Soundgarden’s song Black Hole Sun was a grunge classic – but Paul Anka turned it into an old time swing song – and it works….
When I 1st heard Paul Anka’s jazz cover version of Smells Like Teen Spirit on (the now sadly defunct) Jazz FM, I have to say that I thought it was a joke. But the more I listened to it I realised that he had managed to keep the overtones of despair despite replacing guitars with horns and strings, so decided to buy the album that it came from Rock Swings (I’m not going to try to defend that title though!)
What most amazed me about the album was that, despite the quality of the Nirvana cover, it wasn’t the best one on the album. True (originally by Spandau Ballet) had a real sense of longing and romance, It’s A Sin (Pet Shop Boys) was positively repentant and the version of Eyes Without A Face is still the only version of any song by Billy Idol that I have ever liked (did you see this monstrosity?!).
But the best track by far was (& is) the cover of Black Hole Sun by Soundgarden. The original was a bit of a grunge classic; all throaty vocals, dark (slightly self loathing) lyrics, and long bursts of classic rock guitar (Soundgarden were always a bit more Van Halen than Nirvana). But Paul Anka somehow manages to improve it.
It starts with nothing but Anka’s perfectly Vegas voice, and some gentle strings. Having sung lyrics such as Boiling heat, Summer stench, ‘Neath the black, The sky looks dead in a perfectly straigh and rather beautiful way, the full swing orchestra kicks in and he’s off. It may all sound rather ridiculous (and in many ways it is, but then most great music is), but it’s his voice that manages to stop it slipping into parody.
It’s probably to do with the fact that Paul Anka is someone who’s been in the music business since 1954 and has undoubtedly seen and done more than Soundgarden will ever manage, and that his voice carries those years of emotion and experience. This is the guy who wrote the lyrics to My Way for Christ’s sake, and if that isn’t a song that expresses the inherent futility of life better than anything written by a bunch of poor little white boys in plaid shirts, then I don’t know what does.
So whether you’re a lover of jazz, of strange cover versions that shouldn’t work but do, or an old grunge fan who probably ought to have grown up by now, then Paul Anka’s cover of Soundgarden’s Black Hole Sun really ought to be something you try to swing to (sorry!)