The Original Or The Cover: “The Passenger”
Iggy Pop’s “The Passenger” is an incredible song. It is a track that is ostensibly about the loneliness of long-distance travel, originally written, recorded, and released in 1977 after Pop spent time on tour with David Bowie.
There’s nothing particularly complicated here. Pop has gone along for the ride, staring silently out the window, watching the night drift away with no particular place in mind. His delivery is as good as it can be given Pop’s relatively limited range. If anything, the performance is almost numb, as if to reflect the feeling that accompanies Pop’s memory of his endless travel. That though is not any sort of criticism. The song has lived on in popular culture ever since its release as a B-side, appearing in movies, video games, and perhaps most notably in advertising.
Nine years later, Siouxsie and the Banshees’ covered “The Passenger.” The band added a brass section and took time to emphasize lyrical portions that Pop himself had blown through. And if that update wasn’t enough, they also made a truly terrible music video that beggars belief:
(Like, what was going on when everybody involved decided that this video was a good idea?)
It seems worth noting here that both performers approached the same material from very different places or, at the very least, with very different goals. Iggy Pop’s melancholy is in dire opposition to Siouxsie and the Banshees’ enthusiasm. Whether its those additional horns or Siouxsie’s emphasis on those tooooniiiiiiight’s, the latter performance is more joyful, more enthusiastic, more alive.
So which one is better? There are good arguments to made on either side of course. Pop’s slower version matches his lyrics; Siouxsie and the Banshee’s seems at odds with the source material but is more fun. Perhaps an expert’s opinion is what is needed here:
“I’ve heard that, that’s good. She sings it well, and she threw a little note in when she sings it that I wish I’d thought of. It’s kind of improved it.”
Who am I to argue with an expert?