Many cover songs are little more than pale imitations. But every now and then one comes along which transcends the original version.
My favourite cover version ever remains the Pet Shop Boys’ version of Always On My Mind but I’ve featured them already in this series so let’s instead take a look at the Communards’ 1986 recording of Don’t Leave Me This Way.
Formed by Bronski Beat co-founder Jimmy Somerville and Richard Coles, the band’s name is a reference to the Paris Commune, the radical socialist and revolutionary government that ruled Paris for ten weeks in the spring of 1871.
Don’t Leave Me This Way was originally recorded by Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes in 1975, although it did not chart in the UK until 1977. It reached number five in February that year and briefly coincided in the top 20 with Thelma Houston’s version, which eventually peaked at number 13 the following month and topped the Billboard chart in the US.
The Communards topped the UK charts for four weeks with their Hi-NRG version, with Somerville sharing vocals with jazz singer Sarah Jane Morris. It ended up as the UK’s biggest selling single of 1986 and marked the first of three top ten singles for the duo (the others being So Cold The Night and a cover of the Jackson 5’s Never Can Say Goodbye).
The band split up in 1988. Jimmy Somerville continues as a solo artist, releasing a total of six albums to date. Richard Coles is now a vicar and Radio 4 presenter and can sometimes be seen on TV as a talking head, particularly in 1980s retrospectives.
Of the three versions of the song, the fizzing energy of the arrangement and the contrast between Somerville’s falsetto and Morris’s deeper register make the Communards’ interpretation stand head and shoulders above its two predecessors.
Compare the three for yourself and see if you agree.
A song for Saturday