Not too long ago, I tracked down this album because I stumbled across the Foo Fighters doing a cover of “Band on the Run.” It’s basically a covers compilation of songs that have hit #1 over the last 40 years on the BBC. There’s a lot of notable names (especially if you’re familiar with the UK music scene), and despite the popularity of the source material the results are predictably up and down. It still boggles my mind that Wheatus had a chart-topper with “Teenage Dirtbag,” but what can you do?
There’s a hidden gem on this album, courtesy of The Streets (which is the name Mike Skinner has used for his albums). You may or may not be familiar with The Streets, they had a moment here a few years back, and Skinner has retired the project with his most recent release, “Computers and Blues.” Skinner has gone a long way to legitimize British rap, which is a feat unto itself. Here, The Streets cover Elton John’s “Your Song.”
The original is a sweet song, a great idea, and a pop gem. If you’re not familiar with Skinner’s rapping style, he’s very fluid, very clever. Here, he completely abandons what he’s great at and tries to sing. At first listen, that might seem like a tragic mistake, seeing as how he clearly cannot sing at all. It’s almost impossible to get across how bad of a singer he is, so I’m going to trust you to take the four minutes and listen to the song so you can fully appreciate it.
However, that decision turned out to be absolute genius. Whereas the original version comes off as a pop singer doing what he does best (writing and singing a catchy, sweet song for someone), Skinner’s version is hard to listen to. Because he’s not a good singer, it’s emotionally hard to listen to. It’s not a tossed-off song, it comes off as someone struggling mightily to express something that they’re not equipped to express, in a medium that they have no command of. It feels like a genuine effort by someone who is determined to express their love, and won’t be deterred by anything. The only thing that matters is getting through the song, so that the other person can get the message. The very idea of performance is upended; as a listener, you’re eavesdropping on an extremely intimate, awkward expression. It’s almost embarrassing to keep listening, these words aren’t meant for your ears, but you have to keep listening, rooting for him to get to the end. Who knows why someone who can’t sing would write a song for someone else? Whatever reason it is, it must be a powerful one.