Blue is my world now I'm without you
That first sentence of Merritt's sounded a little flip back in 1998, with just a hint of indignation (although I have no doubt that he was being serious), but that was before 69 Love Songs and being signed to Nonesuch Records. Many indie-friendly bands have covered Merritt's songs, and a few of those groups were a bit more popular than the Magnetic Fields at the time, like Lush (who covered "I Have the Moon") and White Town (who covered "Famous"). However, Peter Gabriel's cover of "The Book of Love" (on the Shall We Dance? movie soundtrack album from 2004) is the first example of an artist that is significantly more well-known than Merritt tackling one of his songs. (And see this page for a rundown of some other recent and not-so-recent covers - add the Shins' live cover of "Strange Powers" to that list.)
As explained in this Wikipedia entry, "cover" songs were probably so named because decades ago, when a song became popular, other musicians would quickly release their own versions of the song to capitalize on its success, thus "covered" like a football carrier at the bottom of a pileup. The dynamics of the music business have, of course, changed substantially within the last hundred years, and whereas the "cash in" covers of the early-to-mid 20th century were based on a certain song's popularity, in the last few decades, such covers were often based on a certain artist's popularity.
For their Lonely Days EP, Future Bible Heroes recorded an English version of "Love Is Blue (L'Amour Est Bleu)", and it's somewhat astounding to read that in 1968, there were four different versions of that track on the charts, the most popular one being the non-vocal one by Paul Mauriat and His Orchestra. Time magazine analyzed this song back in 1968:
For those whose idea of an oldie is pre-rock 'n' roll, there is still hope. A record called "Love Is Blue" has become a hit without any of the ingredients that pop musicians have considered necessary for the past few years: the juggernaut beat, the vocalisthenic performance, and the strain of novelty. "Love Is Blue" is concocted according to an entirely different recipe. Its rocking rhythm cradles a plaintive, folklike melody swathed in lush strings and horns. It is an all-instrumental number, the first to become a bestseller since 1963.
(By the way, that forementioned instrumental bestseller was "Telstar" by the Tornados.)
"Love Is Blue" has three composition credits: André Popp (who composed the music), Pierre Cour (who wrote the French lyrics), and Brian Blackburn (who wrote the English lyrics). Popp was a French arranger, composer, and bandleader who made highly unusual spage-age pop in the 50s, using various tape manipulation techniques - comparisons to Esquivel are fair, as both had playful and bold arranging styles, and Popp also reminds me somewhat of Perrey and Kingsley (although Popp's work predates theirs), with their ever-changing sound effect-ridden pop madness. (This page and this page have a few brief Popp sound samples.)
Versions of "Love Is Blue" are plentiful, and this week, three renditions are featured. The forementioned version by Paul Mauriat and His Orchestra was a tremendous smash, staying at the #1 spot (USA charts) for five weeks. The proto-waif, whisper-voiced Claudine Longet, known for marrying Andy Williams and shooting a boyfriend, gives us a French language version, with a spoken English middle section. And finally, we have a version by Arthur Lyman, who played the vibes in Martin Denny's band and was a prolific and notable figure in 50s and 60s exotica.
Claudine Longet - "Love Is Blue (L'Amour Est Bleu)"
Arthur Lyman - "Love Is Blue"
By request, the Wild Stares track is back up: