Every Friday I see Australian youth-radio-superstars, Triple J, post the latest Like A Version on their Facebook. The funny, play on word segment, ripping from Madonna’s hit single, has been a staple to an angsty hipster’s Friday morning like a cup of fresh batch brew espresso with their smashed avo on rye. I used to click, like and reshare almost every video I saw. Hell, I even paid real life money and bought a couple Like A Version compilation album to blast in my car.
But those days are behind us. As is what I like to call the Good Like A Versions — I need a better title. Truthfully, they’ve been dead for years. I’m not going to be playing to the stereotype that The Batoota Advocate so accurately portrayed the other day, but yes, Like A Version has changed significantly over the years. If we cast our eyes back to the first compilation cd from 2005, we’d see the likes of Jedediah covering Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head by Burt Bacharach, The Cat Empire covering Hotel California by The Eagles, and John Butler Trio playing Message in a Bottle by The Police. Let’s fast forward a few more years to 2009, Lisa Mitchell covered Dire Straits’ Romeo and Juliet, Whitley covered Dancing Queen and Holly Throsby covered Berlin Chair by Aus-Rock legends You Am I. If we were problem solvers, we’d be quick to notice that these handful of songs weren’t released in the same year as their performance. Shit, most of them weren’t even released in the same decade.
Like A Version was a celebration of the music that inspired the bands that played them live on air. It acted as an introduction for many to these bands. I would have had no clue about Bjork at such a young age if it wasn’t for Big Heavy Stuff’s 2005 cover of Hyberballad. Our music heroes that we’d hear on the radio would be introducing us to an older era of music, one that would be new to our ears.
As time passed and Like A Version became the smash hit that it is for Triple J, bands began playing more recent tunes; songs that were already getting, or had, significant air time on Triple J. Do you think Hotel California was ever played on a youth radio station? No, that shit was saved for Triple M’s drive home footy show. But Cat Empire gave it their little ska spin and we were introduced, if we already didn’t have parents who blasted that shit every Sunday morning, to one of the greatest songs ever made. In 2016 we had Cub Sport cover Kanye West’s Ultralight Beam, Tuka covered Big Jet Plane and Grouplove did Dune Rats’ Bullshit. Yes, we did have some oldies thrown in there like Art Vs Science Enter Sandman (which was the best Like a Version of that year) but the oldie classics are few and far between. Just the other week we had West Thebarton cover You’ve Got the Love by Florence and the Machine, LANKS cover Hayden James’ Numb and this morning Odette cover Magnolia by my favourite Bruce Springsteen cover group: Gang of Youths. All these artists already have extensive air time on Triple J. I’m pretty sure Gang of Youths are on their payroll.
The charm of Like A Version is gone, it’s long dead. It’s not that I’m getting older and I’ve stopped listening to that station, the formula for the show has significantly changed. It’s not about covering a classic song and showcasing it to a newer, younger audience anymore. It’s about taking what Triple J already plays, chewing it up and spitting it back out for a new artist to cover every Friday morning. It’s become marketing. It’s regurgitation.