Backstreet Boys' AJ McLean sends message of hope with new Cat Stevens cover

The version has new lyrics reflecting our current times

AJ McLean is joined by his two daughters and friends as they sing a the classic Cat Stevens track 'Wild World'. YouTube
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A former Backstreet Boy has taken on an old pop music classic.

AJ McLean, long viewed as the most brooding personality of the boy band, is hoping to raise spirits with a stirring cover of Cat Stevens's Wild World.

Released online on Wednesday, May 13, McLean's version maintains the folkish feel of the original, while changing some of the lyrics to reflect our current times.

The opening verse has new lyrics that call for community solidarity in the face of the pandemic.

“Now that we lost everything to you,” the new take begins, “Say we’re gonna start something new, come together and be better and believe it, be our brother’s keeper.”

The song’s distinctive chorus also receives a minor tweak, with the original line, “I'll always remember you like a child,” replaced with, “I’ll always remember this moment in time.”

The accompanying video intersperses visuals of McLean standing among lush greenery and holding up cue cards with the song's lyrics (an homage to Bob Dylan's 1965 music video Subterranean Homesick Blues) with footage of medical professions treating patients struck with Covid-19.

The video ends with McLean joined by his two daughters and friends after expressing his gratitude to those on the front line in the battle against the Coronavirus.

"I just want to take a minute to thank so many people. Our first responders: doctors, nurses, people that work in grocery stores helping us get food. Police officers, firemen and everyone that has helping us to get through this," he says. "We can do this. One love. God bless you guys, let's stay together and let's beat Covid-19."

McLean discussed the concept of the song further with US Weekly.

“I changed it to really positive [lyrics] because I just want to bring positivity to people right now and bring people smiles, even behind your mask,” he said. “You can tell when someone’s smiling, even with a mask on, because their cheeks go up.”

McLean was also asked which Backstreet Boy he would be most comfortable to quarantine with.

“I would say Brian [Littrell]. Just because we are both golfers, so we can chip in the backyard, we can hang out and we are both kind of goof balls," he said. "I think we can make quite a few activities fun that may not normally be fun.”

The story behind 'Wild World'

The song was released as a single from Stevens's 1970 classic album Tea for the Tillerman, seven years before he converted to Islam and took on the name Yusuf Islam. It was inspired by Steven's former relationship with Patti D'Arbanville.

Wild World is one of a number of tracks dedicated to the former model and actress, including the hit Lady D'Arbanville, released that same year.

In a 2019 interview with Billboard magazine, Stevens described Wild World as a "parting song" for D'Arbanville and revealed it was composed during a particularly tumultuous period for him – he was also, at the time, in the early stages of his spiritual awakening.

“We’d had some great times together, but I started recording and she was doing her modelling and it just became like two different worlds,” he said.

“And because I’d had such an experience of almost falling off the planet, I knew there were a lot of dangers out there so it was kind of me talking to myself about the second career I was about to embark on and also talking to her about her career. We’d basically split at that point, and that was the ode to our parting.”

Regarding its enduring appeal, Stevens said the song’s fraught lyrics echo the ache and longing of a parent.

“It’s a mother’s song, too, I would think, it’s very appropriate for a mother, also,” he said “Watching kids walk out the door is not an easy thing.”

Other cover versions of 'Wild World'

The latest take on the song by AJ Mclean joins an already hefty and eclectic number of renditions ranging from rock and reggae to blistering punk. Here are five notable versions.

1971: Jimmy Cliff

A new star at the time, the reggae singer was one of the first major acts to cover Wild World. His upbeat version solidified his international fan base.

1988: Maxi Priest

The British star delivered an ever-so-smooth pop take that became a major hit across Europe. The track remains a staple of Maxi Priest's concerts.

1993: Mr Big

With the exception of extra harmonies and subtle guitar noodling, the American rock group also remained faithful to the original and scored a hit across Europe and the US.

2001: Me First and the Gimme Gimmes

A break up never sounded so giddy. The US group, which specialises in punk music covers of pop hits, sped things up and transformed Wild World's anguish into sheer exuberance.

2017: Bastille

The UK pop rock group previewed an a cappella version of their rendition in a radio interview in 2017, stating that a full band version would appear as part of their two-part mixtape, Other People's Heartbreak. As it turned out, the cover was dropped from the project. That said, you can still hear the preview online.