100 best covers: #98 Great Big Sea “End of the world”

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“It’s the end of the world as we know it…. and I feel fine.” What a great line and an incredible tune.

Chances are pretty good that you’ve heard R.E.M.’s original version. From their 1987 album “Document”, “End of the world” is considered one of the band’s best-known and best-loved songs and is definitely up there among my own personal faves by Michael Stipe and company.

Fast forward to 1997 and we have Newfoundland-based folk rock band, Great Big Sea, releasing a cover of said song for their third studio album, “Play”. If you’re not from Canada, it’s possible you’ve not heard this band but they were pretty big here in their home country. I say “were” because they’re broken up now but in their heyday in the 90s, the four-piece of Alan Doyle, Bob Hallett, Séan McCann, and Darrell Power put out a string of albums that were filled with high energy rock tunes with a Celtic folk bent and more than a few of these were perfect soundtracks for hoisting a pint or three. I didn’t like all of their songs, favouring those where their traditional background was more evident, but they had a talent for putting a rousing Celtic folk touch on the songs they were covering.

Great Big Sea’s version of “End of the world” is a full minute and a half shorter than the original. But don’t you go thinking that they cut out a verse or something. No. It’s all there. It may be unbelievable to you R.E.M. fans but they actually did it by speeding up the already frenetic pace set by Bill Berry’s drumming in the original. Fiddles are a-whir and the mandolin on a tear but it’s Alan Doyle’s valiant vocal effort here that really makes this song, sounding off each syllable of Michael Stipe’s lyrics with his own hoarse Newfoundland roar.

Both versions are great in their own right (though I still prefer the original) and both are ripe for a rowdy dance floor, but where R.E.M.’s is made for the pogo, Great Big Sea’s is one more prone to jigging. Oh and be careful, that dance floor is likely quite sticky from all the spilt beer. Carry on.

The cover:

The original:

For the rest of the 100 best covers list, click here.