I’ve written before about how a good cover song is some kind of weird mix of the familiar and the new. That’s not just limited to artists covering other artists’ songs. There’s been a spate recently of older classic rock stars re-recording their old songs in some new way. Most recently, Peter Gabriel followed in Sting’s footsteps (how often does that happen?) and re-recorded many of his old hits and classics with an orchestra. Now I’m not opposed to something like this, although I do view it kind of skeptically. At its worst, it’s just repackaging a greatest hits collection to make people think they’re getting something brand new. but when done with some style and artistic integrity, the results can be breathtaking.
Time changes everyone. The perspective you have at 18 is different from the perspective you have at 25 or 30. Middle-age brings not just new aches and pains and responsibilities, but the kind of experience that you wish you were 20 years younger to appreciate. The same goes for musicians. The songs they had hits with as 20-somethings become different when they sing them in their 40s or 50s. They often develop a dislike of some old hits because they’ve had to perform the same songs over and over and over. Re-recording a song can be a way to give a song a new life. Or they can just sing it with someone else.
Cyndi Lauper’s monster hit “Time After Time” was impossible to escape during the 80s, and it’s still kind of hard to get away from. It’s one of those songs you know even if you don’t like it very much. A sweet, yearning, aching song, “Time After Time” is full of the kind heartbreak of first love ending. It’s a vow and a promise: “If you fall I will catch you, I’ll be waiting, time after time.” It can be hard to move on, so you promise to stay in touch forever, to never let each other go, even when you know that’s impossible. It’s a story everyone’s heard a million times before, especially if you’ve heard “Time After Time” a few hundred times.
Lauper makes this song resonate anew playing it acoustically and sharing the vocals with the ethereal-voiced Sarah McLachlan. There’s new layers to it with a new voice. Turning “Time After Time” into a duet is one of the most natural evolutions of a song I’ve ever heard; part of me thinks this song should have always been a duet. There are always two people in a relationship, two points of view, two hearts that break when things go wrong. This version highlights this duality, with the disparate voices of Lauper and McLachlan blending seamlessly together. It makes an already lovely song that much better.