. . .
“Arms of Love” is on the short list of Prettiest Songs Ever Recorded, Robyn Hitchcock Division. It was also the first Robyn Hitchcock song I was looking forward to hearing, and it was the rare Robyn Hitchcock song that had been covered by another artist prior to Robyn putting our his own version.
That artist, of course, was R.E.M., who had been intertwined with Hitchcock since 1988 — Peter Buck was basically the fourth Egyptian and Michael Stipe had sung on two of the better of the Perspex Island-era songs, “She Doesn’t Exist” and “Dark Green Energy.”
So it’s not surprising that they chose to throw their friend some royalties by covering his song on the b-side of one of their most beloved singles — “Man on the Moon,” for those of you keeping score at home — what is surprising is how different the two versions are.
R.E.M.’s is basically just an acoustic guitar — clearly the same one that was used on “Man on the Moon — accompanied by bass, minimal drums and a ghostly organ, plus backing vocals. But the Egyptians version is keyboard laden, dominated by an organ drone plus what sounds like a synth and Morris Windsor playing digital drums that aren’t even bothering with a straight beat. Over which, Robyn sings one of his lovelier melodies.
Maybe tonight you’re aching
For someone you’re dreaming of
Wait till the dawn is breaking
Into the arms of love
Maybe tonight you’re crying
Like a poor wounded dove
Any time now you’re flying
Into the arms of love
As “Arms of Love” progresses, it gets bigger and ghostlier all at the same time: Robyn kicks in with some rhythm guitar, Andy Metcalfe adds a piano hook, and eventually Windsor breaks into a backbeat Robyn plays what sounds like an e-bow for the solo, but it could easily just be a synth. It really doesn’t sound like any other Robyn Hitchcock & The Egyptians song, and whether or not that was a reaction to the R.E.M. version, or what Robyn had in his head all along, I have no idea. But it’s really pretty, regardless, to the point whether I think they should have made it the single instead of the half-grating, half-amazing “The Yip Song.”
Not that it would have mattered anyways: it was clear to all involved that whatever window existed for Robyn Hitchcock to break through from his eternal cult status was definitely closing, which I still think was too bad, though things have turned out pretty well, all things considered.
“The Arms of Love”
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