This is the 12th post in a weekly, yearlong series. Read about it here and see the list of previous songs here. A new post about a different song will be posted each Monday throughout 2016. You can listen to the songs in a Spotify playlist.
“I Only Want To Be With You” was a seminal song for Dusty Springfield, as well as for England and the US. It was important for Springfield, as it was her first single she released as a solo artist after leaving The Springfields. It holds a special distinction in England’s music scene, as it was one of the songs performed on the first episode of “Top of the Pops.” And it was noteworthy in the US for being the first British Invasion hit that was not by The Beatles.
This was one of many success for Springfield, who has been dubbed Britain’s “best ever pop singer” and had a prolific, wide-ranging career that included pop, soul, and R&B. But for lyricist Mike Hawker and arranger Ivor Raymonde, “I Only Want To Be With You” was career-defining. The Telegraph’s obituary for Hawker noted that he “brought a blend of toe-tapping optimism and rhyming wit to songs that detailed love on the rocks.” When paired with strings, drums and horns, Hawker’s lyrics sound almost sweet. But on their own, the words suggest a romance that isn’t based on love or respect, but abuse or obsession:
Now hear me darling, I just want to be beside you everywhere
As long as we’re together, honey, I don’t care
‘Cause you started something, can’t you see
That ever since we met you’ve had a hold on me
No matter what you do, I only want to be with you
I said, no matter, no matter what you do, I only want to be with you
There could be a couple things at play. The narrator could be a stalker obsessed with the object of her affection, not realizing that the relationship doesn’t exist except in her mind. The narrator could also be a victim of Stockholm Syndrome, putting up with her cruel and abusive lover because “you’ve had a hold on me/No matter what you do.” Or, the narrator could be both obsessed and abusive, like Kathy Bates’ character in “Misery.” For all we know, she’s singing this song to someone she has tied up in her house, held captive. It might sound macabre to suggest, but the lopsided power struggle between two partners has continued to be rich material for radio-friendly pop songs, including The Police’s “Every Breath You Take” and Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe.”
The Bay City Rollers covered the song in 1976 for the album “Dedication,” calling it “I Only Wanna Be With You.” The band kept the upbeat tempo of Springfield’s version, maintaining the tension between Hawker’s lyrics and Raymonde’s arrangement. The strings and horns of Springfield’s version are still there, but by adding amped-up electric guitar, the band applied the same ’70s radio rock sound that it would apply to its cover of “Rebel Rebel.” But for all the attempts to appeal to a rock audience, the song still has the bubblegum pop essentials of a Bay City Rollers song: sweet harmonies and “ooh ahh” backing vocals. It peaked at Number 4 on the UK Singles Chart and Number 12 on the US Billboard Hot 100, which were the exact same positions at which Springfield’s version peaked in 1964.
Before Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart performed as Eurythmics, they were in a post-punk pop rock band called The Tourists. The band covered “I Only Want To Be With You” for its second album, “Reality Effect.” The cover was the biggest hit for the band, reaching Number 4 on the UK Singles Chart, just as the Springfield and Bay City Rollers versions had. This song doesn’t capture the Lennox/Stewart sound we’ve cherished, as the guitar-keyboard ratio might seems off, but Tourists-era Lennox sang with a confidence and badassery that would fully reveal itself on “Missionary Man.”
The Flirts was a band put together by producer Bobby Orlando. The three members were the face of the group, but Orlando was the sole songwriter and performer. The Flirts’ first album, “10¢ a Dance,” was released in 1982 and featured a quirky Hi-NRG cover of “I Only Want To Be With You.” The quirky keyboards are amusing, but most noteworthy part of this version is its vocals. The style is a cross between spoken word and singsong, not unlike the style used by comedian Julie Brown on her 1987 album, “Trapped in the Body of a White Girl.” It’s a goofy cover that’s enjoyable not for its take on Springfield’s song, but for being a time capsule of the early ’80s.
Singer Samantha Fox covered “I Only Want To Be With You” as “I Only Wanna Be With You” for her third album, “I Wanna Have Some Fun.” Fox’s vocals on the synth-driven remake sound so perky and exuberant that the Springfield version sounds restrained and reserved in comparison. It has the dance-pop feel of the rest of Fox’s album, though it feels a little bubblegum compared to other song, particularly the innuendo-heavy title track (“Of course I love you/But naughty girls need love, too.”)
