Many of you know how much of a power pop fanatic I am. If the song has a catchy melody while maintaining some muscularity in the music, I am a sucker for it. Who cares were power pop began, I’ll save that topic for another time. For me, there is nothing like a great power pop song, whether performed by artists you know like Cheap Trick, Raspberries or Bangles, or those you probably don’t know like Matthew Sweet, Velvet Crush or Myracle Brah. In 2006, I discovered that the aforementioned Matthew Sweet, whose 1991 Girlfriend is considered a power pop classic, was teaming up with Susanna Hoffs, the little brunette of the Bangles, to record some Sixties pop-rock classics that influenced their musical tastes. Originally, the duo was going to be known as “Sid & Susie”, but they decided to go by their real names.
Their first album is called Under the Covers Vol. 1. On this album the duo records some great pop-rock songs from that golden decade. They cover songs by The Beatles, The Beach Boys and Neil Young, but they truly shine on songs like their remake of Linda Ronstadt’s first hit song as a member of the Stone Poneys’ “Different Drum”. Hoffs nails the longing romanticism of the song’s lyrics in order to make the song their own. Likewise, the duo makes The Marmalade’s “I See the Rain” and The Beatles’ classic “And Your Bird Can Sing” their own. Overall, Sweet and Hoffs sound as if they are having the time of their lives recording this batch of songs.
Since the first album of covers was fun for Sid & Susie, as well as being an artistic success, the duo decided to record a second album of covers, though this time the songs would be their favorites from the Seventies. On Under the Covers Vol. 2, Sweet and Hoffs tackle songs by Big Star, Little Feat, the Grateful Dead, Todd Rundgren, Tom Petty, to name just a few. Their loose play and sense of playfulness infect all the songs with a stamp all their own. But, for my money, they were at their best covering the Raspberries’ classic song “Go All the Way”. To me, their is nothing like hearing Hoffs begging her boyfriend to go all the way with her. With the tables turned, the song takes on much different meaning with the girl begging the boy to get intimate with her, which is not usually the way it goes in your teens. The second album was released in 2009.
If you purchased this second album of theirs on iTunes, you would have had the option to download a deluxe edition that contained ten more covers, from “Dreaming” by Blondie, Badfinger’s “Baby Blue” and the Ramones’ “I Wanna Be Sedated”. I found that having those ten extra songs made the album stronger and more enjoyable.
Due to the relationship that Hoffs had developed with Sweet, Sweet became the natural selection to be the producer of the Bangles’ 2011 album, Sweetheart of the Sun. On that album, the Bangles rediscovered the muscular musicianship of their first album, 1984’s All Over the Place, and combined it with the sweet harmonies the women had developed over the years. Sweetheart was the band’s most acclaimed album since that first one nearly three decades ago.
Finally, in 2013, Sid and Susie returned with their third covers album, entitled Under the Covers Vol. 3. This album seemed to be the most comfortable for the duo to record. First, this was their third album. Second, this was the music of Hoffs’ peers and Sweet’s teenage years. And third, these tunes were best suited for their vision. Hearing the pair duet on the R.E.M. classic “Standing Still” is a revelation, and that is the first song. They go on to nail more Eighties classics like Tom Petty’s “Free Falling” and “Trouble” by Lindsey Buckingham. They also surprised me by successfully covering “Save It for Later”, originally done by The English Beat, and Echo & the Bunnymen’s “Killing Moon”. But, their best was saved for Kirsty MacColl’s UK hit and Tracey Ullman’s surprise cover hit in the USA “They Don’t Know”. Sid and Susie do the song like MacColl’s original version, with Hoffs stressing the romantic side of the original version’s lyrics. And much like the second album, you could download three extra songs, which in the songs original versions are three of my all-time favorites: “Train in Vain” by The Clash, “You’re My Favorite Waste of Time” by Marshall Crenshaw and Prince’s “I Would Die 4 U”. Those three songs end up being better than most of the songs on the official CD release. Personally, “You’re My Favorite Waste of Time” ends up being a pop classic.
Last year, the company that released these Under the Covers, Shout Factory, as a box set called Completely Under the Covers. In the box set, all of the songs that were only available through iTunes, are now available on CD for those crazy completists like myself, though I still do not own the box set. Also, all three CDs were released on colored vinyl for Record Store Day 2016. Once again, the vinyl is something that still is not in my collection.
Overall, the Matthew Sweet and Susanna Hoffs trilogy of cover songs was a success. They are fun and make you go back to listen to the original versions. These three CDs are everything I hoped for and more. These are quiet classics that I love to pop into my CD player or pick to listen to on my iPod. My ears just love these pop and power pop classics in the hands of two masters. Maybe, one day, the duo will choose to redo some Nineties songs. I have my fingers crossed.