Dusty Springfield’s song “I Just Don’t Know What to Do With Myself” is nothing short of a classic. But it is also a cover, which has been performed by artists many times.
Patrick Bryant should know that. He searched for covers of the song, and it turns out there are plenty.
For two hours on Massachusetts Institute of Technology radio station WMBR, “Subject to Change” host Bryant selects a single song sung by a variety of artists and genres. As he discovered, covers seem to take on a different shape with each artist who sings it. There’s soul, R&B and even Greek country disco.
The idea came from a place of boredom. Bryant, a labor lawyer, spent a lot of time in record stores and picked up cheap records. After a while, he noticed that many artists were singing the same song.
“Part of the reason I’m so fascinated is that you would have the same song covered by many different artists, sometimes competing with each other to try and see if it would work with one in particular,” he said.
“I Don’t Know What To Do With Myself” was written by lyricist Hal David and composer Burt Bacharach. The first person to sing the now iconic lyrics was Chuck Jackson in the 60s, followed by Tommy Hunt.
But it was Dusty Springfield’s version that catapulted the song into popularity.
Other artists like Smokey Robinson, Dionne Warwick, Andy Williams and Isaac Hayes will soon follow with their own interpretations and will seem to have a snowball effect as singers around the world cover the popular song.
Bryant says it was the TikTok of the time.
“It’s a way for people to communicate with each other and sometimes in a very inventive and unusual way,” he says.
But not all of the songs were chosen by Bryant for the radio show. One of them being the White Stripes version. The reason? Bryant says he wanted to make room for lesser-known versions from artists like Rigmor Gustafsson, who brings a smooth, singsong vocal to the song.
Other tracks Bryant highlights for his show include “Little Green Apples,” a song he considers “dopey and downright boring.” Yet he was surprised to discover a wealth of R&B funk versions of it.
Another is “Children, Go Where I Send Thee”, traditionally a gospel song that has been performed by folk, gospel and soul artists.
Bryant points to a New York Times Magazine article where author Ingrid Rojas Contreras reflects on the power of repetition and its meditative benefits. She writes how listening to something over and over again had an unusual effect on her. Instead of becoming boring, it allowed her to focus.
Bryant hopes his show will do the same.
“Maybe after two hours of song, there are people who are definitely going to be a little sick or nauseous, so to speak,” he says. “But maybe there are people who become a bit more open and appreciate what they’ve heard.”
Alexander Tuerk produced this interview and edited it for broadcast with Jill Ryan. Jeannette Muhammad adapted this interview for the web.