Danish metal band Volbeat’s cover of “I Only Wanna Be With You” appeared on its 2005 album, “The Strength / The Sound / The Songs.” It’s unrelenting, with the crunchy guitars and pounding drums you would expect from a European metal band. And yet Michael Poulsen sounds lighter than most metal singers, because his method of singing is not to scream. Critics have said Volbeat’s sound comes from Poulsen’s desire to bring a rock ethos to metal, which might be why his delivery is soothing compared to that of his peers.
Australian singer Tina Arena covered the song for her 2007 album, “Songs of Love & Loss.” The horns and drums of Springfield’s original in this version, which starts off with Arena singing over a bare instrumental arrangement. By the end, she’s booming over soaring strings, sounding more like Celine Dion than Springfield. Arena’s voice is fine, but this version stands out for how creepy the lyrics are when sung at a slower tempo. “Now hear me darling, I just want to be beside you everywhere/As long as we’re together, honey, I don’t care” sounds like youthful puppy love when heard in the peppy, upbeat versions sung by singers who were in their early to mid twenties. But when sung slowly by someone 20ish years older, those lyrics no longer sound like stream-of-consciousness gushing, but like the calm words of an overly attached sociopath who could go “Fatal Attraction” and murder some bunnies. Just listen.
OK, you listened, yes? And she totally sounds like she’s willing to murder some bunnies for whomever she’s singing to, right? Right?
Country singer Shelby Lynne’s “I Only Want To Be With You” appeared on her 2008 tribute to Springfield, “Just A Little Lovin.'” Lynne’s vocal talents were the main attraction on this album, as the instrumentation was bare and the tempo was slowed down on many of the songs. Lynne’s voice is so versatile that she doesn’t sound like a traditional country singer, and certainly doesn’t sound like contemporary commercial country singers. With the exception of the twangy “Willie And Lauramae Jones,” the album sounds like a mix of jazz and Southern soul. Her version of “I Only Want To Be With You” is fine, but with its bossa nova beat and slower tempo, it’s more of a coffee shop song than a jam.
“I Only Want To Be With You” has been translated into several languages, with the Spanish version being covered multiple times. 1987. “Ahora Te Puedes Marchar,” which translated to “Now You Can Leave,” was recorded by both Lita Torelló and Silvana Velasco within a year of Springfield’s version. Both are faithful to the original arrangement, such that the only discernible difference between Soringfield’s and Torelló’s is the language. The casual listener would think Springfield sang on both tracks.
Mexican singer Luis Miguel recorded a cover of “Ahora Te Puedes Marchar” in 1987. It was a huge hit for him, reaching Number One on the Billboard Hot Latin Tracks chart. At age 17, he was the youngest person to reach Number One on that chart, beating Julio Iglesias’ previous record. Like Fox’s “I Only Wanna Be With You,” Miguel’s “Ahora Te Puedes Marchar” features late ’80s keyboards that only make the song campier to 2016 ears.
As I mentioned in the introduction to this series, how we rate cover songs compared to the originals is subject to the whims of our experiences, specifically which version we heard first and with whom we associate the song.
When my family got cable in the late ’80s, my brother figured out that we could watch pay-per-view for free if we switched the channel at least once every two minutes. As long as you switched channels before the two minute mark, you could avoid being charged. And we could avoid having to ask permission to watch stuff we knew our parents wouldn’t ever allow us to watch.
In my memory, the only channel we switched back to from the pay-per-view channels was MTV, and in my memory, we always switched to MTV during a Samantha Fox video. Specifically, “I Only Wanna Be With You.” Whether this was actually the case, who knows. She was ubiquitous on MTV in those days.
One day, I tried the two-minute trick on my own. But I didn’t flip it off the channel in time. I won’t tell you what I was watching, but it was not something that a 7-year-old should have watched. I had no context for understanding what I was seeing, but I knew I probably shouldn’t be watching it.
The way I remember it, I realized I had been on the channel too long and switched to MTV. And in my mind, MTV was showing Samantha Fox. She was on the beach for some spring break special or some summer promotion. Who knows if that’s actually what was on the TV. I probably shouldn’t trust the memory of 7-year-old Patrick, which is good, because he certainly wasn’t trustworthy to change the channel in time.
If I were going solely by my taste in music, I’d pick The Tourists’ version as my favorite cover of “I Only Want To Be With You.” But as we know, we bring baggage into perspectives on music, and Samantha Fox and her “I Only Wanna Be With You” are forever tied to memories of me switching between Channel 42 and MTV. There are probably weirder ways to be introduced to the canon of Dusty Springfield, but I’m OK with discovering her through a synth-laden cover that I happened upon when turning away from inappropriate movies as a seven-year-old. As one does.
You can listen to these songs and previously discussed cover songs in a Spotify playlist.