'Wherever I Lay My Hat (That's My Home)' was originally written and recorded by Marvin Gaye in 1962. In Gaye's hands, it's a jaunty, cocky number that sees Gaye cast himself as jack the lad, merrily loving and leaving every woman he meets:"For I'm the type of boy who is always on the roam. Wherever I lay my hat that's my home" - no commitments and no regrets, it's a young man's song sung by a man in his prime.
Paul Young was only five years older than Gaye when he recorded this version, but rather than following the same footloose footsteps, Young fast forwards to give the viewpoint of the same person some twenty years on. Gone is the chirpy whistling and devil may care attitude to be replaced by the bleak portrait of an emotional cripple staring at an old age alone. The lyrics are the same, but interpretation is everything. Gaye's reading of:"By the look in your eye I can tell you're gonna cry, is it over me? If it is, save your tears for I'm not worth it, you see" is the lothario's standard 'it's not you it's me' cop out at the end of a relationship that only he wants to end, but Young's interpretation is devastatingly honest - in recognising what a misogynistic heel he is, he infuses the lines with genuine hurt and self pity at the self realisation than his lifestyle has left him incapable of love in either the giving or receiving.
The emptiness of the vocal is echoed by the emptiness of the music surrounding it. Almost ambient in quality, it eschews all the beat and bounce of the original for a desolate landscape of sound that's barely there and gives the anguish of the vocal room to resonate alone. Instead of dating and spoiling the way of so may eighties tunes, Pino Palladino's fretless bass runs add a layer of earthereality to the sound of a singer who can't comprehend how his life has turned out the way it has.
A white 'soul singer' covering a Motown legend is generally a recipe for disaster, but they say a broken clock is right at least twice a day. In terms of 'Wherever I Lay My Hat', not only were Young's clocks stopped at exactly the right moment, but every planet in the heavens was aligned and tuned into the music of the spheres for him to pull this one out of the hat. Fluke? Maybe, because - Alas! - such alignments don't last for long; a mere second later and the clock is as wrong as it can be, and Young never again came remotely close to equalling, let alone bettering, his work on this track.