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Interview With Gary Numan: Emergency On Planet Earth

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In our interview with Gary Numan, the synth-pop visionary tells Classic Pop of writing about global catastrophe during a pandemic, the struggles to sustain his career rebirth and the truth behind his attack on Spotify. By John Earls

Gary Numan Intruder

The day before Classic Pop last spoke to Gary Numan in 2019, he’d written a new song called Intruder. Numan was excited about the track, thinking it could form the basis of a companion album to the near-future climate change catastrophe imagined on 2017’s Savage

Sure enough, Gary quickly began planning a whole LP based on the idea of Intruder, summarised by the singer as: “If the Earth could speak, what would it say and how would it feel about mankind’s treatment of it?”

That soon evolved into pondering how the planet would fight back against the ravages done to it by humanity. Then, within months, came the pandemic. 

“It’s been weirdly fascinating making this album during COVID,” says Gary. “When the virus came along, it slotted straight into everything that I was already talking about, in a way that I could only say was very sad and unfortunate.” 

Coronavirus specifically inspired snarling new song The Gift but, as Gary says, “There are places on the album where I hint that COVID is the first of many similar defences that Earth is planning to cleanse itself.” 

Despite having seemingly prophesised the global pandemic, Gary insists he isn’t a complete soothsayer. He admits: “I was entirely convinced when I first heard about it that COVID would be like swine flu: a moment of fear that wouldn’t touch the vast majority of people, where the world could basically tick along like before.” 

He’s been diligent about safety, though even someone whose music is so aware of mankind’s impact slipped up at first, confessing: “There was one guilty mistake I made.” Gary, his wife Gemma and their three teenage daughters have lived in California for nearly a decade.

When the kids were sent home from school, to mark the enforced break the Numans went to the cinema the same night. Gary recalls: “The cinema was only half-full. I thought: ‘The reason the kids are now home is because of the virus and here we are, out at the cinema, with no masks. I’m being a bit stupid here.’” 

With the vaccine rollout progressing fairly smoothly, there is a chance that prolific live performer Numan can soon get back on tour, though his analogy on how he feels right now is typical of his blunt humour: “Things are getting better. But you know when you’re bursting for a wee? That last 10ft before you get to the toilet is always the worst bit. Life will get better, but not today: today still feels really shit. Financially, not touring is beginning to feel noticeable. There are worries creeping in I’ve not had for years. 

“If I have to go back to the way I lived a few years ago? Fucking hell, not that again.”

That Numan is starting to sense financial worries feels cruel when he’s only recently celebrated his biggest success for decades. Savage reached No.2 in the UK, his first Top 10 album since 1982’s I, Assassin. Only Foo Fighters’ Concrete And Gold prevented Gary having his fourth No.1 album.

“When I got the call saying Savage had got to No.2, I cried like a baby for a good seven minutes,” he states simply. “I’m so focused and driven, I’m sometimes unaware of the fears lurking just underneath. Hearing that chart position flipped a switch. I didn’t even say, ‘Oh, great!’ I just went, gone: tears. There’s a huge amount of fear, worry and anxiety underneath my projects. Bizarrely, it’s only success which brings that out. You’d think Savage doing so well would be the moment of ‘Phew, brilliant!’ No, it’s terror.”

Read more: Gary Numan Superfan

Read our 2019 interview with Gary Numan

Gary’s wilderness period, what he calls “my terrible middle years of selling my soul”, has been well-documented. He’s fascinating talking about cherishing the justification that success brings, while doing everything he can to avoid deliberately chasing it.

Having achieved a No.2 album last time out, there is a worry that anything less than a No.1 would mean Intruder could be seen as a backward step from its predecessor.

“The stress I felt to make an album after Savage did so well is enormous. It doesn’t get better,” Numan acknowledges. “But it can’t be all about chart positions. It just can’t. If I’m being honest, another

Top 10 album with Intruder would be great. Two albums ago, I’d have died happy to be Top 10, and I have to remember that.” 

Making Savage was the most pressure Gary has felt under to achieve success, when previous album Splinter had returned him to the Top 20 in 2013: “The first song I wrote after Splinter, Bed Of Thorns, was entirely about the pressure I felt in trying to write new music. It was lucky I found an idea about climate change!”

