The cover of 1984 (updated)

“The typescript of George Orwell’s latest novel reached London in mid December, as promised. Warburg recognised its qualities at once (“amongst the most terrifying books I have ever read”) and so did his colleagues. An in-house memo noted “if we can’t sell 15 to 20 thousand copies we ought to be shot”.

- From the Guardian’s look back at 1984, the “Masterpiece that killed George Orwell”.

1984 is no longer the book that’s most influential on me, or my favourite, but it is still a part of who I am – like a literary tattoo. I read it at just the right age and the right place – a wordy 17 year old at college in Luton, obsessed with books and how they describe the world – and I’ve got some beautiful copies of it at home (including a beautiful illustrated one) as mementos. Penguin recently posted up a competition on Twitter to win a signed print of the Shephard Fairey image adorning the the current 1984; you had to come up with an image Penguin’s publicist can use on his Twitter page that reflects the book. I pulled two contenders from my Flickr account:

Plugboard

It’s a shot of the Colossus computer at Bletchley Park. I liked the flatness of the colours, the lack of shadows, and the suggestion of words being monitored. And also, of course, the reference to “the commons”. In the end though, I went for this one:

Rothko colours

A favourite of mine, snapped on the iPhone at Tate’s Rothko show. I think it’s funnier and stranger than a lot of 1984-derived images tend to be; of course, it doesn’t shy away from the central darkness of the novel, of how bleak life is when words cannot be trusted.

Update: I won!

Can You Hear Me Calling? Vampire Weekend cover Fleetwood Mac

At some point, I will launch a blog entirely devoted to cover songs – they’re a great way to hear musicians taking on melodies and choruses they’d never normally write, and there’s great pleasure to be had in the way a cover puts the stresses in other places: different lyrics, different parts of the melody. (Biffy Clyro’s cover of Rihanna’s Umbrella is a fantastic example of this, turning her robo-sung version’s futuristic, chromed power-chords into something earnest, shivering and down-to-earth.) In these DRM-clad times, there’s also something powerful in the way a cover says no-one owns a song, only a version of it. Most of all, covers affirm that there are times when other people’s words and feelings do better – or are more accurate, more precise, more powerful and timely – than your own.

Hypeful put up a list of the best cover songs of 2008, and while there’s a fair amount of crap on there1, and a couple degraded by dubious bootleg quality2 there are two fantastic covers well worth a download. The first is the Last Shadow Puppets’ cover of Rihanna’s SOS, done in their own creepy Ennio Morricone/Mad Men style. Best of the list though, is actually its number one – Vampire Weekend covering Fleetwood Mac’s Everywhere. Their vocals aren’t as smooth as the originals, but they’ve amped up the rhythm, stripped the sugary synths and it all fits beautifully.

The Vampire Weekend album was one of my favourites from last year, and is well worth picking up – plus, if you use this the link to get it from Amazon’s MP3 store I’ll get a couple of digital shekels.

1 Gnarls Barkley, who cover Radiohead’s ‘Reckoner’ using the medium of interpretive gurning.
2 Spoon, doing Panic! Should have been great, but the recording is very murky.