Long title, great song.
Nick Lowe first recorded “What’s So Funny ‘Bout Peace, Love & Understanding” in 1974. But the song didn’t take off until an up-and-coming Brit named Elvis Costello covered it in 1979. Originally, Costello’s version was on the B-side of a Lowe single. If some of our readers don’t know what a “B-side” is then the Listening Room will have to accept that it is indeed staffed by old-timers.
Regardless, Costello’s version was released as hits like “Oliver’s Army” were climbing the charts and helping establish Costello as a force to be reckoned with. His version of the Lowe tune, which came while Lowe was producing Costello and his band, the Attractions, helped solidify his rise in the music biz.
Lowe himself is one of popular music’s most accomplished performers, songwriters and producers – and one of the most overlooked.
He wrote a number of other hits, including “Cruel to be Kind,” “So It Goes” and “I Love the Sound of Breaking Glass.” He’s had a long-running collaborative relationship with friend and one-time Rockpile bandmate Dave Edmunds, whom Lowe has also produced. A number of Lowe’s songs have been covered by other bands, but “What’s So Funny…” is noteworthy for two primary reasons:
First, it helped catapult Costello’s career – and it’s hard to argue it didn’t evolve into a legendary one.
Secondly, the different approaches to the song that the two performers take makes for more interesting listening. There are covers that simply imitate the original. Consider the hair band Quiet Riot’s obsession with the earlier rock hits of British rockers Slade, MTV hits like “Mama We’re All Crazee Now” and “Come On Feel The Noise.”
But, personally, I prefer covers that offer a different take on a song. The clips below include a recent Lowe rendition heavy on acoustic guitar and with a mellower feel. Costello’s classic cover is closer to an explosion of sound that helped define the post-punk, New Wave sound that was evolving at the time. See what you think:
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