Chris Isaak’s soft-focus boudoir-rockabilly classic “Wicked Game” is one of those songs that just about all of us attempt to sing at some point, if only to confirm suspicions that our falsettos are terrible. And it’s a song that plenty of indie rock types have covered, as well. In just the past few months, Washed Out and WU LYF have tried their respective hands at it.
As it happens, Isaak is no slouch at covers himself; on the new album Beyond The Sun, he takes on the Sun Records songbook. In the email interview below, Isaak talks a bit about all those “Wicked Game” covers and, more nebulously, what makes a good cover.
STEREOGUM: “Wicked Game” is your best-known song and also your most-covered one. Do you have a favorite version of it, besides your own?
ISAAK: I remember hearing R.E.M. do a version; it was pretty cool. It’s fun to hear a band you like doing a version of your song! One time I was out on the road, and on my day off I happened to be walking past a restaurant that had a live band playing out on the balcony. Just as I walked up, the band was about halfway through “Wicked Game.” It was a black guy singing, and he was killing it! Man, I never heard it sound like that. Very cool version. Then, when he just about got to the end of the song, he looked right down at me, and I could see him thinking, “Who the hell is that guy?,” then figuring it out in his head and kinda looking uneasy. But I was smiling the whole time.
STEREOGUM: What do you think constitutes a good cover?
ISAAK: That they have fun and they put themselves into the song.
STEREOGUM: What’s your take on the Washed Out version of the song?
I think they really made it their own. Very cool idea to take it to another place with the keys instead of the guitar, and the vocals are hypnotic. Very sensuous version! It makes me want to hear more of their work.
STEREOGUM: How about the WU LYF one?
ISAAK: I don’t think I could ever get my bassman to play without a shirt, although he’s probably the only guy in the band who should. This is such a great version in that they just let it rip; they don’t hold back nothing. Powerful. The singer is just laying into it. I like it when somebody isn’t afraid to take over, and these guys really put a brand new edge to the song. Kinda dark, but I love dark!
STEREOGUM: Is there a song of yours that you’d like to hear indie bands try covering?
ISAAK: I always thought “Forever Blue” would make a good cover for someone…it is a good story, and it’s simple. I think a lot could be done with it to take it in different directions. I guess we all have been through heartaches at some point, so I see this one as fertile and common ground! I’d love to hear someone do it almost spoken with some dirge-like distorted guitar moaning in the background.
STEREOGUM: You’ve done plenty of covers over the years, and your new record Beyond The Sun is full of covers from the Sun Studio era. Do you have a favorite?
ISAAK: I think I love this kind of music the most, so for me to even pick out the songs for the album was tough! I cut 38 songs in a few days before they realized I’d go on singing forever if they didn’t stop me! We all recorded in one room, very old-school. No headphones, no tricks. It was fast and fun. I think maybe my favorite was “I Forgot To Remember To Forget.” It’s an old song. Jerry Lee Lewis cut it, Elvis cut it, Orbison. I think everybody at Sun Studio took a shot at this song. I always thought it was a great melody, and I would have to say for some reason I can’t really explain, it is my favorite song period. I guess something in there reminds me of my own life. It’s a hell of a good song. I play it a lot around my house, just sit on the stairs and sing it. Good songs stick with you.
Beyond The Sun is out now on Vanguard and available on eMusic.