Friday, 29 September 2017

Clandestine Classic LIII - You've Got A Friend (cover)

The fifty-third post in an occasional series that is intended to highlight songs that you might not have heard that I think are excellent - clandestine classics, if you will. Maybe they'll be by bands you've never heard of. Maybe they'll be by more familiar artists, but tracks that were squirelled away on b-sides, unpopular albums, radio sessions or music magazine cover-mounted CDs. Time will, undoubtedly, tell.

I've been thinking about cover versions a lot lately, mainly fantasy cover versions. Mainly, but not exclusively. Because you see, the other day I heard James Taylor's version of this, itself a cover, on the radio. And then, of course, there's the Carole King original. It's undoubtedly a brilliant, beautiful record, in Carole's hands and James's. Thing is though, when I think of this song I don't think of either of these renditions. I think of today's classic.

The Housemartins were, as most readers of this blog will undoubtedly already know, a jangly 80s indie band from Hull - in their own words, "the fourth best band in Hull" (the three bands that were "better" were apparently Red Guitars, Everything But The Girl and The Gargoyles). As you will also know, they had their big breakthrough moment with Happy Hour, helped no end by the Aardman-esque claymation video, and had their only number one around Christmas 1986 with an a capella cover of Isley/Jasper/Isley's Caravan of Love. And of course The Housemartins begat The Beautiful South and Norman Cook, in all his guises.

Enough intro though. The band clearly knew their way around a good cover version, and today's classic is no exception. It was recorded by the band's last line-up, in which drummer Ted Whitaker had been replaced by Dave Hemingway, an added bonus of which was Dave's nice backing vocals. The band play the song with a straight bat, perhaps mindful that the original is so well known, their only real digression being the complete omission of the middle eight.

And that's it really. A straightforward rendition of a well-loved song, simple and stripped back, with Stan's acoustic guitar to the fore. On the face of it, nothing staggering. But this is the version I always hear in my head first when I think of You've Got A Friend, and if I should ever ill-advisedly try to perform it in public, I'd take my cue from Paul and Stan, not James or Carole.

You can pick up today's classic on the career retrospective Now That's What I Call Quite Good, and you should because The Housemartins were excellent, in my view never really given the recognition they deserved. And if you are wise enough to invest in that album, you'll also get a copy of the Housemartins' track that I almost chose for today, Step Outside, another beautiful slice of Paul and acoustic Stan. It's a gem. But anyway, just because I've been thinking about cover versions here's today classic - enjoy.

This is the sort of song that gets covered to death, so if you prefer a different version, let me know in the comments. And if you still haven't submitted your fantasy cover version, what are you waiting for?


  1. Indeed - they certainly do it great justice, such great purity in this cover with Paul's voice so distinctive it's like a new song. And and that's from someone who doesn't really like the Housemartins (sorry!) Carole's original is the one for me - but I'm tempted now to go and remind myself of McFly's version!

    1. McCoy's version? Haven't heard that. To YouTube!

    2. I just did - it's terribly MOR and anodyne, the Housemartins' version is far, far superior!

    3. You've saved me there then -I'll pass...