This weekend I heard one of my favorite songs on the radio, “I Want You To Want Me” by Cheap Trick, and it occured to me that I’d heard several covers of the song, perhaps more than any other song I know–I don’t by any means claim that it’s the most covered song ever, just that’s it’s been covered a lot. Which version, I wondered aloud on Twitter, is the best? I’ve since listened to approximately 25 versions of the song, which I don’t necessarily recommend to anyone unless you really, really love it, and I can say with some finality that the answer is not in any way surprising. Let’s take a look.
The first version of the song, which most people have never heard, is the studio version. This version was okay, but kind of boring; the band itself said the song “lacked any kind of balls,” which is a pretty fair assessment. The one you’ve all heard is actually from a live concert a few years later, at the Budokan stadium in Japan, and the reason you’ve heard that one instead of the original is because that song, in that performance, is the reason Cheap Trick is famous. They were never very big in the US or UK or really anywhere but Japan, where for some reason they were huge, so they very wisely capitalized on that fame with a live concert, blew the roof off the place, and the rest is history.
Cheap Trick became one of those bands that every other band in existence cites as an inspiration, especially (and oddly, since their styles don’t match at all) a lot of grunge and alternative bands like Pearl Jam and Smashing Pumpkins. The Pumpkins have an okay cover they do in some of their live shows, but it’s not my favorite. Of the straight rock/metal covers I have to give the prize to Warrant, which best captures the energy and guitar-y-ness that makes me love the song so much. Punchline does a pretty good version, too.
Thanks to the movie 10 THINGS I HATE ABOUT YOU, which heavily featured the band Letters to Cleo singing the song, it’s become popular with a lot of “chick rock” bands, and I love me some chick rock bands. Cleo’s version is awesome, definitely in the top 5, but I was surprised by how much I liked the version from KSM, a manufactured girl-pop band from Disney. I also really like Aly Michalka’s version–another pre-fab Disney creation–but she kept pronouncing “me” as “may” and it drove me crazy. Lindsay Lohan did a live performance of the song somewhere, but coming from her it felt like a cry for attention. Maybe that’s my own prejudices speaking, I don’t know. I couldn’t get into it.
It’s a pretty popular country song as well, with versions from Dwight Yoakam and Chris Isaak. I’m not a country guy by any means, but I have to say I preferred Isaak’s bouncy, rockabilly take on it. Yoakam gets extra points for SLING BLADE, though, for whatever that’s worth.
After listening to 25 versions of the same song, it should come as no surprise that the ones that most impressed me were the versions that adapted the crap out of it, changing the style and the genre and really shaking it up. Damhnait Doyle sings a very soft, sweet version unlike anything else out there, and I highly recommend it. Rob and Fab (the two dudes who pretended to be Milli Vanilli, in their post-Milli Vanilli incarnation) did a wacky pop/reggae/rap version that could have been amazing, but ended up feeling (ironically) very artificial. The wildest and craziest cover I found was a Nortena version from a Mexican movie called RUDO Y CURSI, in which Gael Garcia Bernal does an ‘obviously intended to be terrible‘ video of it. Nortena is basically bad-A cowboy polka music, which sounds ridiculous until you remember that every drug dealer in the world thinks it’s the coolest thing ever. You don’t want to mess with Nortena.
The best version I found anywhere, and the only one that could rival the Budokan version for sheer awesomeness, was another cross-genre adaptation by the Holmes Brothers, a gospel group, which took the hard-rocking “I Want You To Want Me” and turned it into a soft, slow, heartbreaking song about lost love. It’s gorgeous. I wasn’t familiar with the Holmes Brothers before, but you can bet I’ve listened to a lot of their stuff in the last few days.
So. Overall, the best version available is none other than the version that made the song famous in the first place: Cheap Trick live at Budokan. It’s hard to argue with the classics, though I think you’ll agree that I gave it a pretty good effort. For a top five, I’d rank them thusly:
1. Cheap Trick, Live at Budokan
2. The Holmes Brothers
3. Damhnait Doyle
4. Letters to Cleo
(With a special prize for Gael Garcia Bernal’s “Quiero Que Me Quieras,” because it is insane.)
If you’re looking for a list of most of the versions I watched, and some more detailed info on the song itself, the wiki article is, as always, a great place to start. That’s also where you’ll learn that my Sunday morning tweet was a very timely one, since apparently April 1 is Cheap Trick Day in Illinois. That seems like an appropriate choice, all things considered. Also, I’m just glad somebody shares my obsession.