One for Friday: John Wesley Harding, “Like a Prayer”


Let us momentarily sing the praises of indie performers targeting college radio with quasi-ironic covers of big hit pop song. Back in 1989, a copy of Madonna’s Like a Prayer, on vinyl, sat in the top drawer of the filing cabinet in the office I occupied as the Program Director of WWSP-FM. I’m not even sure why Warner Bros. even bothered to send it our way, except that the label was big enough that it probably wasn’t worth their time to discriminate about shipments of promotional copies to radio stations. Everything went everywhere. While my station was a little more willing that our nationwide brethren to play more commercial material, one of our needles was never going to touch that Madonna record. Instead, it resided in that drawer for ages, stinking up my space with its patchouli oil scent.

Even still, I had to admit — to myself, never to others — that the title cut to Madonna’s album was a damn good song. Thus, I was quietly thankful some months later when John Wesley Harding, then a new artist trying to transcend knee-jerk comparisons to Elvis Costello while simultaneously benefitting from them, released an acoustic cover of “Like a Prayer.” Including on a Christmas-time EP meant to promote his debut full-length, Here Comes the Groom. Without fear of judgment, I could finally play “Like a Prayer.” And I did. A lot.

I also played plenty of Harding’s other songs, sometimes as if I was paying a debt for the cover he gave me. Funny enough, my favorite of his tunes didn’t show up on any albums that I know of. Instead, it was on another promotional EP. The song was a comic recounting of watching the Live Aid, complete with a namecheck of Madonna. I like the symmetry of that.

Listen or download –> John Wesley Harding, “Like a Prayer”

(Disclaimer: I am operating under the belief, admittedly untested, that the EP this is pulled from is out of print. In fact, I’m not entirely sure it was ever available for official purchase given that a good half of it is taken up by an interview with Harding, not exactly the sort of things kids were clamoring to buy back in the late-eighties. It is presented here with the understanding that doing so will cause no undue fiscal harm to Mr. Harding nor the proprietor of your favorite local, independently-owned record store. Do consider buying another of the fine singer-songwriter’s records, or, better yet, head to your local bookseller — again, independently-owned, please — and pick up one of the novels he writes under his given name, Wesley Stace. He probably makes more money from those.)