The Isaacs vs. Mike and the Mechanics: "The Living Years"

The Isaacs vs. Mike and the Mechanics: "The Living Years" September 19, 2013

I thank Bill Gaither for suggesting this song to the Isaacs and the Isaacs for recording it, because heaven forbid there should be any great 80s songs I haven’t yet discovered! For those who know it already, you might have thought it strange to see the ISAACS of all groups covering a secular Brit-pop track. But that just shows you Gaither’s genius, and the production talents of the Isaacs in making it their own. I went and found Mike and the Mechanics’ original after listening to their performance at NQC, thinking it couldn’t possibly measure up to what they did. Surprisingly, I found the original quite strong as well. Paul Carrack is a great vocalist. I do think the choir sections are a bit dull, but Paul improvises well over top of them.

The song itself, of course, is a classic, particularly the opening and closing verses. In my opinion, it’s not the chorus but those verses that really make it great, with that “Cat’s Cradle/Time In a Bottle” feel. B.A. Rutherford, the behind-the-scenes lyricist, wrote it as an autobiography about his strained relationship with his father. To my mind, it recalled a story like East of Eden. 
So which version do you prefer, dear readers? I personally might give different answers depending on the specificity of the question—vocals, production, etc. You decide:

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  • John Situmbeko

    I think the Isaacs’ version is better. Vocally, the Isaacs shine on this one. Vocally, the Isaacs deliver a nice sound with harmonies. Mike on the other hand has a choir at his disposal yet the choir sings in unison, throughout. On the instrumentation, the Isaacs also shine with just their banjos and guitars and whatever that thing ben plays. Mike and the Mechanics have electric guitars and a wide range of instruments, yet I think their instrumental work is still not better than that of the Isaacs. Perhaps it could be that I’m not just that big a fan of the retro beats, thus my very biased opinion. However I still thinks the Mechanics’ version is not bad, but when asked to choose which one I enjoy better, It the Isaacs. This is kind of like comparing the two versions of “Can’t Stop Talking About It” by the Gaither Vocal Band, the retro version is beautifully done but the modern one wins out for me.

  • When it comes to harmony, the Isaacs are unstoppable, and for that reason I definitely prefer their touch on the chorus. There’s something about the vocalist on the retro version that grabs me though. I think he’s stronger than Ben Isaacs judged on solo terms. However, each version is different enough to be appreciated on its own merits.

  • Watch the mike and the mechanics video all the way through, then click on “Paul Carrack Live at Songs of Praise.flv” for a third version. It’s pretty good too!

  • Wow, that’s hard to choose. I’ve been a fan of Mike and the Mechanics in my younger years so that song, in their version, has a lot of nice memories attached to it (ouch, showing my age here, aren’t I?)
    The Isaacs make it totally their own and I like that too.
    But in the end I prefer the older one … call me sentimental 😉

  • Tad Kirkland

    I think it’s near to impossible to accurately compare something you’ve recently heard to something you’ve heard all your life. It comes down to whether you’re a person who is nostalgic and doesn’t like change or if you prefer one style over another. That being said, I prefer the Isaacs just because I love harmony and a great arrangement matched with a great lyric.
    You mentioned the strength of the verses. It is true, but the understated poignancy and brevity of the line “you can listen as long as you hear” is easy to overlook until it sinks in. If the listener got nothing but that line, a huge message would have been conveyed.

  • I knew it was a Mechanics song but had never heard their version until just now. I would have to say the Isaacs win it by a smile. Seriously, look at Ben smile and sing!
    Of course, I am a little biased.