For some reason, people don’t like to admit when they first heard a song. The cool thing to do nowadays is act like you knew of every song ever, especially if it’s more than a few weeks old. I’m no different, though I wish I could be. But, at least for now, I will go the different route and admit that one of my favorite songs is 40 years old and I’ve only known of it for three years.
The song I’m referring to is called “Strangers.” Originally it was done by British Invasion legends The Kinks, and while I want to say it was ingrained into my brain through osmosis or my uber-hip parents affixing giant earmuff headphones on my mom’s belly while I was in utero, that simply isn’t true.
The first time I heard “Strangers” was in Wes Anderson’s surprisingly underrated film The Darjeeling Limited. Anderson, who is both beloved and maligned among the hipster elite for some perceived pomposity (because no, we can’t enjoy ANYTHING at face value … well, besides Radiohead), has made a career of unearthing forgotten classic rock tunes for his soundtracks. For The Darjeeling Limited he focused his attentions on The Kinks’ 1970 album Lola Versus Powerman and the Moneygoround, Part One. This movie reintroduced me to rocker “Powerman” and marked the first time I heard the beautiful “This Time Tomorrow” and “Strangers,” and I was immediately taken by the tunes. In fact, I rushed to the nearest computin’ machine and ordered me up a double-disc greatest hits of The Kinks and Lola Versus Powerman Blah Blah Etc.
Though I knew I had a new favorite classic rock band to turn to, those albums kind of got lost in the shuffle of my ever-expanding iTunes library. About six months later, that changed. My friends Peter and Katrina (collectively known as Petrina), who I watched The Dajeeling Limited with that first time, got hitched fresh off the new year in 2009, and for their first dance they hand-picked “Strangers” (I know, right? Adorable). From then on I had a new appreciation for the song, especially since the lyrics fit their (or any) relationship so well (“Strangers on this road we are on/ We are not two/ We are one”).
Those two packed up and moved to Chicago shortly thereafter, which later allowed me the excuse to visit them as a way to see Soundgarden at Lollapalooza. No doubt, those Kinks songs were played once or twice during our week together in a cramped bible college dorm (thanks to a fluke fire in their apartment building days before I arrived).
As much as I loved “Strangers,” it didn’t reach pantheon status in my personal file until just recently. See, this spring I started listening to Baltimore-based melancholic shoegazers Wye Oak after they were announced for the latest edition of Sasquatch!, and part of my introduction to them was a tremendous version of “Strangers” from the A.V. Club’s genius Undercover series. Lead singer Jenn Wasner and guest Jonathan Meiburg of Shearwater (nope, never heard of that band either) harmonize their voices into a beautiful blend, Wasner wails a buzz-tastic guitar solo, and drummer/keyboardist Andy Stack steals the show with simple mallet-on-snare cracks and holier-than-holy organ swells. It’s off the cuff and loose, yet one of the greatest versions of any song I’ve ever heard.
From time to time I hear the anti-covers argument, that some artists should be covered and some shouldn’t. If that were true, The Kinks would certainly be in the “untouchable” class, but I don’t believe that reverence requires the sacrifice of interpretation. Otherwise, this chestnut of ear-pleasing goodness never could have existed. And what a damn shame that would have been.