This is the 58th post in a weekly series. Read about it here and see the list of previous songs here. A new post about a different song is posted each Monday. You can listen to the songs in a Spotify playlist.

Nick Lowe is perhaps best known for his 1979 single, “Cruel To Be Kind,” which became his biggest hit worldwide.

Before that, though, he had been the bassist and vocalist for the band Brinsley Schwarz, named after the band’s guitarist. The band released six albums between 1970 and 1974, the last of which was “The New Favourites of… Brinsley Schwarz.” The album included a track called “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding,” which was also released as a single.

The song, as the title suggest, was an inquiry from an earnest narrator:

As I walk through
This wicked world
Searchin’ for light in the darkness of insanity
I ask myself
Is all hope lost?
Is there only pain and hatred, and misery?
And each time I feel like this inside,
There’s one thing I wanna know:
What’s so funny ’bout peace love and understanding? Oh
What’s so funny ’bout peace love and understanding?
And as I walked on
Through troubled times
My spirit gets so downhearted sometimes
So where are the strong
And who are the trusted?
And where is the harmony?
Sweet harmony

But Lowe later told The A.V. Club that this song initially began as a joke:

I wrote the song in 1973, and the hippie thing was going out, and everyone was starting to take harder drugs and rediscover drink. Alcohol was coming back, and everyone sort of slipped out of the hippie dream and into a more cynical and more unpleasant frame of mind. And this song was supposed to be an old hippie, laughed at by the new thinking, saying to these new smarty-pants types, ‘Look, you think you got it all going on. You can laugh at me, but all I’m saying is, ‘What’s so funny about peace, love, and understanding?” And that was the idea of the song. But I think as I started writing it, something told me it was too good idea to make it into a joke. It was originally supposed to be a joke song, but something told me there was a little grain of wisdom in this thing, and not to mess it up.

In 1978, by which point Brinsley Schwarz had broken up and Lowe was performing as a solo artist, Lowe recorded a single called “American Squirm.” The B-side for that single was a version of “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding” credited to Nick Lowe and His Sound. But that was actually an alias for Elvis Costello & The Attractions. Lowe was Costello’s producer at the time, and produced this track.

The version that Elvis Costello & The Attractions recorded as Nick Lowe and His Sound became a hit, prompting Costello to include it on the US release of Costello’s 1979 album, “Armed Forces.” It has been included on most of Costello’s greatest hits collections, and Rolling Stone ranked it at Number 290 on its list of 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

It’s not hard to see why. The way Costello belted out those lyrics brought out an urgency missing from The Brinsley Schwarz original. Everything – the vocals, the drums, the guitar – was marked by the frustration of a young person desperate to understand the cruelty of the world.

Australian rock/new wave band Midnight Oil released a cover of “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding” as the B-side to its 1987 single, “Put Down The Weapon.” It was similar to Costello’s version in arrangement and instrumentation, though it was a little more jangly and had more guitar interludes. Beyond that, though, the biggest thing that separated it from Costello’s cover was singer Peter Garrett, whose distinct vocal style could stand out on just about any track.

As a B-side for the song “Drug Machine,” The Flaming Lips released a noisy, messy cover of “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding” that was combined with a cover of The Sonics’ “Strychnine.” The two covers blend into each other, though the transition to “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding” happens around a minute and a half into the track. The song later appeared on two Flaming Lips compilations: 1998’s “A Collection of Songs Representing an Enthusiasm for Recording…By Amateurs” and 2002’s “The Day They Shot a Hole in the Jesus Egg.”

The Party was a band formed in the early ’90s by The Disney Channel comprising then-current members of The Mickey Mouse Club. After the band’s successful debut album in 1990, the band released a covers and remixes EP in 1991, called “In the Meantime, in Between Time.” The group’s cover of “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding” was mostly a straightforward pop cover, with a few alterations: the group added a rap interlude, and the track began with one of the members saying, “No matter what flag you pledge under, we’re all the same. All this world needs is a little peace, love, and understanding.”

The following year, jazz singer Curtis Stigers covered “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding” for the soundtrack to “The Bodyguard.” It was more upbeat than the Costello version, in part because it included saxophone. Stigers’ delivery was relatively muted compared to Costello’s, in part because Stigers didn’t sound like he’d burst if he didn’t get his answer.

The soundtrack to “The Bodyguard” was hugely popular, selling millions of copies worldwide. That boded well for Lowe, and as he told The A.V. Club, it happened at just the right time:

…My career had stalled a bit up ’til then, and I’d just found this new way of recording myself and writing songs for myself when this check came through the door, and hey, presto! I was able to realize it. If it hadn’t gotten that money, I don’t think I would have been able to. And once you’re seen to be back in the game again—which I desperately needed to be—other things come to you. Even though the “Bodyguard” money per se is gone, that led to other things, and other people have cut my songs, and you know, my fortunes started changing for the better.

After covering “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding,” Stigers later covered another song by Lowe: “You Inspire Me,” for the 2003 album of the same name.

Folk singer Lucy Kaplansky reworked “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding” as an upbeat bluegrass song for her 1996 album, “Flesh and Bone.” Kaplansky’s cover was exuberant and toe-tapping, keeping pace with Costello’s version (even if it didn’t keep the same tone).

That same year, Mexican pop group Kabah released a Spanish language version of “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding” called “Amor, Paz Y Entendimiento.” This poppy cover probably most resembled the version by The Party, sans rap.