In fact, the initial inspiration for Intruder’s title track came from Numan’s youngest daughter, Echo. Then aged 11, the first poem she ever wrote essentially distils the album’s theme about writing from the planet’s viewpoint – it’s printed in Intruder’s artwork.

“Echo’s poem talked about how sad and hurt the planet feels,” explains Gary, as enthusiastic as any proud parent. “She’s written dozens of poems since and she’s so clever in the way she sees the world. The seed of Intruder started from there. 

“I already knew that I didn’t want to move away from Savage’s core idea of climate change, because my children are still so bothered about it, as am I. I wondered what variations there were within that story of ‘What would Earth say?’ over 12 songs.” There’s a big laugh, as Gary adds: “Intruder has many spokes, but it’s one core idea. It’s a one-trick-pony idea for an album if ever there was one!” 

The album ends on a bleak one-two sucker punch. First comes the optimism of Now And Forever, almost a make-up song between Earth and humanity. That’s followed by the apocalyptic The End Of Dragons, which imagines the end of mankind.

Now And Forever was one of the last songs I wrote for the album,” Gary reveals. “But I didn’t think Intruder should end on any vaguely optimistic tone. I tend to be ridiculously optimistic. If you put a gun to my head, I’d think, ‘Nah, you don’t have any bullets in that.’ But the truth is, the planet is in a really dangerous place.” 

At least the more eco-friendly Joe Biden has replaced Donald Trump as US President, which Gary accepts as cause for slight hope. He’d have preferred the younger Kamala Harris or Peter Buttigieg to become President, but says of Biden:

“He’s a good man, who’s put really good people around him in his team. Whereas Trump was a terrible man, who put even worse people around him.” 

A fan of Greta Thunberg, Numan believes it’s her generation that might rescue the planet. “What Biden and the others are doing now is sticking on leaky Band Aids to cover a severe cut,” he believes. 

“It might just be enough to stem the blood flow, until a real doctor turns up. If saving the planet is going to happen, it’ll come from today’s teenagers. All we can hope is enough half-hearted measures are put in place by the current lot, to give them time to activate what really needs doing. It’s difficult to be hugely optimistic but, human nature being what it is, if there’s a chance we will probably find a way.”

Read our interview with former Ultravox frontman John Foxx

Read our article on the cover art of Depeche Mode

That Gary Numan is able to ultimately strike an optimistic note about the future of mankind, even when discussing his sombre new album, is typical of a musician who’s a lot more upbeat in person than you’d expect from his persona as the ultimate dark lord of synth-pop.

Having reignited his career with the uncompromising industrial edge of 1994’s Sacrifice, Gary’s music since has been a totem of steely intent. But there’s always been empathy in his songs, too, a rallying cry for outsiders.

The honesty at the core of his lyrics is matched by how Numan conducts himself in interviews – there’s none of the guarded shield put up by many artists who’ve faced the media for as long as Gary has been famous.

That straightforward nature makes for easy sensationalism. In January, Numan made headlines when he revealed one of his songs – he didn’t say which – earned him just £37 in royalties despite notching up a million streams on Spotify.

Mention of the story is the only time Gary looks pained during our conversation. He hadn’t meant to be “courtroom accurate” in quoting the figures, as he thought it was funnier that the sheer amount of paper spat out by his printer in printing off the “pointlessly detailed royalties statement“ was worth more money than the earnings detailed on the statement in the first place.

Gary is also frustrated that his comments have since become misinterpreted, having become widened in their reporting to appear to be an attack on record companies as well as streaming services like Spotify. That has placed the singer in an invidious position: he’s on the side of the artists, but doesn’t have a particular beef against record companies.

“My comment wasn’t about record companies at all,” he sighs. “My opinion has been used as a stick to beat labels with, which is unfair. It’s put me into a position where I feel I have to defend record labels, when the truth is there’s some flexibility there, too. I’ve been dragged into an argument I didn’t want. 

“I want to make it clear that I wasn’t talking about record label payments, but there’s room for improvement there and I’m very much on the artists’ side. I feel like I’m walking along a fence that gets narrower and narrower.”

In Gary’s eyes, “everyone has been fucked over by the amount streaming services pay.” He castigates the major record labels for agreeing those royalty rates with the streaming services, in return for getting equity in Spotify, Apple Music and co. “Streaming companies say they’re barely struggling along as it is on the tiny pittance they pay already, which clearly isn’t true,” he fumes. 

