session) is a beautiful cover because it does two things:

It strips the song down but it keeps the structure.

It keeps the melody, my god, it keeps the f***ing melody. Do you know how many musicians cover a song in a “naked” version and then completely butcher up the melody? I’ve written about it over and over again, that’s how many. She plays a little bit with it by the end of it but that’s about it.

I also really like how Alanis manages to turn this specific 80s-sounding song into a song that has a distinct sound of the 90s with the jazzy piano and of course her voice which is part of the 90s musical canon.

Cover me: ‘Only You’ by Yazoo

Look, it might be that I heard the Flying Pickets first with their version of “Only You”. It might even be that I really loved that version and put it on all my mixtapes. But as soon as on some 80s sampler or the other Yazoo turned up and Alison Moyet drowned everything in her soulful voice, I was done with the Flying Pickets (and you know how much I love a cappella).

Margaret Thatcher supposedly liked this song version.  

This is one of those instances that completely obliterate the popular version as soon as you hear the original. Because Alison sings it so sweetly and the synth-sounds by songwriter Vince Clarke give this the weird 80s polish that exemplified great vocals back then. I really love love songs that cling to the fraying ends of a relationship. There’s so many beautiful songs out there (many of them dealing with metaphorical ghosts) and this is yet another example that the time before the break-up can be just as heartbreaking as the break-up itself. There’s an interpretation of this song floating in the web, that Clarke wrote this mainly as a way to deal with his departure from Depeche Mode but as all great songs go, it is about what you hear and feel when you hear it. And thanks to Moyet, that’s a lot.

That outfit is a statement. I don’t know whether I agree with the statement but it is a statement nonetheless.

PS: At some point I should write about Vince Clarke who is also the main composure of Erasure’s songs since 1985 and therefore has written some of the greatest bops of the 80s including his stint with Yazoo.

Robert Hazard ‘Girls just wanna have fun’ owned by Cyndi Lauper

Cyndi Lauper is not just a musical icon because she broke all our hearts with her beautiful song “Time after time”, no, she’s also one of THE best cover artists I’ve ever seen, heard and build a shrine made out of petticoats for.

Case in point: I still find out that certain songs she made her own actually were originally by another artist. Her cover of “When you were mine” is iconic because Cyndi did not change the gender of the Prince-song and therefore made it a favourite among the LGBTQ-community. Then she picked up “I drove all night” and turned this Roy Orbison classic into a cool and a lot sexier 80s hymn. And then she miraculously turned the somewhat offbeat “All through the night” by Jules Shear into a longing ballad that has to be heard through a car radio. Her touch is truly magical.

And still, I did not know that one of her biggest hits was a cover song. True Color me surprised!

Edit: I got corrected in the comments that it wasn’t really a cover because Hazard only recorded it as a demo and didn’t officially release it before Lauper got her hands on it. So, thanks to the commenter for the info but shame on the commenter for doing it as condescending as possible (sorry, not sorry).

Robert Hazard (born as the less dangerous Robert Rimato) was a musician who mainly played and wrote country songs but also tried out electro-pop, folk and for whatever reason (it was the 80s!) reggae.

His original song has a great sound but his intentions were a little – well – sleazy. The song originally was about the kind of fun men imagine “girls” are having in the bedroom (men included) and looking back at it now with Cyndi’s all-encompassing version stuck in my head, it’s nearly impossible to imagine this song as a weird pulpy dream by a dude.

(also, the first comment on this YouTube video is by Clive Preston who – apparently – played the guitar on this song. For all the horror that lurks in YouTube comments, there are very rare gems hidden)

Edit: As you can see in the comments, there’s a plot-thickening change in the Clive Preston-story. Was he one of those people who comment untrue stories on the internet? 

So, what did Cyndi do? Initially, she wanted to skip the song. Having experiences with awful men herself, she shuddered at the thought of singing something like that but her manager believed that she could turn the meaning around and make the song her own. And so she did with the help of some much needed changes of the lyrics (in this case, the changing of the gender DID improve the song mightily).

That’s how effing great Cyndi is, who else can basically midas-touch a creepy sex-song into a feminist anthem? She also doubled down with the video which is all petticoats, wild hair and introducing “not giving a shit”-dancing to the world.

Favorite Song: Haerts – Your Love (no, I don’t mean ‘Hearts’, Google!)

I have this Spotify-Playlist that is called “Feels like a Hughes movie” where I collect all songs from the 80s and those that sound like the 80s and to be honest, I should just do it and rename my blog with that title because that’s basically the only musical style I’ve written about since months. Maybe that’s just the style of music I am stuck with, now that I am grey and old and world-weary (says the 33-year-old like she’s lived through wars).

Ok, so Haerts are an insanely entertaining indie pop duo, namely Nini Fabi and Benjamin Gebert from Germany who now live in New York because honestly, don’t ever move to Germany if you want to make music, unless you want to record one album but leave after that, seriously, this is a black hole of musical ambition.

Anyways, their song “Your Love” sounds like it should be played in one of those old-fashioned romantic movies with a manly man and a womanly woman (with super big hair and even bigger shoulder pads!) and they had a big fight but then he enters her workplace (a nondescript office) in his (nondescript) uniform and whisks her away. It’s glorious.

The video is nsfw if it’s not usual to see naked people on your screen at your workplace. 

I am somehow getting heavy Cock Robin-flashbacks with this song which is high praise, btw. It doesn’t even sound alike but I don’t know … something about it. I should have posted this video a long time ago because it’s such a perfect song.

I also recommend basically all other music by Haerts because it’s so full of emotion and pop cultural references and it’s so accomplished in using them (click here for their soundcloud account).

Favorite Song: The Stranglers ‘Golden Brown’ – this song is about what now?

I was such a naive little thing when I got into music. I remember how I discovered “Golden Brown”, probably in some Guy Ritchie movie on the soundtrack or some such and I was so much in love with it and with Hugh Cornwell’s voice. I bought – to my shame – not an album but a Stranglers sampler (I like to think I did that because it was not yet the time when you could get everything via Amazon and so I only found it on the sampler in my local record store) and listened to it on repeat.

And now, doing some research on the actual meaning of the song, I have to find out that it probably 100% was about heroin. Crickey!

I have hardly had a drink in three years and have merely tasted the marihuana a couple of times in my life and there I am, humming and singing an ode to heroin. Geez, that’s the horrible thing about Brits and their music. They really know how to sing a song about drugs in such a pretty way that you’ll never guess (Americans somehow haven’t yet managed to be that sly and cheeky about it).

Ok, but I still love that song and wanted to feature it because Hugh Cornwall who wrote the lyrics also said that it might have been about a girl. I actually think that this was just an excuse so people like me would not be totally horrified by the lyrics and clasp only a few of their pearls.

Ok, so here’s the reason why I love the song: that solo guitar in the middle, this incredibly simple, close to monotonous melody, that voice (!) and then this repetitive carnival’s music, that kind of puts you into this weird trance. It’s a beauty even if it’s about a horrible horrible drug.

I also want to add this version which is Hugh Cornwall playing with the Mariachi band Mariachi Mexteca which is really absurd but works surprisingly well.

(I also would like to add how lovely Hugh’s voice still is)

Underrated: Joan Armatrading “Me Myself I” – 80s pop deluxe

So, I recently went to a hipster record store that had huge heaps of records for 5€ and I saw this cover of a beautiful black woman dressed to the 9s and thought: why not buy this and surprise myself later on, discover something new?

The first and titular song “Me Myself I” is the most amazing 80s pop song. This album was released 1980, so it’s not just amazing 80s pop but an 80s pop song that was way ahead quite a few other artists of that time.

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