Duckymear turns in an unusually haunting reading of Paul Weller's "A Man of Great Promise" on YouTube.
Duckymear turns in an unusually haunting reading of Paul Weller's "A Man of Great Promise" on YouTube.

A song of great promise: a walk through YouTube cover versions

Yesterday, while checking out a video of Paul Weller playing his The Style Council-era gem "Man of Great Promise" on YouTube, I noticed in the related videos list that there was also a host of cover versions of the song, written about the premature death of Weller's childhood pal, poet and early member of The Jam, Dave Waller.

It struck me as odd. First of all, the song -- one of Weller's best ever -- is a very personal song. It was also an album track (from 1985's "Our Favourite Shop") never released as a single or charting as a hit. But it's always been one of my favorites, so I can see why others like is so much that they're moved to give it a try.

Other than that I can't really imagine what makes someone sit in front of a video camera to play a cover of a song and then post it for the world to gawk at.

But, they say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, so maybe the versions are little tributes to Paul Weller.

I couldn't help myself. I started to click.

The first version I found was by this fella playing the song in his bedroom. Despite being about the same age as Weller and sporting the same haircut and hair color, there are some obvious differences.

Chippauly also chimes in with covers of tunes by the Small Faces and Ocean Color Scene.

All the versions lack the urgency of the original, but the song has resonance for some people, including Billyhuntuk, who notes that the song, "was about one of Weller's mates Dave Waller I think ... but I'm singing it about my old mate Bob Malpas."

And Duckymear, who turns in an unusually haunting reading -- probably the best (and certainly the most self-assured) of all the covers I found on YouTube -- plays for "Brendan and Michael."

Minstrel20, who dedicates the song to his friend Shaun Dytham, has the most Weller-esque voice and replaces the standard video of him playing the tune with a photo, presumably of the performer and his friend. This version thanks to the impassioned vocal is up there with Duckymear's, reminding us that while most anyone can play the chords, putting one's heart into the vocal is the key.

In a trio of unusual videos, Stanhopeplace (whose name comes from the address of Weller's former studio and whose face we never see) plays along with the record on his 1962 Strat ...

And then with his 12-string acoustic ...

... and, finally, his six-string acoustic.

1966man tries his hand here ...

... and Logos120 gives it a go, too ...

Mattyrocknroll offers up a rare duo version ...

Weegabber donned his cowboy hat for this version, which is the most unlike the original ...

11thedogfather takes his time getting into the frame for his decent 12-string acoustic version ...

But, check out eddiecouncil playing his bass along with the original recording. Eddie looks like a most unlikely Style Council fan ...

PeteTJones opts for a solarized video to accompany his slow, folky version of the song ...

Check out this great full band version with a Japanese singer that clearly doesn't speak English but likely learned the words phonetically. It's by NICOL and recorded live in June 2008 at Futago Tamagawa "Pink Noise."

And the band played it at Shibuya Cozmos Cafe in October '08, suggesting it's a regular feature of NICOL's set.

Here is NICOL learning the song in a studio a year earlier ...

... and playing it in another setting.

Do you have a favorite YouTube cover version? Tell us about it using the Talkback feature below.

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