“You’re talking a fraction of a cent per play, which is then divided among artist, label and publisher, so the artist gets a fraction of a fraction. Musicians can’t survive from streaming income, and its pro-rata system means it benefits most the artists who are already doing well, rather than artists who are struggling.”

Numan would rather see royalties go towards the artist being listened to, rather than put into a larger pot.

Given the meagre money that artists make from streaming, would Gary even consider music to be a viable career if he was starting out now? There’s no hesitation in his reply that he’d definitely try, as he points out “old-school royalty rates were pretty rubbish, too.”

In his view, there could at least in theory be advantages to making money from streaming, as he explains: “Under the old royalty system, you needed to be successful for some time before you saw any benefit, because your initial success only paid back the advance the record label gave you to make your album – an album which the label then owned anyway. The whole system was fucked from top to bottom, and now it’s only fucked in a different way.”

He continues: “Although streaming rates are unfair, while your music is up on Spotify, it’s constantly selling, even if it’s only in micro amounts. If you sell an album on CD or vinyl, the buyer can listen to it for 50 years and never pay for it again.

“In that sense, streaming is better for artists. But only if it’s fairly paid, which it isn’t. As streaming royalties are so small, you’re currently better selling a CD for a tenner.”

According to Numan, his audience has finally begun migrating from buying CDs and vinyl to listening to his music on streaming.

“My streaming income is alright now, but I couldn’t live the way I do now from streaming. If it wasn’t for songwriting publishing and live income, I’d have to make drastic changes. Where I’m lucky is that, when there isn’t a pandemic, I tour constantly. I do very well there. Also, I wrote Cars. That one song alone sees me right.” 

The curtains are drawn to block out the early morning Californian sun as Gary talks to Classic Pop, but the chandelier, tasteful high-backed chairs and sleek wooden surfaces that can be glimpsed on Zoom suggest the Numan house is as classy as you’d expect from someone who’s revived his career so elegantly since those regrettable middle years.

It’s just as classy that Gary accepts the part Cars has played in his career, as he acknowledges: “If I hadn’t written Cars, I wouldn’t be living in this house. I got a snyc deal just this morning from a Swedish company to use Cars that’s worth a fortune, a mental sum of money. My life would be very different if it wasn’t for that one song and I’ve written hundreds of them. The truth is, even with a career as long as mine and with the success it’s given me, the majority of my lifestyle is from one song that did particularly well.”

Gary is aware of the irony that Cars is from The Pleasure Principle – one of three albums made inside a year, along with Tubeway Army and Replicas.

Considering the stress that following up a No.2 album now brings, how the hell was he able to be so casually prolific at the start of his career? “I think it’s because the success I’m having now is a second chance,” he considers. “Having known how low a career can get, that’s much harder to escape.

I was so much more casual and blasé at first, so I didn’t feel under any pressure. It all seemed so easy. I later learned how hard it can be, but at the time? No, it just felt simple. That’s not arrogance, just youthful stupidity!”

Gary has told us before how much he regrets his early 90s albums Outland and Machine + Soul, saying of the latter: “What a stupid title for a record that has no fucking soul at all.” Does he ever get fans who tell him those albums aren’t so bad after all?

“Yeah – bless them, they don’t know any better,” he smiles. “Look, it’s not that Machine + Soul is musically a bad record. It’s just not a good Gary Numan record, because it has very little of me in it.”

Part of Numan’s creative renaissance is also down to careful management of his career. Gary now manages himself, so he can use instinct on how far to exploit commercial opportunities alongside the spirit of the tough music that’s made him thrive for over 40 years.

But managing himself nearly cost Gary the most fruitful relationship since his creative rebirth, with his producer Ade Fenton. Numan and former dance DJ Ade have worked together since 2006’s Jagged, but fell out after Splinter, when Ade was Gary’s producer, keyboardist in his live band and co-managing his career outside North America, after Numan took on a manager for the US when he moved there in 2012.

“I was being given different information by different sides,” recalls Gary. “Little frictions started to creep in. In the end, I had to go with one camp or the other and I went with the American management. That caused grief with Ade.”

The pair didn’t speak for two years. “We didn’t thrash any of it out. It all built up, until there was a big falling out. It was all so unfortunate, as Ade was getting bad information about me, too. My wife was talking to Ade, trying to build bridges, but I was having none of it. But then Ade sent me a lovely message of sympathy when my mum died, which broke the ice. At that point, Gemma jumped in and said, ‘You should meet up and talk about what really happened.’”

