24 Great Cover Versions Of The 1980s

We’ve briefly looked at crap cover versions before (though doubtless there’ll be more to come), but how about good ones from the 1980s?

It was quite easy coming up with a fairly long list. I guess the ultimate test is that at the time most people (including me) didn’t know – or didn’t care – that they were cover versions.

But it did seem as if a lot of ’80s acts had the magic touch, or at least a total lack of fear, making almost everything sound like their own. Punk probably had quite a lot to do with that.

Some of the following choices get in for sheer weirdness but most are genuine artistic achievements. Recurring themes? The Beatles, Motown, Otis Redding. Probably not too much of a surprise there. And 1981 seems a particularly good year for covers.

Anyway, enough of my yakkin’. Let the countdown commence…

24. Luther Vandross: ‘A House Is Not A Home’ (1982)

23. John Martyn: ‘Johnny Too Bad’ (1980)

Originally a reggae track by The Slickers and first released on ‘The Harder They Come’ soundtrack in 1972, Martyn and drummer Phil Collins rearranged it and added some lyrics. It featured on John’s fantastic Grace And Danger album.

22. Soft Cell: ‘Tainted Love’ (1981)

Kicking off with an easy one, a cracking version of Gloria Jones’ ’60s Northern Soul classic (written by Ed Cobb). A hit all over the world, with pleasingly remedial synth arrangement, instantly recognisable soundworld and classic intro.

21. Grace Jones: ‘Use Me’ (1981)

The Nightclubbing album featured a veritable smorgasbord of good cover versions, but this take on Bill Withers scores particularly highly for originality.

20. The Flying Lizards: ‘Sex Machine’ (1981)

19. The Replacements: ‘Cruela De Vil’ (1988)

From the brilliant Hal Willner-helmed Disney tribute album Stay Awake, you’d have been a brave punter to bet a dime on this one working, but work it does.

18. Quincy Jones: ‘Ai No Corrida’ (1981)

17. Donald Fagen: ‘Ruby Baby’ (1982)

16. Stanley Clarke: ‘Born In The USA’ (1985)

Who knows, maybe this could have provided Stanley with a novelty hit if CBS had been quicker off the mark. He references John Coltrane’s ‘A Love Supreme’ in the intro while Rayford Griffin lays down seismic grooves and a funny old-school rap.

15. The Power Station: ‘Get It On’ (1985)

‘If cocaine was a sound…’, as a YouTube wag described it. This near-hysterical rave-up is mainly the sound of a fun late-night jam (Tony Thompson’s drumming being particularly notable). Also check out guitarist Andy Taylor’s little ode to Talking Heads’ ‘Burning Down The House’ throughout.

14. Deborah And The Puerto Ricans: ‘Respect’ (1981)

A one-off solo single from The Flying Lizards’ singer, this Dennis Bovell-produced curio missed the charts but remains a fascinating post-punk artefact.

13. Roxy Music: ‘In The Midnight Hour’ (1980)

Roxy’s first cover version presumably raised some eyebrows but the lads pull it off with some aplomb, aided by Allan Schwartzberg’s tough NYC drum groove – and the fact that Bryan Ferry can’t resist adding some typical weirdness in the first 20 seconds.

12. Ringo Starr & Herb Alpert: ‘When You Wish Upon A Star’ (1988)

Another once-heard-never-forgotten cracker from the aforementioned Stay Awake collection, the album version is preceded by a very menacing Ken Nordine spoken-word intro.

11. Japan: ‘Ain’t That Peculiar’ (1980)

David Sylvian probably hates this but no matter. It’s hard to think of another band pulling it off. Ominous synthscapes from Richard Barbieri, a nice recorder solo by Mick Karn and brilliant ‘where’s-one?’ beat from Steve Jansen.

10. Everything But The Girl: ‘I Don’t Want To Talk About It’ (1988)

It definitely divides opinion, but certainly fits the ‘sounds like they wrote it’ criterion.

9. Bananarama & Fun Boy Three: ‘Really Saying Something’ (1982)

Penned by Motown songsmiths Norman Whitfield, Micky Stevenson and Edward Holland Jr and first performed by The Velvelettes in 1964, it’s hard not to smile when this comes on the radio. I love the way the ladies pronounce ‘strutting’.

8. David Bowie: ‘Kingdom Come’ (1980)

The Dame’s magnificent take on a little-known track from Tom Verlaine’s 1978 debut album.

7. UB40: ‘Red Red Wine’ (1983)

No apologies for including this Neil Diamond-penned perennial. Great bassline, nice groove, lovely Ali Campbell vocal performance.

6. Phil Collins: ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ (1981)

Phil closed his Face Value album with this oft-forgotten corker, featuring a classic John Giblin bassline (later cribbed by Pearl Jam for the opening of their ‘Once’) and cool Shankar violin.

