Song of the Day #1,027: ‘The Bug’ – Mary Chapin Carpenter

Bob Dylan has two songs represented over the next couple of weeks, and so too does Mark Knopfler. First up is Mary Chapin Carpenter’s take on Dire Straits’ ‘The Bug,’ a hit track from their final album, 1991’s On Every Street.

Carpenter released her version of the song on her 1992 album Come On Come On, a fine work that also includes ten original compositions and her hit cover of Lucinda Williams’ ‘Passionate Kisses.’

This song is a good case study for the old “can anything be country?” argument. I’d classify the Dire Straits original as more of a blues rock track, but it’s really not all that different from Carpenter’s version, which is clearly country.

So is it just the instrumentation that makes one country and the other not? Is a genre really defined by the certain use of a bass, drums and banjo? Could you play Radiohead on a banjo and make it country?

Well it’s a strange old game you learn it slow
One step forward and it’s back you go
You’re standing on the throttle
You’re standing on the brake
In the groove ’til you make a mistake

Sometimes you’re the windshield
Sometimes you’re the bug
Sometimes it all comes together baby
Sometimes you’re just a fool in love
Sometimes you’re the Louisville Slugger
Sometimes you’re the ball
Sometimes it all comes together
Sometimes you’re gonna lose it all

You gotta know happy – you gotta know glad
Because you’re gonna know lonely
And you’re gonna know sad
When you’re rippin’ and you’re ridin’
And you’re coming on strong
You start slippin’ and slidin’
And it all goes wrong because

Sometimes you’re the windshield
Sometimes you’re the bug
Sometimes it all comes together baby
Sometimes you’re just a fool in love
Sometimes you’re the Louisville Slugger
Sometimes you’re the ball
Sometimes it all comes together
Sometimes you’re gonna lose it all

One day you got the glory and then you got none
One day you’re a diamond and then you’re a stone
Everything can change in the blink of an eye
So let the good times roll before we say goodbye because

Sometimes you’re the windshield
Sometimes you’re the bug
Sometimes it all comes together baby
Sometimes you’re just a fool in love
Sometimes you’re the Louisville Slugger
Sometimes you’re the ball
Sometimes it all comes together
Sometimes you’re gonna lose it all

Sometimes you’re the windshield
Sometimes you’re the bug
Sometimes it all comes together baby
Sometimes you’re just a fool in love

Sometimes you’re the windshield
Sometimes you’re the bug
Sometimes it all comes together baby
Sometimes you’re just a fool in love

7 thoughts on “Song of the Day #1,027: ‘The Bug’ – Mary Chapin Carpenter

  1. Dana says:

    Well, I think to answer your question, those less familiar with the original version should have the benefit of the comparison. So here it is:

    Anyway, in response to your question, the basic elements of this song from a pure structural standpoint would probably best be classified as rockabilly, containing that mix of rock, country, swing and blues. The song is not “pure country” even in the Carpenter version. However, while the Straits version holds closer to the rockabilly style with the stripped down instrumentation, bluesier guitar, and less twangy vocals, Carpenter’s version certainly tips that balance to the country side with a distinctly more country style lead guitar and Carpenter’s country infused vocals.

    So could any song be country-ized? Probably, but for a song to truly work in a country format, I think you have to have those basic structural elements upon which you can layer country friendly instrumentation and vocal.

    By the way, I really love this song–in both versions.

  2. Clay says:

    Hey, I linked the original from the post (as I’m doing with all of these, at your request)!

  3. pegclifton says:

    I go with the “rockabilly” sound as Dana suggests. Whatever, I’m dancing and loving the song.

  4. Dana says:

    Oh, sorry, didn’t catch the hyperlink. Thank you.

  5. Amy says:

    The definitive answer to your question, “can anything be country?” is the following clip, still the stuff of legends several years later:

    I’m sorry to have done that to you, but I’m sure you at least enjoyed the visual.

    Meanwhile, I love every song on this album, and would have loved to be in the room as they were deciding which track to follow “Come On, Come On,” which track to precede “This is a Town,” which song to follow “The Bug.” Such a diverse and wonderful album.

  6. pegclifton says:

    Paul must be crying his eyes out.

  7. Amy says:

    Ha! Paul, Ringo, and every self-respecting Beatles fan!

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