Wilco’s cover of Big Star’s “Thirteen”

9122-big-star-small-worldChoosing to cover an already gorgeous song, especially one as gorgeous as Big Star’s “Thirteen,” may seem like a safe move at first. Taking another point of view, however, there’s a huge potential to “ruin it” for everyone else. Witness: American Idol seasons 1 thru 8. If pressed, I could probably rattle off at least five other cover versions of classic tunes that almost destroy the greatness of the original.

The good news is that Wilco gets it so right that they almost record the definitive version of the song here. Wilco, after all, was bred for songs such as these, sung in the key of midwest kid. While the arrangement does sound a bit like that of BEING THERE’s “The Lonely One,” the joyfully mournful slide guitars are simply perfect. In addition, Wilco slows it down a bit, lending the song a dream-like atmosphere that puts the emphasis in all the right places. I tend to see my own youth in idealized slow motion when I listen to this song.

While I won’t go so far as to say that this cut upstages Big Star’s original, I will say that it does a great job of remaining faithful to the vision of the songwriter, introducing the track to potential new fans, AND bringing a slightly different perspective to the song. When all is said and done, I think that’s what a good cover song should do.

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