Nick Nurse, recently re-signed head coach of the Toronto Raptors, is something of a music man. I hesitate to use the word “musician” here because, well, that’s not, like, his job or anything. Nevertheless, Nurse has gone to great lengths to showcase his way around a tune as a guitarist. In fact, it’s past the point of being just a hobby. This sentiment was confirmed when Nurse revealed he’d been in the studio with the Canadian band the Arkells working on some new songs.
Nurse and the Arkells have been linked for some time now. It was the summer of 2019, after the Raptors won the NBA championship, that saw Toronto’s coach take the stage with the band to help cover Stevie Wonder’s 1970 hit ”Signed, Sealed, Delivered (I’m Yours)” to much fanfare. Since then, Nurse has been photographed to great effect with a guitar, he’s donated money via his foundation to buy a music class new instruments, and he’s mentioned that his entrance song of choice (assuming the NBA had play-in tunes) would be Damian Marley’s “Welcome to Jamrock”.
With the Raptors and the NBA now firmly in off-season mode, it’s given Nurse more time to turn his attention to musical pursuits. To that end, new footage has emerged recently of him jamming with Max Kerman of the Arkells. Setting aside this performance of the band’s song “Quitting You” (probably for the best), we get a chance to see Nurse take the lead in a cover of the 1968 classic “I Shall Be Released” by The Band, one of the great Canadian groups of all time. (There’s a neat symmetry here between Nurse and the Band and their historical American-Canadian crossover.)
Folks, this is a man now really starting to explore the limits of his sound. To prove that point, Nurse takes on the piano and lead vocals on the tune (no small feat given the original was belted out by the legendary Richard Manuel). And while the clip is only a minute long, Bob Dylan’s soulful lyrics are very much there, with the Raptors’ coach looking quite comfortable at the keys. It’s something to see — even as it gives me pause.
Despite that previous mention of Marley — whom Nurse should not try to cover — we’re zeroing in here on what I’ll call the Archetypal Nick Nurse song. Since he was born in 1967, Nurse is a bit younger than your typical boomer, which means his connection to some of this music is secondhand at best. Still, there is a wide library of classic hits to choose from here. With two covers now under his belt though, and a potentially extra-long off-season ahead, it stands to reason Nurse won’t stop there.
But what song should Nick Nurse cover next? Let’s get into some ideas.
Wish You Were Here - Pink Floyd
We’re not going to be recommending too many guitar-shredding tunes here, given Nurse’s relative chops (Eddie Van Halen he ain’t). As a first choice then, let’s go with one of the all-time classic rock staples from 1975, “Wish You Were Here”, a song that also happens to feature a nice and easy chord progression, carefully enuciated lyrics, and that soulful vibe we all know Nurse wants to project. Also, unlike some of Floyd’s other music, there are no ripping solos here, a la “Comfortably Numb”, and no wonky time signatures to figure out, as in, say, “Money.”
However, very much like a lot of Pink Floyd’s music, “Wish You Were Here” is not exactly a happy song, per se — the “you” in question is departed band leader Syd Barrett, whose mental illness pushed him from public life — but it does get the emotions flowing. More importantly, it creates that same sing-along vibe as Nurse’s other cover song choices. It’s also worth mentioning here that “Wish You Were Here” has since gone on to become one of Pink Floyd’s most recognizable songs. Nurse may be trying to surprise people on the court, but at the guitar, he surely wants to play the hits.
Hey Jude - The Beatles
Speaking of sing-alongs, why not just go for the biggest and perhaps best ever? Yes, the Beatles’ “Hey Jude” (first released in 1968) is a force unto itself at this point, one familiar to most anyone who has ever stumbled into a karaoke or piano bar in their lives. (Couldn’t be me.) In truth, “Hey Jude” holds a special place in Beatles lore. Despite not actually appearing on any of their studio albums, the song became a smash number one hit around the world. The song’s writer, Paul McCartney, has been jamming out to this song for literal decades and I defy you to tire of singing along to it. It’s impossible! I’m listening to it as I type this and am now ready to run through the streets screaming the lyrics at the top of my lungs.
Ahem. Such is the power of “Hey Jude” is my point. And for Nurse, all it would mean is learning one chord progression on piano and maybe doing some vocal warm-ups beforehand. Remember: “Hey Jude” is more a regular season song — slow and long, and with many permutations. But there’s immense fun to be had if you know what you’re doing. What’s the song/season about? Doesn’t matter, just keep going!
Crosstown Traffic - Jimi Hendrix
OK, I know I said we’d avoid impossible guitar licks, but including one of the most concise Jimi Hendrix songs just works here. For the record: “Crosstown Traffic” was first released in 1968 on The Jimi Hendrix Experience’s album Electric Ladyland (a double LP with two songs that tip past the 13-minute mark). The guitar riff in the song is, much like its title, a chugging, straight-ahead bit of business, with none of the insane pyrotechnics that we usually associate with Hendrix. What’s more, the lyrics are just a playful bunch of come-ons that speak right to Nurse’s delightful sensibility. To be frank, this may be the only way to work any Hendrix into Nurse’s library of go-to tunes and I say we go for it.
Now, is it funny to consider a song about traffic when talking about the head coach of a Toronto-based sports team? That’s just kismet.
With that, I open the floor: what song do you think Nurse should cover next? Remember: you can’t abstain from this decision. There will be more performances coming at some point.