Five years ago, Nettwork Records celebrated their 30th anniversary as a going concern. As a part of the festivities, they released a compilation album called “Cover to cover”, which featured current label artists covering songs from its storied past. If you look at the list of songs by artists as varied as Skinny Puppy, Coldplay, Passenger, and Sarah McLachlan, you can almost trace the label’s history from indie upstart on the west coast of Canada to apparent music savants picking up on the early days of the Canadian alternative rock scene, striking gold there, and then finding itself as an international mover and shaker. And looking at the list of the artists covering these tracks, you can see the label looking back towards those early roots and mining the best of current new Canadian indie.
Our cover song today is the penultimate track on this compilation and is a true example of CanCon brilliance. The original version of “What was going through my head” was the third single released off “Now and again”, The Grapes of Wrath’s* biggest album, a huge hit here on the Canadian radio airwaves. They were so big here I can’t imagine anyone not knowing this track but my understanding is that they are one of those CanCon bands that didn’t really travel well internationally. They were led by the songwriting duo of Tom Hooper and Kevin Kane and were almost as well known for their long, thick and wavy hair as they were for their vocal harmonies. The original track is heavy on the acoustic strumming, all jangle pop like and easy on the ears, and the synths here were a new addition to the band’s straightforward drums and bassline. Listening to the track for what must be the millionth time, it’s easy for me to see why Hooper and Kane always reminded me of Simon and Garfunkel with their plaintiff and haunting deliveries.
Great Lake Swimmers are a Toronto-based indie folk outfit led by Tony Dekker, who definitely sound more Iron and Wine than Lumineers. I’ve been listening to them for a long time and have always dug the low key and quiet vibe of their tunes. This cover actually first appeared as a bonus track on the deluxe version of their 2012 album, “New wild everywhere”, their most upbeat and commercially successful release to date. Their take on “What was going through my head” is faithful to the original, dutifully, doing the classic proud. It is slower in pace, as one might expect, and a shade longer than the original’s sub-three minutes. Dekker’s soft touch on vocals gets his harmonies care of Miranda Mulholland, who also adds a lovely touch on the violin to replace the keyboards of the original. And yeah, this is the Great Lake Swimmers so we’ve also got banjo and upright bass in the mix. It’s oh so organic.
And if the original wasn’t such a big part of my teen years, I could almost say this cover is better than the original. But it was, so I can’t.
* Incidentally, The Grapes of Wrath’s first ever release, a self-titled EP, was also Nettwerk Records’ debut release.
For the rest of the 100 best covers list, click here.