Daniel Johnston’s childlike singing voice and propensity for using amateurish recording methods and basic instrumentation puts many people off his music. It’s no coincidence though, that so many artists have taken his songs and covered them. At the heart of each one is an overwhelming melody, and when delivered in a more conventional method, they can be enjoyed by millions of others. This month, we’ve tracked down our five favourite Johnston covers that you can listen to for free. But believe us, this handful of tracks is really only scratching the surface.
Eddie Vedder – Walking the Cow
Kurt Cobain may have been the grunge superstar who propelled Johnston to fame by donning one of his idiosyncratic designs on a t-shirt, but his influence extended to another giant of the Seattle scene in Eddie Vedder. His solo cover of Walking the Cow is a fragile beauty.
The Pastels – Speeding Motorcycle
This one has been covered by everyone from Yo La Tengo to Mary Lou Lord, but it’s The Pastels’ version from 1991 that stands out for us. Simple, tuneful and easy to hum along to – all traits the Glasgow band shares with Johnston, so it’s no surprise that their take on one of his best tracks works so well.
The Twilight Sad – Some Things Last a Long Time
Beck, Built to Spill and Beach House have all tried their hands at this one, but The Twilight Sad’s take on a Johnston classic is untouchable. As the ominous drone wells up throughout, James Graham bellowing: “I still think about you…” is nigh on heartbreaking. Johnston has since requested a copy of this particular cover from us.
Sparklehorse – My Yoke is Heavy
Sparklehorse frontman Mark Linkous is a close friend of Johnston’s and has toured extensively with him in the past. This camaraderie is unsurprising, considering the pair have more in common than music, having both experienced severe depression. Linkous has covered more than one Johnston track, but this is our favourite: the yoke in question, being the burden of melancholy shared by both men.
Beck – True Love Will Find You in the End
This is perhaps Johnston’s most famous song and Beck’s harmonica-led reworking gives it more polish and force. For many Johnston fans, the beauty of his music lies in its lo-fi simplistic quality. Whilst few of these covers replicate this, they provide a worthy tribute to a man who otherwise may well have flown under the radar.
Written for The Skinny