Take Cover! Beck Vs. The Korgis

When is a cover song better than the original? Only you can decide. This week Beck takes on the Korgis’ “Everybody’s Got To Learn Sometime.” MAGNET’s Ryan Burleson pulls the pin. Take cover!

There are many poignant topics weighed in Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind—jealousy, depression, avoidance, professional ennui, etc.—though perhaps none as penetrating as lost love. It’s easily the most unoriginal subject matter chosen to drive a film, but screenwriter Charlie Kaufman nonetheless constructed a fantastical world wherein these universally shared hurdles of human experience were depicted in wildly surreal, though palpable ways. If you’re familiar with Kaufman’s other work, notably Synecdoche, New York and Being John Malkovich, this combination of dark whimsy and believable heartbreak likely represents why you’ve invested yourself in his otherwise heady tales in the first place. Indeed, rarely but in Kaufman can a mind-erasing, borderline sci-fi narrative (viz. Eternal Sunshine) invoke such deep and earnest emotions from its viewers.

Given Kaufman’s exceptional gift for oscillating between complexity and simplicity, then, the use of “Everybody’s Got To Learn Sometime” in Eternal Sunshine‘s credits made perfect sense. Though Clementine (Kate Winslet) quite literally expunges the memory of her brief romance with the ever-pensive Joel (Jim Carrey), prompting him to do the same, the flawed lovers ultimately must face their shared hurt (thanks, Kirsten Dunst), stunting the ability of technology to trump heartbreak. Even here, the theme is not new—Aldous Huxley, Don Delillo and others wrote towering novels (see Brave New World and White Noise) pondering similar futuristic calamities—though as far as the film is concerned, love steadfastly fears no attempt to medicate its loss.

In fact, I imagine that if Delillo were ever to write the 1980 hit into one of his postmodern novels, he might be the first to describe the singing of its lyrics as part of “some ancient ritual”: an experience easily shared across centuries, localities and pathologies. Sung over a simple, immediately memorable combination of mournful chords and rhythmic flourishes, the spartan lyrics make my point:

Change your heart
Look around you
Change your heart
It will astound you
I need your lovin’
Like the sunshine

Everybody’s got to learn sometime
Everybody’s got to learn sometime
Everybody’s got to learn sometime

Whether your preference is for the new-wave-inflected original by the Korgis or the Cali-folk, Jon Brion-produced styling of Beck, the universality of the song continues, in my mind, to hold an “Imagine”-like power. Though the Brits traded Lennon’s utopianism for biological basics—our brethren across the sea need all the sunshine they can get, I suppose—each song achieves a quaint, profound salience that transcends progress, proving to be a kind-of hymn for the world weary.

Cast your vote wisely.

The Cover:

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The Original:

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3 Comments

  1. Posted January 4, 2011 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

    You should add Lesley Manville’s rendition from the movie Sparkle. It is superb.

  2. Jay T
    Posted January 14, 2011 at 9:37 am | Permalink

    Beck is no slouch…but the original is better to me. i like it in the higher key. and i like the fiddle solo better. I’ve always liked Beck’s voice but he sings this one too low. also (for anyone old enough) it reminds me of a simpler time.

  3. Joe
    Posted April 13, 2013 at 3:41 am | Permalink

    Lesley Manville’s version in “Sparkle” easily blows both of them away.