Friday, 30 August 2013

The 10 Best Daniel Johnston Covers


"I really don’t know how I came here, I really don’t know why I’m stayin’ here, Oh, Oh, Oh, I’m walking the cow." It's the 30th anniversary of Daniel Johnston's tape cassette classic - Hi, How Are You. To celebrate the song-writing genius of an Austin, Texas hero, we're listing the top 10 Daniel Johnston covers that have found their way on YouTube, tribute albums, just about anywhere... Every singer-songwriter since Jeff Buckley has covered Daniel Johnston in one way or another, so there's plenty to pick from.



10. Bright Eyes - Devil Town



Key lyrics: "I was living in a devil town, I didn't know it was a devil town, Oh lord it really brings me down about the devil town."

Taken from Johnston's eleventh album 1990, "Devil Town" marked the shift from outsider indie rock to estranged folk music. Bright Eyes' added a beat, a piano backing. They turned Johnston's one minute acapella opener in to a classic three minute rock cover. Being one of indie rock's monsters made it easy for Bright Eyes to cover Daniel Johnston.



9. Yo La Tengo - Speeding Motorcycle

 

Key lyrics: "Speeding motorcycle of my heart Pretty girls have taken you for a ride Hurt you deep inside but you never slowed down."

Originally recorded with Johnston during a radio program, in which Johnston was on the phone... Yo La Tengo covered the Yip/Jump Music standout for their 1990 part cover album Fakebook. To replicate Johnston's chord organ, Yo La Tengo have finger-picked an acoustic guitar to go with James McNew's vocal. The 90s independent rock giants didn’t just cover a Daniel Johnston track, they put in all the effort to evoke the natural emotions of a love song.



8. The Swell Season - Some Things Last a Long Time

 

Key lyrics: "Your picture is still on my wall, on my wall. The colors are bright, bright as ever. Red is strong and blue is pure, some things last a long time."

Glen Hansard has made no secret about loving the work of Daniel Johnston. A regular contributor to covers, Hansard and his Swell Season collaborator Markéta Irglová cover "Some Things Last a Long Time" during their live performances. The Swell Season would have made the list for other reasons, playing alongside Johnston to cover "Life In Vain", however I’ve decided it needs to be a cover to make this list. The Hansard / Irglová harmony does the track justice, but not as good as the cover later on this list.



7. Death Cab For Cutie - Dream Scream 



Key lyrics: "And everything was in hyper-jinx just like an old time movie. You don’t understand, can’t comprehend, I guess it doesn’t really matter, and every dream a nightmare, and nothing really matters. I thought I was Loved, what a fool I was, having dreams about you."

Johnston released "Dream Scream" as a single in 1998, then again on his 2001 comeback album Rejected Unknown. Death Cab For Cutie like Bright Eyes, were on top of their creative output when covering this song, so the outcome is as expected. A seven minute thriller taking the cold essence of Johnston's Rejected Unknown theory and making it a song to remember. They even cover the final two minutes of joyful instrumentation at the end. The catastrophic change in tempo and mood becomes an instantly likeable Johnston recording.



6. Mercury Rev - Blue Clouds



Key lyrics: "Feeling your warm body next to mine, feeling this feeling so fine. Feeling the wind blowing through your hair, feeling the sun shining on your face. I’m a long time healing."

One of Johnston's best songs was covered by Mercury Rev for the Johnston cover album in 2004 along with Death Cab For Cutie, Bright Eyes, and a few others on this list. Originally on The What of Whom, "Blue Clouds" is a piano track. Like "Somethings Last a Long Time", Johnston uses the piano and natural reverberation to set an uplifting theme of love. Mercury Rev completely re-shaped "Blue Clouds" to go with their psychedelic aesthetic. It's a fantastic cover which makes Johnston sounds like he belongs in Spiritualized.




5. Wilco - True Love Will Find You In The End 


 
Key lyrics: "True love will find you in the end, you'll find out just who was your friend. Don’t be sad, I know you will, but don’t give up until, true love finds you in the end."

"True Love Will Find You In The End" is a classic Johnston song. One of his most covered, most loved, and most played, "True Love Will Find You In The End" lays out the simple story of a love searcher. Originally on his 1984 album Retired Boxer, Johnston re-recorded it and added the sweet reverberation of that his 1990 album is most known for. Wilco took a gamble by recording this on their 1999 single "A Shot In The Arm". It hadn't yet been covered, or at least surfaced in the manner of its later recordings, but Wilco, with all their country heart, made "True Love Will Find You In The End" a song to cover. 



4. Sparklehorse and The Flaming Lips - Go

 

Key lyrics: "Life's a bowl of cherries, you can have as many as you can carry. And someone once said that life is like a cow, but I don't know how, that applies. But anyhow here we are all on this planet, taking everything for granted, but I think you've caught on to something, don't let go." 

"Go" was recorded for Johnston's 1985 album Respect. It features his renowned search for love: "So you think you've found the one," The Flaming Lips and Sparklehorse were perfect suitors for one of Johnston's few happy ending songs. The tragic loss of both Mark Linkous and Vic Chestnutt (both recorded covers of Daniel Johnston songs) plays a deep, soulful melody when listening back to "Go". That grasp Johnston describes, is a special feeling, and one The Flaming Lips and Sparklehorse delivered perfectly.



3. Beach House - Some Things Last a Long Time



Key lyrics: "Your picture is still on my wall, on my wall. The colors are bright, bright as ever. Red is strong, blue is true, some things last a long time."

The dream pop duet constructed a short cover of Johnston's "Some Things Last a Long Time" for their sophomore album Devotion. Alex Scally's drum accompaniment with Victoria LeGrand's vocal has made some of the best dream pop in recent years. During the chorus, they absolutely rip one out. The layered LeGrand harmony is worth it in itself. She sounds disheartened, in pain, exactly the message Johnston was conveying with the original.



2. Spectrum - True Love Will Find You In the End

 

Key lyrics: "True love will find you in the end, you'll find out just who was your friend. Don’t be sad, I know you will, but don’t give up until, true love finds you in the end."

This has been a tough list, because each and every Daniel Johnston cover evokes a strangely euphoric feeling that only Johnston’s songs release. Runner-up on this list is a fantastic artist called Spectrum, one half of Spacemen 3. Truth be told, I could have used either half of Spacemen 3 as Spiritualized played a great rendition of this song in Iceland a few years ago. Spectrum rules the roost when it comes to "True Love Will Fins You In The End". Pete Kember's magical keyboard touch and spacious vocal are highlights on this cover. Released in 1992 as a single, just two years after Johnston's re-recorded version, Spectrum pays homage, and relishes in the simple structure Johnston's original has. 



1. M.Ward - Story of An Artist

 

Key lyrics: "They sit in front of their TV, saying, "Hey! This is fun!" And they laugh at the artist, saying, "He doesn't know how to have fun." The best things in life are truly free, singing birds and laughing bees, "You've got me wrong", says he, "The sun don't shine in your TV.""

M.Ward covered Johnston's "Story of An Artist" for the 2004 tribute album. He also covered other Johnston favourites, but "Story of An Artist" wipes the floor. Taken from Don't Be Scared in 1982, "Story of An Artist", speaks the truth to its title. It takes all the emotion and hardship out of the recording artist for one song, creating a four minute track relatable to all that cover, all that perform, all that create music. Johnston, without knowing it, wrote one of the best songs of the 80s. It's a song Lennon/McCartney would want to call their own.
~Eddie

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