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Tied for First: “She’s Leaving Home” by Syreeta

Covers in conversation

<p>Syreeta’s cover of “She’s Leaving Home” by The Beatles wins the title of best cover ever crafted, and best song, too.&nbsp;</p>

Syreeta’s cover of “She’s Leaving Home” by The Beatles wins the title of best cover ever crafted, and best song, too. 

Cover songs are a wonderful artistic medium. They create a never-ending web of connections — artists to artists, artists to listeners, listeners to listeners. Covers are the foraged fruits of a musical community. Personally, they’ve connected me to some of my all-time favorite artists. As a pre-teen, I first found out about Radiohead from a cover of “Creep,” performed by an a capella group on that one TV show “The Sing-Off” — back when a capella was really in its heyday. The Cursed Years. I really don’t want to imagine being a college student back in 2009. Argyle everywhere. Yes We Can-Not Dress. Nightmare material. 

But back to the point. In their simplest form, covers are reimaginations, reinterpretations and remodelings. They pay respect to the grounded, original ideas, while delicately garnishing in freshly minced flavors. Contrary to definition, they somehow make the act of replication inventive. This seemingly antithetical innovation takes different forms. Some covers totally shake the room — Ginuwine and Timbaland’s cover of Prince’s “When Doves Cry '' was, to put it softly, extremely bold, but gave us an unforgettably groovy, sticky final product that has accompanied me in many a shower. Some covers provide subtle re-imaginations — Paramore’s gorgeous cover of “Passionfruit,” on occasion, makes me forget Drake — and hardly remember Aubrey. Some covers, well, are as straightforward as you can get. Even though Rihanna’s cover of “Same Ol’ Mistakes'' only adds new vocals, she somehow makes the song uniquely her own — which, to be frank, is not super surprising for Rihanna. 

But to me, covers are in their best form when they seem to be in genuine conversation with the original piece. The kinds of covers that listen, feel and reshape through re-experience. No song better exemplifies this approach than Syreeta’s cover of “She’s Leaving Home” by The Beatles — and not only does this win the title of best cover ever crafted, but best song, too. 

The Beatles found the inspiration for the song from a Daily Mail headline. A young woman, as the track title suggests, left home. Melanie Coe, 17 at the time, ran for reasons only she will fully understand — perhaps feeling a lack of love, an insatiable desire for liberation or any other unresolved entanglement of adolescent angst. The closing verse puts the sentiments in sum — “Something inside / that was always denied / for so many years.”

The lyrics themselves are written both in first and third person, so we definitively hear the story but aren’t fully transported into any hearts or minds. In my eyes, The Beatles' version takes us to the late-night news reporter, softly conveying the saturnine story through a scrolling teleprompter. However, Syreeta’s version takes us into the emptiness of the Coes’ barren living room — both the emptiness Coe felt in an occupied room and the emptiness her parents felt in the aftermath of her disappearance. 

She does this in a few ways. To start, Syreeta rearranges the song structure. With support from frequent collaborator Stevie Wonder, she transforms the song into a ballad. For me, I was raised on note-belters and octave-piercers, so my pleasure with this change checks out in my head. I’m a sucker for semi-gaudy emotionality — Leo moon reporting. But also, the shift makes sense for the story, as ballads are a clear-cut means to streamline musical emotion. And this story, it goes without saying, is chock-full. 

However, what ultimately makes this cover so impressive is its ability to transport listeners into the hearts and minds of an unimaginable situation. The sunken heartbreak, the empty confusion, the disdainful concern and the mile-a-minute amalgamation of internal turmoil contained within a child running from home will never fully be put to wax, paper or film — simply because those feelings can never be fully captured. And I think Syreeta gets that. Her cover doesn’t attempt to try to understand those feelings — it simply attempts to feel those feelings. On “She’s Leaving Home,” Syreeta isn’t in conversation with The Beatles — she gracefully takes on an impossible conversation with the Coe family. 

Syreeta’s vocal performance shepherds us through the undertow of the floodwaters, allowing each tug and pull to tug and pull. In the song, her voice is not necessarily sorrowful, angry or resentful — it’s just, well, full. It’s powerful, it’s haunting and it’s urgent. It’s an incomplete swelling with no foreseeable remedy, like an endlessly burning tea kettle with no handle. Her vocals lead us inside the emotional ecosystem of that frozen living room, where emptiness is present and makes itself known — a cloak of darkness in a sunlit room, where the silence gets louder with every word unspoken. 

Meanwhile, Stevie’s backing vocoder vocals emanate a pleading, dissonant numbness through the track, expelling the mutterings and ruminations of why, why, why — attempting to find stability through a pursuit of explanation. “She’s Leaving Home” contains such arresting power and elegance because it gives silence a chance to scream. 

That’s what sets this cover apart — it allows for an imperfect and incomplete mosaic of feeling to be imperfect and incomplete, while maintaining its overbearing omnipresence. It leaves an unfinished puzzle on the Coes’ dining table strewn across an untouched surface, its pieces made of stone. Syreeta moves us without moving the pieces because she knows she’ll never be able to lift them. 

If my tear ducts were more efficient, I think I’d actually really despise this song because of the potential frequency of watershed. But nevertheless, every time I hear it, it stops me in my tracks. In totality, “She’s Leaving Home” captures both lightning and thunder in a bottle — and all I can do is sit in awe of how it’s contained.


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