Covered is a feature where we examine the merits of various cover songs, debating whether or not they capture the spirit and intent of the original, if the cover adds anything new, and whether or not it perhaps surpasses the original. If we fail on those counts, at the very least we may expose you to different versions of great songs you hadn’t heard before.
One of my all-time favorite covers is Dinosaur Jr.’s take on one of The Cure’s biggest hits, “Just Like Heaven”. The Dino version somehow succeeds in being both faithful to the original and irreverent at the same time. The video above helps make my point, as the band clearly has a bit of fun with the original version by mimicking many of its dance moves, but it’s done in a gently mocking manner instead of a heavy-handed insulting way. The distinctive bass pickup/drumfill intro remains, but this time at a quicker tempo, followed by a shimmery acoustic guitar that’s a close match to the original. It’s when the next wave of guitars enter that changes the mood, first with a heavily wah-wah’ed backing rhythm guitar, and then followed by a guitar that’s been whammy’ed within an inch of its life that takes on the memorable melody line, instead of the delicate twinkly style of the original. It’s at this point that this sounds like a classic Dinosaur Jr. song, though with a more danceable beat.
J Mascis matches the vulnerability of Robert Smith’s vocals, and J’s distinctive whiny drawl actually helps bring out the emotion of the lyrics. But it’s Lou Barlow’s shouted contribution of “You!” to the power chord-heavy chorus that really seals it, and it makes me crack up every time I hear the song. It’s so jarring and unexpected that it changes the whole demeanor of the song, but once you know it’s there, you can’t wait for it to appear again. J then twists the melody into one of his trademark blistering solos, further putting the band’s stamp on the song. And just when you’re expecting the release from another chorus, the song abruptly cuts out. For years, I thought I was the victim of a shitty version of the album, but I later found out that no, everyone had the same problem; the story is that the tape ran out while they were recording the song, but they liked the take so much they shipped it as is. To this day, the band plays it the same way, abrupt ending and all.
For a long time, the Dinosaur Jr. version was the only one I knew; I had known it was a cover, but I never felt like seeking out the original since it was rare that I was in a mood to listen to The Cure. So it may appear that my opinion is tainted, but no less of an authority than Robert Smith himself has proclaimed himself a fan of the cover, going so far as to say that it now influences how his band plays the song live. I like the original, but I’ll agree with Mr. Smith on this one.
BONUS TRIVIA: In the Dinosaur Jr. video, the green puppet is wearing a “Deep Wound” t-shirt, which is the hardcore band that J and Lou were in before starting up Dinosaur Jr.