Punk band Down by Law covered “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding” for the 1997 compilation, “Before You Were Punk: A Punk Rock Tribute to 80’s New Wave.” There was nothing surprising about this cover, as it sounded like what you’d expect from ’90s punk bands. And that’s fine, though this cover didn’t expand upon the original other than to make it a little faster and the guitars a little crunchier.

Chris Cornell has performed the song several times over the years, including live at AOL with his band Audioslave…

…on MTV Germany…

…with Maynard James Keenan for the Axis of Justice concert series organized by Cornell’s Audioslave bandmate, Tom Morello…

…and in a performance that’s since been dubbed “Unplugged In Sweden.”

All of these performances were acoustic and bare, consisting of just Cornell (and Keenan, for the Axis of Justice show) on a guitar. If all you know are his heavier songs with Audioslave or Soundgarden, then this could sound jarring, because Cornell’s unmistakable growl sounded tender in each performance of “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding.”

Keenan himself covered “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding” with his band A Perfect Circle for its third studio album, “eMOTIVe.” It was slowed down and, like many of Keenan’s songs, dark and eery. And creepy.

Vote for Change was a 2004 concert tour throughout the US presented by MoveOn.org to benefit America Coming Together, a progressive political action group. The headliners on the tour rotated, but “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding” was featured regularly. At an October 2004 show in Washington, DC, the song was performed by an all-star cast of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, The Dixie Chicks, Eddie Vedder, Dave Matthews, John Fogerty, Michael Stipe, Bonnie Raitt, Keb’ Mo’, and Jackson Browne.

The Holmes Brothers recorded a soul version for its 2007 album, “State of Grace.” In the trio’s hands “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding,” was equally bluesy and country, with subtle but noticeable pedal steel guitar.

Four years after participating in Vote for Change, blues singer Keb’ Mo’ covered “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding” for his aptly named 2008 album, “Peace…Back by Popular Demand.” The Delta blues sound that defined previous Keb’ Mo’ gave this track a positive vibe. Costello had delivered the song as if he was crushed to not know what was so funny about peace, love, and understanding, but Keb’ Mo’ sang as if he was resigned to never knowing, and he was OK with that.

In 2008, 30 years after initially covering the song, Costello appeared on another “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding.” This time, though, he was with Stephen Colbert, Feist, Toby Keith, John Legend, and Willie Nelson as part of “A Colbert Christmas: The Greatest Gift of All!” A minute in, it had a very Costello growl that sounded like a velociraptor clearing its throat. As one does.

Simple Minds’ 15th studio album, “Graffiti Soul,” was released in 2009. But the deluxe version featured a second album with it: “Searching for the Lost Boys,” a collection of covers. “Peace, Love and Understanding” was not earth-shattering, sounding similar enough to the Midnight Oil version, which in turn sounded similar to Costello’s version. But it was still enjoyable, even if it wasn’t surprising.

In 2013, Israeli singer-songwriter David Broza brought The Jerusalem YMCA Youth Chorus into an East Jerusalem recording studio to record music. The result was a documentary and album called “East Jerusalem West Jerusalem,” which included a cover of “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding.” The chorus, comprising Israeli and Palestinian youth, added a chilling resonance to the song. You might be able to get through this version without tearing up, but I couldn’t.

Folk duo Shovels & Rope, comprising husband and wife Michael Trent and Cary Ann Hearst, teamed with Brooklyn-based quintet Lucius for a slower version of “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding.” Appearing on Shovels & Rope’s “Busted Jukebox Volume 1,” the collaboration starts off slow and minimal, building up over four minutes to include elements of blues, soul, and country.

“Song of Lahore” was a 2015 documentary about The Sachal Ensemble, a Pakistani music group that traveled to New York City on the invitation of Wynton Marsalis. The soundtrack featured the group performing with several musicians, and included a cover of “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding” with Sean Lennon on vocals. As the song began, Lennon sounded fuzzy, as if he were singing a cappella into a barrel. As the track progressed, Lennon got out of the metaphorical barrel and was joined by a variety of instruments before the track slowly faded into silence.

Lowe himself has performed the song live many times since going solo, whether it be in front of audiences…

…on CBC/Radio-Canada…

…or on Minnesota Public Radio’s The Current.

Each time, he performs an intimate, acoustic version that sounds quiet compared to Costello’s version or even his own version he did with Brinsley Schwarz. With just Lowe and a guitar, the song is able to breathe in a new way. Lowe, now 40+ years older, sounds wiser.

But he also sounds sadder, in part because he’s not found a satisfactory answer to that question he posed for the world back in 1974. The world has seen numerous wars, attacks, and atrocities since then, and we as a collective seem no closer to the peace, love, and understanding.

That there are so many versions of the song speaks to how timeless Lowe’s lyrics are. And with just about any other song, that would be an honor. But that we can still ask ourselves this question, in multiple genres and multiple languages, does not feel like any kind of “honor.”

It’s a song that should sound dated and hokey now, but it sounds just as relevant as it did back then, particularly these lyrics:

And as I walked on
Through troubled times
My spirit gets so downhearted sometimes
So where are the strong
And who are the trusted?
And where is the harmony?

I wish I knew. I wish we all knew.

You can listen to these songs and previously discussed cover songs in a Spotify playlist.
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