Today is the 30th anniversary of the release of The Smiths’ first single, the enduringly excellent “Hand in Glove.” The song failed to chart — but it was later covered, curiously enough, by British pop singer Sandie Shaw, whose version reached #27 in the UK charts and helped a great deal in introducing the general public to the band. The idea of female singers covering the Smiths and/or Morrissey is interesting, simply because their songs are so quintessentially male in their own effete way. And so, in a repeat of the thought exercise we carried out with Leonard Cohen a few weeks back, we’ve rounded up a selection of Smiths covers (with the occasional Morrissey song for good measure) by female artists — including one particularly amazing track by Tiffany, of all people.
Tiffany — “Panic”
Wait, what? Did anyone else know that this existed? It’s amazing! It appears that Tiffany recorded “Panic” in 2007 for this compilation, but information is hard to come by. Whatever its provenance, the spectacle of Tiffany singing the Smiths over a weird, dystopian, Blade Runner-esque backing track is all kinds of awesome.
Everything But the Girl — “Back to the Old House”
From the (gloriously) ridiculous to the sublime: Tracey Thorn’s mournful voice is a perfect fit to cover Morrissey’s, um, mournful songs, and this stripped-down acoustic cover of “Back to the Old House” works a treat, so much so that we almost prefer it to the original. It evokes the feeling of going back to an old seaside hometown where there’s nothing left for you any more. The sort of town, in fact, that’s evoked in…
10,000 Maniacs — “Every Day Is Like Sunday”
This cover plays it pretty straight, Xeroxing the jangly melancholy of Morrissey’s second solo single and (arguably) his greatest post-Smiths moment. Still, if a song is this perfect, it’s probably best not to mess with it too much, eh?
Kirsty MacColl — “You Just Haven’t Earned It Yet, Baby”
The late and much-lamented Kirsty MacColl released this characteristically bold cover of “You Just Haven’t Earned It Yet, Baby” as the b-side to her single “Free World,” and it later surfaced on the soundtrack to middle-ranking John Hughes romcom She’s Having a Baby.
Girl in a Coma — “Rubber Ring”
Give that they presumably take their name from “Girlfriend in a Coma,” it’s no surprise to discover that Joan Jett-approved San Antonio band Girl in a Coma are Smiths fans. They contributed this brassy, radically reworked version of “Rubber Ring” to the 2011 compilationPlease Please Please: A Tribute to The Smiths. It replaces the jangly nostalgia of the original with a slightly creepy and bluesy feel, giving the song an entirely different and rather fascinating flavor.
Dylan in the Movies feat. Tanya Donelly — “Shoplifters of the World Unite”
Also from the Please Please Please record — this track spotlights Tanya Donelly, and helped mark her return to music after a long hiatus. The fact that the cover is really great is just the icing on the cake.
Nancy Sinatra — “Let Me Kiss You”
Another revelatory find: Nancy Sinatra doing a Morrissey song. It features on her self-titled 2004 studio album, and was released concurrently with Morrissey’s take on the same track. Her version may well be superior.
Trespassers William — “There Is a Light That Never Goes Out”
An alternate interpretation from the band responsible for one of your correspondent’s very favorite songs of the 2000s (namely, their gorgeously melancholy 2002 single “Lie in the Sound”). This cover is in a similar vein to that song — slow, dreamy, and shot through with a definite air of lovelorn sadness. In the wrong hands, such a cover could have been maudlin and awful, but the band manages to steer clear of such perils, and the result is a cover that’s as beautiful as it is sparse and sad.
Bow Wow Wow — “I Started Something I Couldn’t Finish”
There seems to be something about unlikely pop covers of Smiths songs that brings out the awesome, because this bluesy, psychobilly-influenced cover of “I Started Something I Couldn’t Finish” is also pretty great in a thoroughly unlikely way. It sounds not unlike Girl in a Coma’s reworking of “Rubber Ring,” actually. The cover was recorded in 2006, and surfaced on the band’s MySpace soon after, where it remains to this day.
t.A.T.u. — “How Soon Is Now”
And finally — on a not dissimilar note, actually — there’s this. Go on, laugh it up — yes, t.A.T.u.’s faux-lesbian schoolgirl image was laughably awful, and yes, this is cheesy as hell, but for some reason there’s something endearing about the duo’s histrionic, Russian-accented delivery and the very, very Marr-esque guitars. Endearing, and also terrified.