The pair met at the home of Richard Beasley, drummer in Gary’s touring band. “We learned a lot about the bad information on both sides, what mistakes we’d both made.” 

In the interim, Gary had tried working with other producers, largely from the practicality of needing someone new but also to see if his music could work with other creative partners.

“I had a lot of recommendations from friends, and prospective producers were sending examples of their work,” Gary remembers. “I met a few people, but there was no one I really liked. Nobody felt in tune with what I wanted to do. Once we decided to work together again on Savage, Ade became my best friend again.

“In terms of the writing, I’m on my own. But I know that, once I ready a song to a certain point, I can stop worrying about it. Ade takes my unpolished piles of embers and turns them into art. I don’t know how many albums I’ve got left in me, but I can’t imagine going anywhere else. We’re a team for the rest of my career.”

How long the rest of Gary Numan’s career lasts is a question that had begun to trouble the singer before COVID made touring impossible. Numan looks well, his raven hair matching his black T-shirt, his ready smile also part of a charm that keeps him looking younger than 62. But Gary admits: “I’d been talking to Gemma before the pandemic about carrying on for another three years and that’d be it. Another couple of albums, another couple of tours and I’d be done. And, now that I haven’t toured for 18 months, every part of me thinks: ‘Fuck that. Let’s do this forever!’

“I didn’t realise how much I love all of this until I wasn’t allowed to do it. When I tour regularly, I don’t miss it. Because I’m always planning a tour ahead, I most liked the bit in between when I’m doing normal stuff. But I really miss the excitement, the passion, being with friends and hanging out with them.”

Gemma comes on tour with her husband and Gary says: “She misses it, too. The lifestyle I’ve chosen for decades is to have periods away from the normal world to have adventures. It’s your reason for being. It’s not just financially that not touring affects me, it’s a whole chunk of my life that’s just gone. I cannot wait to get back out there.”

Cancel plans for Gary Numan’s retirement, then. He’s around for as long as he’s got – or the planet has had enough of humanity, whichever comes first. 

Gary Numan’s official website

Read more: Making Ultravox’s Vienna

 

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Classic Pop Issue 72 is on sale now!

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In the latest Classic Pop, we have an exclusive interview with all four members of Duran Duran as they return with superb new studio album Future Past. Also, as a Duran-related bonus, our next classic album feature is the band’s eponymous 1993 LP aka ‘The Wedding Album’.

This issue, we also meet David Bowie collaborators Mike Garson and Reeves Gabrels who look back on their work with the legend in the 90s ahead of new boxset Brilliant Adventure (1992-2001).

We also catch up with Pepsi and Shirlie as they unveil a revelatory new autobiography about their time in Wham! as well as their solo years. Elsewhere, there are Q&As with Matt Goss plus Eddie Lundon from China Crisis and David Sylvian’s back catalogue goes under the microscope as part of our Album By Album feature.

We revisit Dead Or Alive’s Mad, Bad, And Dangerous To Know for our Forget Me Nots feature and interview 808 State’s founder Graham Massey for an in-depth look at the ground-breaking dance outfit.

In our expanded reviews section we have new releases including Duran Duran, Coldplay, Damon Albarn and Sting while our bumper reissues coverage features David Bowie, OMD, Erasure, Primal Scream, Debbie Gibson, Echo & The Bunnymen and much more.

Our live section returns, too – we’re back on gigging action for reviews of the Isle Of Wight Festival, Scritti Politti and Heaven 17.

Steve Harnell
Editor, Classic Pop

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Emerging Artist: DANIEL – EQ Music Blog

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Readers of EQ Music Blog will know how much I love to discover new and emerging pop artists. After having the best night out at our own EQ Music Live gig last weekend in Dalston (Kudos to our main-man Raj for putting together another ace show). I could not be more eager to seek out even more hot pop talent to share with you. It just so happens I had a tip come in about an exciting singer/songwriter, DANIEL (Crossley). (I knew the name felt somewhat familiar to me. It is because DANIEL added some guest vocals on our EQ Music Artist, Mickey Taylor’s track “D**K“, which appears on the 2020 album “Surrender“. Produced by another EQ Music Artist Lostchild). The email sent in alerted me to the new track by DANIEL, called “Want Me Back“. Once getting my first listen in, I knew I had to get a post out as soon as I could, upon returning back home (to Ed Sheeran land aka Suffolk).

