Originally posted December 01, 2009:
There are, I am sure, numerous blank spots in my music collections: holes where one would otherwise expect to find LPs and CDs by major artists or of major styles and subcultures of music. One of those that I know about is Genesis. I have none of the British group’s work on LP or on CD. I do have the mp3 for one of the group’s albums, 1973’s Selling England By The Pound, but hearing it on occasion – and quite liking it – hasn’t spurred me to go out and get any of the group’s other twenty or so other albums.
I’m not at all sure why that hole exists. The group came along at a time – during the early 1970s – when I listened to a little bit of everything. Why none of its music made it to my shelves is a mystery. The two better-known members of the group who went on to solo careers are represented at least a little: I have – and like – Phil Collins’ Face Value and Hello, I Must Be Going! And I have the LP of Peter Gabriel’s So, a 1986 album that I regard as one of the great albums of all time (in the top fifty, maybe?). In addition, I have digital files for So and for two of Gabriel’s earlier self-titled albums, the 1977 effort colloquially known as “Car” and the 1980 album frequently called “Melt.” Even so, there’s not a lot of music here by the two of them, but it’s enough to know that I like it and I really need to go get more.
The problem is, of course, that the same words – “I really need to go get more” – can be written about the work of almost any musical performer or group represented in my collection. My attention and my resources are limited. Post like this – in which I acknowledge gaps in my collection and in my knowledge – sometimes serve as the equivalent of Post-It Notes, little pastel flags telling me to find the single edit of the Moody Blues’ “Question” or to check the bitrate of the mp3s by Maria McKee or – as in this case – to find more music by one or more performers.
Those reminders get my attention, and when the resources are available, those tasks are done and gaps are filled. So in the near future, I expect I’ll dig a little deeper into Genesis, into the solo careers of Collins and Gabriel and wherever else those explorations lead me.
In the meantime, I listened once again the other day to So, losing myself in “Red Rain,” “In Your Eyes,” “Don’t Give Up” (with the angelic presence of Kate Bush) and, especially, “Mercy Street.”
Of the Peter Gabriel songs I know – and the preceding paragraphs should make it very clear that there will be many I do not know – the one I find most compelling is “Mercy Street.” I’m not sure why, and I don’t intend to analyze that attraction today. I would have thought my favorite might be “Don’t Give Up,” but “Mercy Street” kept coming to mind yesterday.
(Part of the song’s attraction for me might be that “Mercy Street” is dedicated “for Anne Sexton.” Sexton, says Wikipedia, “was an influential American poet and writer known for her highly personal, confessional poetry.” Sexton, who won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1967 and who dealt frequently in her work with her long battle with depression, took her own life in 1974.)
And with Gabriel’s version in my head yesterday, my RealPlayer came to rest randomly on a cover of the song from an Iain Matthews album that’s also a favorite of mine, 1990’s Pure and Crooked.
So I thought I’d see who else has covered the song. All-Music Guide lists ninety-one CDs that contain “Mercy Street,” with about thirty of those being various versions by Gabriel himself. Among those listed as having covered the song are Christy Baron, Black Uhuru, Al di Meola, Danni Carlos, Jane Duboc, Fenix, Valerie Graschaire, Herbie Hancock, Keith James, Lee Jeffriess, Leaving the Ozone, Kate McGarry, Ransom Notes, A Reminiscent Drive, Jenny Reynolds, Richard Shindell, Storyville, Sugar Plum Fairies, John Tesh and David Widelock.
Some of those names are familiar to me; most aren’t. But “Mercy Street” seems to be a song that can survive being pulled into numerous styles and interpretations. I may dig up some of these covers in the future.
For now, I have two cover versions to offer. The first is, of course, by Iain Matthews, the one-time member of Fairport Convention and the founder of the short-lived Matthews Southern Comfort. He’s issued more than twenty-five LPs and CDs since 1969, most of them well-received. Pure and Crooked contained more original material than covers, a rarity for Matthews, but to my ears, “Mercy Street” is the best thing on the CD.
The other cover of “Mercy Street” comes from Miriam, the first popular music release by South African-born Miriam Stockley, a classically trained vocalist who’s recorded primarily in that field. She was also a member of Praise, a contemporary Christian group that released one CD in 1992. Her 1999 album, notes All-Music Guide, had songs performed “in English, Zuli and a language she just made up.” That debut album, AMG notes, came off as a “fusion of classical, world, pop and new age elements.” I found Miriam by accident a year after its release, and Miriam Stockley’s name remains on my list of performers to explore further.
That said, here is the original version of “Mercy Street” and covers by Iain Matthews and Miriam Stockley.
“Mercy Street” by Peter Gabriel from So 
“Mercy Street” by Iain Matthews from Pure and Crooked 
“Mercy Street” by Miriam Stockley from Miriam