I was planning to start off with my favourite song ever just to get it out of the way, until last night I happened to read (on Teletext on ITV4) that The Slits are going to reform.
The Web doesn't seem to agree; nonetheless, I'll begin instead with probably the best cover version of a song ever, I Heard It through the Grapevine.
Although Marvin Gaye's version of the song wasn't technically the original (as I heard through Wikipedia), it's the definitive recording of the song and probably the one the Slits would've been thinking of when they did theirs, so I'm happy comparing their effort to it.
The Slits managed to take an already-great song, completely change its style, its mood and a fair number of the words, and yet not completely screw it up.
The fact that the song can be uprooted from one genre and plonked comfortably into another is testament to Whitfield and Strong's songwriting; the fact that the Slits dared to do it is testament to their great confidence (the punks call it “attitude”, right?). The fact that they pulled it off is testament to their skill as musicians.
Oddly for a supposedly-punk record, the song lasts a full four minutes; odder, that's a good fifty seconds longer than Gaye's version. And crucially, without outstaying its welcome – at no point are they just repeating themselves.
I'm convinced that Ari Up didn't bother learning the real words and just sang what she thought they were. And “I heard it through the bassline” is just genius.
After the first verse and chorus of Gaye's version, I'm completely satisfied with the song – it's already delivered, and it would have been near impossible to screw it up after that, short of rambling on for ten minutes. Sure enough, the song carries on satisfactorily until the end, but without really adding anything.
But the Slits' version delivers constantly throughout the entire song. The whole thing is... just inspired. If you download one track this week, make it Slits Grapevine.