Hash’s Faves: “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)

17 Feb

ProclaimersThis week’s pick has a little bit of a backstory – it’s the song “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)” by the band The Proclaimers. It’s from their 1988 album “Sunshine On Leith.” The Proclaimers are the brothers Charlie and Craig Reid (Charlie on guitar and vocals and Craig on vocals); the band on that album included Jerry Donahue, acoustic and electric guitars; Gerry Hogan, steel guitar; Steve Shaw, fiddle; Stuart Nisbet, pennywhistle and mandolin; Dave Whetstone, melodeon; Pete Wingfield, keyboards; Phil Cranham, bass; and Dave Mattacks and Paul Robinson:, drums and percussion.

So – I’ve always liked this song. I first heard it when it was popular; I was briefly in an 80’s rock band (a band that only rehearsed; we never gigged because we couldn’t find a singer to commit), playing songs by The Motels, Prince, Big Country, The Police, etc. I don’t think we played this one, but I was listening to pop radio a lot then, trying to absorb the vibe. What brought this tune back to mind for me was that I had to write a chart for a cover version of the song for an upcoming wedding; the cover is by a band called Sleeping At Last, some local guys from Wheaton, IL. Their version is very pretty, and at first I thought, “Well, this is an interesting take on the song.” But the more I thought about the more I disagreed with their take on it (I bet some of you may even know these guys; I hope you or they won’t be offended). The Reid brothers’ lyrics are romantic and sentimental, but what, in my opinion, makes this a great pop tune is that the performance does its best to subvert the sentimentality. Going the emo route is almost too easy. I’d even venture to say that the Reids, as Scotsmen, can get away with singing something this sentimental, but someone from Wheaton – well, maybe not.

Great cover versions very often find different interpretations, but I think a truly great cover also avoids the easy solution. Billy Stewart’s outrageous version of “Summertime”; Jimi Hendrix’s “All Along The Watchtower” or “Hey, Joe”; The Animals’ “Please Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” (it was originally recorded by Nina Simone); Joe Cocker’s “With A Little Help From My Friends”; Jefferson Airplane’s “The Other Side Of This Life;” even Miles Davis’ versions of Michael Jackson’s “Human Nature” and Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time.” I’m also a fan of respectful covers (Brooks and Dunn’s version of B.W. Stevenson’s “My Maria” immediately comes to mind), and don’t get me wrong, I respect what the guys from Wheaton tried to do; they had a concept and they went for it, and I hope they sell a million CDs and get the hell out of the Bible Belt. But The Proclaimers had the right idea to begin with.

My bands do a lot of cover versions; I’ve been lucky enough to inherit arrangements from the guitarists Steve Hutchins and John Rood Lewis, both of whom I think are inventive reinterpreters of pop tunes. I’ve tried my hand as well, and I think I’ve some up with some good efforts. Covering tunes is truly an art, but sometimes you just can’t improve on the original version.

You can listen to it here (warning: the video is comprised of clips from the Johnny Depp movie Benny and Joon, which utilized the song on the soundtrack):

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