5. Robert Palmer: ‘Not A Second Time’ (1980)

Robert adds some New Wave grit to this Lennon-penned rocker, and his singing has rarely been better.

4. Siouxsie And The Banshees: ‘Dear Prudence’ (1983)

3. Joan Jett & The Blackhearts: ‘I Love Rock And Roll’ (1982)

First recorded by The Arrows in 1975, this is simply one of the great singles of the 1980s and a huge hit to boot.

2. Hue & Cry: ‘The Man With The Child In His Eyes’ (1988)

It shouldn’t work but it does, courtesy of singer Pat Kane’s excellent tone and phrasing. His trademark ‘na-na-na-na’s help too. I wonder what Kate thought of it.

1. Blondie: ‘The Tide Is High’ (1980)

Written by reggae legend John Holt and first performed by The Paragons in 1966, this was an inspired – if somewhat cheesy – choice for the band. It’s mainly included here for Debbie Harry’s delightfully off-the-cuff vocal, sounding like her first crack at the song.

Any great tracks missing? Feel free to chime in below.

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The Ultimate Marmite Album? Hue and Cry’s Remote

hue and cryCirca Records, released December 1988

Bought: HMV Trocadero 1990?

8/10

Just for a few years at the end of the ‘80s, Hue and Cry bothered the charts with a classy fusion of pop, jazz and Latin. I recall singer Pat Kane saying at the time that they wanted to create a musical mix of Scritti and Sinatra; they almost pulled it off with this album.

They also pulled off the Steely Dan-ish trick of singing about subjects which might seem unsuitable in a pop context (domestic violence on ‘Looking For Linda’, corporate sexism on ‘Dollar William’, Latin-American poverty on ‘Three Foot Blasts Of Fire’, the dawning of the Web on ‘The Only Thing More Powerful Than The Boss’). ‘Guy On The Wall’ is a witty portrait of a perpetual party wallflower set against a ‘Word Up’ groove and brilliant Salsa horn arrangement.

hue and cry

And yet there was always something about Hue and Cry that seriously wound people up, an almost imperceptible naffness.  When they emerged on the scene in 1987, they rode a wave of goodwill thanks to their clean-cut looks, anti-Thatcher politics and dynamic ‘Labour of Love’ single (though that’s surely one of the decade’s worst videos).

But by the time of Remote, the tide was turning. Hue and Cry’s relatively soft, ‘aspirational’ sound was anathema in the bombastic late-’80s. It was too jazz for the yuppies and too pop for the jazz revivalists. Maybe the fact that they’re brothers never helped too – The Proclaimers were the more acceptable face of Celtic brotherhood, more meat-and-potatoes, more reliably blue collar. In 1995, Q Magazine wrote a cruel but witty hatchet piece about them entitled Britain’s Most Hated Band, offering them ‘a crisp tenner’ to split up (it didn’t do the trick…).

Whatever. I love this album. Recording Remote in New York gives the Kanes access to some amazing guest musicians – Ron Carter and Michael Brecker play beautifully on the very pretty ‘Where We Wish To Remain’.

The prime NYC rhythm section of Wayne Braithwate and Dennis Chambers supplies a 24-carat groove on ‘Three Foot Blasts’. ‘Sweet Invisibility’ puts a fantastically exciting Latin horn arrangement right upfront in the mix, beating David Byrne at his own game.

Bassist Will Lee delivers beautifully measured performances on ‘Ordinary Angel’, ‘Dollar William’ and ‘Looking For Linda’, offering a subtle commentary on the songs back in the days when a musical performance was supposed to have some narrative development and couldn’t just be ‘cut and pasted’ together. It’s quite funny to hear legendary jazz trumpeter Jon Faddis play a stratospheric solo on the otherwise very soppy ‘Violently’. Pat Kane sings well throughout the album, with great phrasing, inventive ad-libs and excellent melodies.

Hue-And-Cry-Ordinary-Angel-65984

But YouTube live footage from the Remote era hasn’t aged well and demonstrates why they were such a Marmite band, all cheap suits and wacky horn sections. I saw them at the Hammersmith Odeon in 1989 and struggle to remember anything about the gig.

Even they seemed to sense which way the wind was blowing; they disappeared for far too long after Remote, issuing the stripped-down Bitter Suite live EP and disappointingly brittle Stars Crash Down in 1991. The momentum and recording budget had gone.

But Hue and Cry did well to ride the pop bandwagon for a few years and sneak some sparky jazz, Sinatra and Latin licks into the charts. And because in the main they lent towards jazz and Latin rather than funk and soul, they avoided the all-too-audible mistakes of contemporaries like The Blow Monkeys, Style Council, Climie Fisher and Johnny Hates Jazz.