‘On Broadway’ is perhaps most famous for The Drifters version, but I have always adored this version which featured on Gary Numan’s Living Ornaments LP and VHS. Rather like the Devo version of Satisfaction, there’s a pleasing incongruity in his asexual android persona crooning “They say the girls are something else/ On Broadway / But lookin’ at them just gives me the blues”
However it’s Billy Currie’s glorious soaring synth solo that elevates this track to true greatness. On secondment to Numan’s backing band to earn enough money for the penniless post-John Foxx Ultravox to go back into the studio, Currie (bottom left in the photo above) takes up nearly half the track. You can almost hear him inventing the harsh, echoing keyboard sound for the imminent Vienna album as he goes along. The musical equivalent of bringing Gareth Bale off the bench, Numan shows it’s a squad game.
It’s a shame – but indicative of the period I guess – that not once does the camera pan to Billie giving his all here, but instead focuses on Numan’s proto-voguing instead. Numan does politely say ‘Billy Currie – thank you!’ at the end though.
Before I hand over to Anne, don’t forget you can catch up on our earlier choices here.
As companion to Billie Currie’s contributions to On Broadway, I proffer Stevie Wonder’s infectious chromatic harmonica on the classic Chaka Khan version of Prince’s “I Feel for You.” Turns out that the Chaka Khan rapper is Melle Mel of Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five. Check out the moves, the parachute pants, the shoulder pads, the hair — Quintessential 1984!
My next choice was originally a tune by Paul Revere & The Raiders, released in 1966, but is best known as a big hit for The Monkees, also in 1966. We’ve had this discussion before on this forum, but for those of us of a certain age it was The Monkees, not The Beatles that informed our early musical education. I like to think this is also part of the reason why The Sex Pistols chose to cover the song from their inception (a vinyl release not seeing the light of day until 1979). The lyrics are incredibly prescient of the Punk movement and suit Lydon’s malevolent vocals perfectly; wonderfully aided and abetted by Steve Jones’ power chords.
Following Andy’s recognition of Dylan as inspiration in the firmament of covers let me add the Boss in a similar role. Sadly, I didn’t realise “Blinded By The Light” was a Springsteen composition until many years after the release of the version by Manfred Mann’s Earth Band. While a big fan of the tune as a radio hit, it wasn’t until I bought the group’s 1978 album “Angel Station” that I had any particular enthusiasm for populating my back-catalogue and recall buying “Nightingales & Bombers” and “The Roaring Silence” in quick succession. It was on a casual reading of the latter’s liner notes that I learned of the song’s provenance. Even then, another two years elapsed before I finally managed to hear the original, courtesy of a university room-mate’s Springsteen collection. To this day, I prefer the cover.
PS Of course there is an entire literature on what Manfred Mann meant when he mangled the original lyric to become “…wrapped up like douche/deuce/dooce”.
Fact:- Manfred Mann were the first live band I ever saw on “The Roaring Silence” tour, from where “Blinded by the Light” came , when I was taken by my elder brother to see them at Southport’s Floral Hall in the summer of 1977.
Continuing on from Ian’s Springsteen cover, it would seem wholly appropriate to include my own favourite Boss cover, as described by the late John Peel as part of the 2003 Festive 50. Never liked the original, but the transformation of this version gives it a whole new poignancy, instead of the air-punching anthemic behemoth that it was back then. And if that doesn’t prompt a comment or two, I’ll be most surprised!