Here are some hot facts about DANIEL. He recently signed with, new LA-based, indie label SoCal Records. The debut EP “Introducing Daniel” is due to arrive in 2021 (meaning the release is pretty much imminent I would say). His inspirations include Freddie Mercury, Robyn, Michael Jackson and Tove Lo, to name a few.

Listen on Apple Music

The track “Want Me Back” is an empowering, buzzy electro-pop anthem teamed with emotive lyricism. Written about DANIEL’s feelings towards an ex. The track explains how he imagined bumping into the former lover post-break-up when he had worked through all of the messy trauma and come out the other side of it. As a better version of himself. Essentially in this narrative. He wants his ex to recognise he lost out big time. From now on he is only interested in looking for the kind of love he deserves and is worthy of.

The track is a banger. However, when seeking out the previous singles “Love Pill“, and “Nobody Knows My Name“. We get a broader look at the diverse musicality and beautifully nuanced musicianship of this talented, emerging pop force in the making. The music style pulls in various directions, but with this EDM infused pop jam, DANIEL indeed looks set to make an even bigger impression on the pop stage.

Catch DANIEL at Breaking Sound London (another emerging artist showcase) Venue: Cargo – Date: 3rd November 2021 (Ticket Info HERE).

Connect with Daniel
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/introducingdaniel
Twitter: https://twitter.com/danielsaidhey
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/iamdancrossley/





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Top 20 80s Cover Versions

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Cover versions are sometimes bad, sometimes great. Here’s Classic Pop’s rundown of the very best cover versions of some of some of the 80s’ very best songs.

Cover versions

It’s a testament to the skyscraping songwriting achievements of the 1980s that its music is constantly being revisited by today’s artists. Since 31 December 1989, the highlights of that decade have been continually plundered by singers and bands eager to capture a little of that 80s magic. Some are by artists who lived through that special decade, while others are by those that weren’t even born back then. Here, then, is our pick of the best cover versions of 80s hits. Strap in tight…

Our countdown of the Top 20 80s cover versions

20
Sonic Youth – Into the Groove
Original: Madonna

Credited to Ciccone Youth, this improbable Madonna cover by Noo Yoik noiseniks Sonic Youth was cut from The Whitey Album, an LP built around their fascination with the Material Girl. We’ve chosen not their take on Burning Up but their version of Maddie’s 1985 smash, Into The Groove.

Staggeringly, it’s as loyal to the discordant, feedback-heavy Sonic Youth sound as it is the pop majesty of Madonna. Her opinion of this most unique of refits, however, remains sadly unknown.

19
M WardLet’s Dance
Original: David Bowie

Let’s Dance is one of David Bowie’s slickest tracks, a glorious, clear-eyed slice of party-funk that won him his biggest hit in years. M Ward’s 2007 cover version, recorded for Taika Waititi’s comedy flick Eagle Vs Shark, strips back all of that Nile Rodgers tinsel, reclaiming it as a tender folk-blues number.

It’s worth checking out the covers album Ward made in 2014 with Zooey Deschanel, Classics, under their She & Him alias, where they revisit 13 favourite songs with the help of a 20-piece orchestra.

18
Calexico – Love Will Tear Us Apart
Original: Joy Division

There have been oh-so-many cover versions of Joy Division’s signature number (including Squarepusher, José González, Fall Out Boy, Nouvelle Vague, Soul Asylum and, of course, Paul Young), but our pick comes from alt-country oddballs Calexico who recorded this Americana-inflected take in 2005.

Audaciously refashioning the central melody, it’s a rosier, sunnier version than the introspective, intense original and no worse for that. Quite what Ian Curtis would have made of it, though, is another thing.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mDPMWb89AK4

17
Nada Surf – If You Leave
Original: OMD

Recorded originally for John Hughes’ cult romcom Pretty In Pink, If You Leave became Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark’s highest-charting single in the US, where it peaked at No.4 in May 1986. When noughties teen drama The OC fashioned an episode around Hughes’ film, they reached out to alternative rock band Nada Surf to cover OMD’s iconic, movie-closing track.

Jettisoning the towering synths of the original, they give the song a lovingly indie makeover.

