Wednesday, August 29, 2007


So it's Covers Week here at TMW,TMW which (like all things here that make it look at all like I have a plan) is an impromptu decision based on me not having any particular song I wanted to talk about. I've done a few of these previously, of course

After "Down by the River," one of my favourite of Low's many covers, I thought that maybe I should cover the only cover that the band have included on one of their studio albums, apparently because "we just messed with it in the studio and kramer went nuts and insisted we do it for the record." It's certainly got the rich, almost watery tone to Alan's guitar (and even Zak's bass here) that Kramer brought to the first album, and it makes a perfect after-dinner mint for I Could Live in Hope, after the darkly ambiguous/humourous "Rope" that, as I said in that entry, feels like the 'real' end of the album.

I'm a sucker for that approach, one Low adopts as well on The Curtain Hits the Cast, Secret Name and Long Division. Having a lengthy, in some way weighty song followed by a brief contrapuntal closing track is something I think works extremely well (although I almost prefer the Great Destroyer and Drums and Guns approach of two somehow linked or contrasting shorter tracks, which is what gives the end of those albums such oomph), and it's something Low are quite excellent at.

And this is "You Are My Sunshine," albeit with truncated title to fit in with the rest of the one-word titles on I Could Live in Hope. Everyone knows "You Are My Sunshine," and most people agree that it's pleasant. But while Alan and Mimi's cooing duet delivery of the lyrics are indeed kind of heartwarming, that's partly in contrast to the lyrics. See, the version I know from summer camp, kindergarten etc is this:

You are my sunshine
My only sunshine
You make me happy
When skies are gray
You'll never know dear
How much I love you
Please don't take my sunshine away

There's already a melancholy undercurrent there, one that we normally ignored when belting it out at the top of our tiny lungs, but Low's minor key version brings it out. It's not lugubrious or even actually sad, but it's more a song you sing to someone when everything's going wrong for reassurance and support than what you hum to yourself on a nice day. And then there's the middle verse, which I'd never heard before:

The other night dear
As I lay sleeping
I dreamed I held you in my arms
When I awoke, dear
I was mistaken
So I hung my head and I cried

They end their version with another rendition of the first verse, but man! This one is pretty rough. "Please don't take my sunshine away" has a whole new connotation thanks to these lines; at best it could be about missing your sweetheart when they're on a trip or what have you, but something about that verse and Alan and Mimi's unhurried, deliberate delivery of the lyrics make it even sadder. This sort of thing - taking a cheery children's song and making it kind of heartwrenching - is why some wag came up with "sadcore" as a term. It doesn't hole for Low's music as a whole, but it definitely seems fitting here.

Alan says of the song "i used to work at summer camps for mentally handicapped kids and this song was by far the most popular camp song. we thought by slowing it down it would bring out the very sober, depressing theme of the lyrics. a lot of those old folk songs are like that..." That makes sense, and back in 1994 such an exercise would have been a lot more novel than it seems today. And again, it's not as if "Sunshine" actually dips into bathos, which a lesser version would. But heard on its own as opposed to as a sleepy, weepy lullabye after "Rope" it's not terribly successful, unless you just really love that melody from years of repetition.


Inverarity said...

The Beach Boys were going to included this (in the past tense) on the infamous SMiLE, in a medley with "Old Master Painter."

Inverarity said...

Oh, yeah, lyrics:
"You were my sunshine, my only sunshine
You made me happy when skies were grey
You'll never know, dear, how much I loved you
How could you take my sunshine away"

... which, I think, makes explicit the implications of the original song, like you said.