First heard on the Handsome Family’s Singing Bones album back in 2003, “Far from Any Road” was picked by the producers of HBO TV show True Detective two years ago to be used for a 30-second scene, and ended up — without Brett and Rennie Sparks knowing it was going to happen — becoming the theme song. The show became a huge hit and it took the song along with it.
Do you know what constitutes having a hit single these days? It’s not being number one on Billboard magazine’s Top 100 chart, nor is it selling a million copies and having your picture taken surrounded by record label people while holding up a plastic gold or platinum record with shit-eating grins on your faces. No. If you want to know if you have achieved some career milestone, go to YouTube.
Back to the Handsome Family, though. Would you care to guess how many times “Far from Any Road” has been heard on YouTube? That’s actually a trick question, because it’s not just one audio/video clip that we’re talking about, but an infinite number of uploads. Before I give you the numbers, here’s the band’s “official lyric video,” by Jason Creps.
So far, there are 248,470 views of this version. Of all the uploads of that song, it’s ranked at number seven. Pretty impressive for any Americana/Gothic/alt-whatever band. But here’s the rub: the most-watched clip comes in at over ten and a half million views. No typo, no video, just audio. In the credits, it links to some Russian gaming website.
The next six uploads come from I don’t know where, but combined they equal over five and a half million views. Add to that a couple of dozen smaller uploads, and my cocktail napkin mathematical estimate is that on YouTube alone — we’ll skip Spotify, iTunes, Amazon, Rhapsody, Pandora, and whomever else — the Handsome Family’s 13-year-old song has been heard over 17 million times.
But it hardly stops there. No ma’am, no sirree. We live in a world of portable devices that allows everyone access and ability to cover, remix, and re-write melody and lyrics. You can mash it and smash it and turn it into something new. Or you can take the original and add your own pet pics or family photos. I could hardly believe that this is even possible, but when I used the search terms ‘The Handsome Family” and “Far from Any Road” on YouTube, it yielded 52,200 results.
Kim Boyko’s version above has been seen 222,787 times. For this song, it’s the biggest cover of the bunch. Admittedly, I’d never heard of her before today, and I almost wrote her off when I saw her Facebook page had only 891 followers. But her YouTube channel, SingingWithKim, is full of her versions of songs, from Stevie Wonder to Patsy Cline. And while nothing is quite as popular as this one, she regularly gets anywhere from 5 to 20 thousand views per song.
After Boyko, there are versions by James Liddle, the Virgin May, and Karilene that each exceed 50 thousand views. But this next one is a mystery. There is no credit other than the name of the person who uploaded it: ORACLEPAGER1029. A few other songs he’s done have only been seen in the double digits, yet this one is already at 26,232.
That’s a pretty darn good cover, despite a crooked camera angle in front of a fireplace. But is it performer or the song that is getting the interest?
Clearly, it’s the song. If it wasn’t such a hauntingly beautiful, lyrically dense song, why would so many people want to hear not only the original version, but these other ones?
I’m curious as to what Brett and Rennie think about all of this interest and exposure, and wonder if they are getting compensated fairly. Hopefully they are, since 22 years in the indie music trenches ain’t all peaches and cream. Last month, while on their European tour, they received some news that might put all this success and attention in perspective. Brett posted on their Facebook page:
Hang on folks, this is big. The Simpsons will be using our song, “Far From Any Road”, in episode 2 of season 27 — “Cue Detective.” Oct 4. Words cannot describe how I feel about this. I am a huge fan. To me the Simpsons are the ultimate compendium of pop culture. I’m freakin out.
Gabriel Blanco. 331 views.
The Handsome Family are home and in the studio. A new album is coming. Seventeen million new fans await. And Bart, too.