16
The Flaming Lips With Stardeath And White Dwarfs – Borderline
Original: Madonna

Recorded in 2009 for a Warner Bros tribute album by sonic adventurers The Flaming Lips and experimental crackpots Stardeath And White Dwarfs, this unsettling version of Madonna’s 1984 classic turns the song inside out.

A scuzzy, disorientating take, it hoovers out all the pop and reinvents the song as some kind of avant-garde noise project – a sort of sweaty, night terrors take on La Ciccone’s rainbow-hued original.

15
Alien Ant Farm – Smooth Criminal
Original: Michael Jackson

The awfully-named Alien Ant Farm have failed to make much of an impact after this, their – admittedly dope – debut single.

A guitared-up take on Jacko’s 1988 dance classic, it was certainly an MTV favourite in the early noughties (with its video depicting frontman Dryden Mitchell frolicking with a pet monkey and pastiching Jackson’s iconic crotch grab) and propelled the simple-headed frat-rockers to No.3 on the UK singles chart.

14
STRFKR – Girls Just Want To Have Fun
Original: Cyndi Lauper

It’s worth noting that Cyndi Lauper’s 1983 single was itself a cover of a song written and first recorded in 1979 by new wave muso Robert Hazard (he reportedly dashed off the track in just 15 minutes whilst in the tub). Lauper, however, took the number to soaring chart heights, creating an effervescent feminist anthem.

Three decades later, indie outfit Starfucker (politely abbreviated to STRFKR) put out this sympathetic cover, retaining the bouncy fun of Lauper’s version while dialling back the synths.

Read our Classic Album feature on Cyndi Lauper’s She So Unusual here.

13
Ian Brown – Billie Jean
Original: Michael Jackson

“You’re never going to improve on a Michael Jackson song if you cover it,” so proclaimed former Stone Rose Ian Brown, a brave man who took on not just one, but two Jacko classics at the turn of the millennium. A fully Brownified take on Jackson fave Billie Jean was released as a double A-side with his similarly idiosyncratic version of Thriller.

Eschewing Quincy Jones’ silky production for his own trademark do-it-yourself home-studio sound, Brown’s cover acquits itself nicely.

12
Johnny Cash – Personal Jesus
Original: Depeche Mode

The Man In Black’s American Recordings series threw up a plethora of bang-up covers, some blindingly obvious and some that were, for a sexagenarian country legend, rather more leftfield. It was producer Rick Rubin who suggested this sleazy, sinister cut off Depeche Mode’s Violator album for Cash’s 2002 long-player, American IV: The Man Comes Around.

Cash mined something very different for his bluesier interpretation, calling it “probably the most evangelical gospel song I ever recorded.”

Read our Classic Album feature on Depeche Mode’s Violator here.

11
Weezer – Africa
Original: Toto

In December 2017, a Twitter account was set up with the sole purpose of convincing American alt-rockers Weezer to wax a version of Toto’s MOR favourite Africa. Just to be contrary, the band first put out a cover of Toto’s Rosanna, before succumbing and releasing their irony-heavy version (they even brought in “Weird Al“ Yankovic to replace singer Rivers Cuomo in the video) of Africa in May 2018.

The song netted the band their biggest hit since 2006. Result.

10
Faith No More – I’m Easy
Original: The Commodores

We can’t imagine Faith No More are particularly happy now, 27 years down the line, that I’m Easy remains their biggest worldwide hit. Although they were most likely pissing themselves in the studio, it’s a surprisingly – no pun intended – faithful cover of the Lionel Richie-composed original.

Which is probably why their fans detested it so much, regularly flipping the band the finger when they played it live. Originally released in 1977, we’re sneaking this in on the basis of its reissue a decade later.

09
The Postal Service – Against All Odds (Take A Look At Me Now)
Original: Phil Collins

Phil Collins’ chart-conquering power-ballad has been covered umpteen times, mostly by bands and singers who do little to put their stamp on it (we’re looking at you, Mariah Carey and Westlife).

That’s not an accusation you could ever lob at electro laptop misfits The Postal Service – they being Death Cab For Cutie vocalist Ben Gibbard and DJ Jimmy Tamborello – who delivered this appealingly angular reinterpretation for the 2004 big screen thriller Wicker Park.

08
Foo Fighters – Down in the Park
Original: Tubeway Army

The characteristically doom-laden Down In The Park was the first single to be released from Tubeway Army’s sophomore album, Replicas. Despite bombing commercially, it’s something of a goth favourite, with starry-eyed versions by Marilyn Manson and Christian Death, alongside this take by Dave Grohl and co.

Replacing the ominous synths of the original with a wall of guitar noise, it was recorded for a 1996 LP titled Songs In The Key Of X: Music From And Inspired By The X-Files.

07
Muse – Hungry Like The Wolf
Original: Duran Duran

Sometimes when a song is so faultless, it would be almost sacrilegious to perform radical surgery on it. It’s clear then that Devonian space-rockers Muse were hot and heavy for Duran Duran’s 1982 original, so where’s the harm in doing a straight, loving, well-performed cover?

The trio first aired the song during a live TV appearance in 2018, a performance so well received that, only a few months later, they released a studio recording exclusively on Spotify. Go listen. Now.

06
Paloma Faith – Never Tear Us Apart
Original: INXS

It takes a particularly fearless artist to take on the mighty, untouchable Michael Hutchence, but Paloma Faith’s gender-swapped version of the INXS classic Never Tear Us Apart, recorded for a John Lewis ad in 2012, stands almost as tall and proud as the 1988 original.

Seductive and sexy, with a cool Western guitar bridge and a powerfully soulful vocal from one of pop’s most cherished eccentrics – it’s a must-hear cover that can be found on her second studio album, Fall To Grace.

05
No Doubt – It’s My Life
Original: Talk Talk

Talk Talk’s version of It’s My Life didn’t even make the Top 30 in the States, so when Californian ska-rockers No Doubt chose the song to record in 2003, they didn’t have to deal with too many people giving them grief for vandalising a classic.

Though it misses the sulky melancholy of the original, No Doubt’s version is a pleasingly synth-soaked, club-friendly reinvention of one of Mark Hollis’ most sublime tracks. The song reached No.10 on the Billboard Hot 100, remaining on the chart for 28 weeks.

Read our Album By Album feature on Talk Talk here.

04
The Futureheads – Hounds of Love
Original: Kate Bush

There are precious few Kate Bush covers (I mean, who would even dare?) and even fewer ones that managed to prick the Top 10, with the unlikely exception being northern post-punks The Futureheads who scored a No.8 hit with this guitar-coated version of Dame Kate’s 1986 classic (which, somewhat outrageously, only managed a No.18 placing in the UK).

Despite being named Best Single Of 2005 by the NME it was, tragically for The Futureheads, their last ever Top 10 placing.

Read our Lowdown feature on Kate Bush here.

03
Hot Chip Dancing in the Dark
Original: Bruce Springsteen

Bruce Springsteen’s brand of blue-collar earnestness couldn’t be more distanced from the dorky, bedroom-dwelling, über-arch output of electro noodlers Hot Chip, so there was never any chance that their version of The Boss’ 1984 classic would sound even remotely similar.

Replacing Springsteen’s testosterone-drenched vocals with that of lady-voiced man-child Alexis Taylor, it’s a geeky reclaiming of a song that no speccy, pasty-faced dork would have gone anywhere near before.

02
The Be Good Tanyas – When Doves Cry
Original: Prince

The most ear-catching covers are often when a band from a completely different corner of the musical spectrum take on a song from a genre far away from their own. So it was when Canadian folkies The Be Good Tanyas picked Prince’s When Doves Cry for a hidden track on their 2006 album Hello Love.

The band’s no-frills, Frazey Ford-fronted cover is slower and more delicate, but still boss, a testament to the stately brilliance of the Purple One’s 1984 original.

Read our Top 10 Prince songs feature here.

01
Michael Andrews & Gary Jules – Mad World
Original: Tears For Fears

Sometimes a cover can dwarf the original so much that it’s the first version that tends to get mistaken as the reboot. So it is with Mad World, the original of which, by Tears For Fears, peaked at No.3 in the UK in 1982. But Michael Andrews and Gary Jules’ achingly melancholic, bare-bones cover, recorded for the Jake Gyllenhaal-fronted sci-fi flick Donnie Darko, became an unlikely Christmas No.1 at the end of 2003.

When Adam Lambert sang Mad World on American Idol in 2009, it wasn’t Tears For Fears’ version that he performed.

Read more: Top 20 Posthumous Releases

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