Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Covers Pt.II

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Memories Can't Wait

When one mighty band covers another seminal act, great things can happen. I was introduced to Living Colour way back when I worked on a checkout at the local supermarket. LC had just released Vivid where they completely nailed funk rock with incredible individual musicianship. It's their 30th anniversary tour this year, and I'll be seeing them play in Auckland in May - whoop! I offer up Memories Can't Wait, originally by Talking Heads off of the LP, Fear of Music. I  adored much of their music but spent most of my time wearing out my video cassette of Stop Making Sense. The original is a weird freak out, trippy affair. It sounds like someone reflecting on loosing their marbles, where all the voices and instrumentation are distorted visions and jumbled thoughts. Then Vernon Reid gets his hands on the song and turns it into a vehicle to rambunctiously solo through. Corey and team transform the song from sounding like terminal brain atrophy to a light mental health phase, and everything's going to be alright.


Uptown Ranking

This was a massive tune in the late 70's, where two young ladies (Althea and Donna) from Jamaica made it big with a one hit wonder. It was patois heavy but the alliteration and allusions to the Caribbean were a winner. It also has a delightful innocence about it - it's not moody, sexy, aggressive, or any of the marketing memes that A&R execs seem to go for nowadays.

I then discovered Black Box Recorder from the crazy yet amazing dystopian animated show, Monkey Dust. The band's name tells of the only surviving sonic record after a plane crash. Just as cheerily, the music was the backdrop to a suburban nightmare, uniquely of this centuries making: we've apparently never had it so good, while never having had such a gloomy outlook with such little promise. The chirpy tune that was a summer sunshine classic, gets converted into a gloomy trip-hop, monotone, dirge with little hope. It sounds like a middle-class, suburban housewife is mechanically reducing the patois into an nonsensical soliloquy, while staring out the window, doing the dishes. There are heaps of covers that do an honest reproduction of the original but there's something exciting when a song gets completely re-imagined.



Being a 'cover band' is these days considered a serious 'burn'. No one want to be that band but the fact is that everyone loves a good cover version. It remains a hugely popular if somewhat guilty pleasure for all music fans. That's why bands keep churning them out people!

Anyway, enough about good covers, what I focused on were the truly misguided. The ones that really have you scratching your head and reaching for the sick bucket at the same time. The ones that leave you reeling with a 'WTF were they thinking?" aftertaste.

Where ambition becomes overreach and there is no logical way to follow their thinking about how they decided to invest their time and resources into actually capturing this and releasing it upon an unsuspecting public. Tracks that call into question the entire artistic process and mental stability of those involved.

Step forward Britney Spears and her cover of....."I love Rock n' Roll". Yep The Joan Jett & the Blackhearts timeless classic ode to the liberating powers of good ole rock and roll. However where Joan convinces everyone of her heart felt sincerity with her bad-ass straight ahead rock, Britney turns it into an opportunity to work her way through all the cliches of a pin up calendar photo shoot. Fake. Fake Fake. She most emphatically does NOT love Rock and roll. And rock and roll does not love her. Fail.


Track two takes the 'poor choice of cover' to a new and borderline offensive level by Duran Duran covering Public Enemy's "911 is a joke". I know. What exactly a bunch of prancing white bread pop boys thought they could add to this epic piece is beyond me. If you have any ideas at all please send them on a postcard.

Most people react to this with frank disbelief. Surprisingly Simon le Bon et al thought it was a great wheeze. This has to be the musical equivalent of 'crossing the streams' and will surely see them condemned to burn in some special hell (soundtrack provided by Messrs Liam and Christian).



I found this theme (chosen by none-other-than-me!) a pretty easy one. I wasn't overly happy with my choices the last time we came armed with covers, suffering from too many options and picking more on uniqueness than quality. Ever since that night, I was determined to have another run at this theme and pick tracks I felt more strongly about.

Juliet Turner - Toxic (originally by Britney Spears)

This cover is from the Even Better Than The Real Thing series of CDs realised for charity by Irish radio station Today FM. Every week, while interviewing an Irish musician or band, the presenter of a popular morning show on the station would put a vote to the listeners. They would choose which of three songs the interviewee would have to interpret, learn and perform before the end of the show two hours later. Typically one option was a modern pop hit, and the antagonistic listeners would inevitably choose this to make it interesting and difficult for the artist. This format produced 4 CDs containing many fantastic cover versions of well known pop tracks.

I could have picked any of about 20 tracks off these albums. I chose this one because Juliet does such a great job of making this super well known track breathy and seductive, and every time I hear it I think how well written the track is, which I would never have thought about the original presentation.


Type O Negative - Summer Breeze (originally by Seals and Croft)

Released on their 1972 Summer Breeze album, Seals and Crofts' original version reached No. 6 on the Billboard Pop Singles chart in the US, and in 2013, it was ranked No. 13 in Rolling Stone′s "Best Summer Songs of All Time". Thank you Wikipedia! For the first several years of owning this album I would never have thought this was anything other than a Type O original. To find it was a cover was amazing, and to realise how summery, dreamy and hippy the original was was mind-blowing! Peter Steele (RIP) and Type O Negative find that excellent and challenging balance of making the track their own while staying true to the original, and, in my opinion, improving on it.



My first instinct was to select The Man Who Sold the World, I didn't end up playing this during our session instead I selected the second cover below.  Afterwards, I did notice that both my songs had World in the title (quite unplanned).

This is a David Bowie original, from his third studio album first released in the United States by Mercury Records November 1970, and then in April 1971 in the United Kingdom.  It was also covered by Lulu, who had a UK No. 3 hit with her version in 1974, whilst they all have their merit for different reasons (Lulu's version being my least liked) my favourite version is Nirvana's performed on MTV unplugged in 1993.




Wild World

Original version by Cat Stevens released in 1970 on his fourth album Tea for the Tillerman and apparently related to the end of his romance with actress Patti DÁrbanville.  This song has been extensively covered by other artists including a version by Garth Brooks as recent as 2013, in my rough count no less than 23 attempts at it thus far....


I specifically chose Beth Orton's version to see how a gender change would play out.

I like the strength at which she tackles this song and it is this version that is my preferred.


Covers remind me of jazz standards, where every version is a cover. So I chose a rock standard, a song that has been covered so many times that the original version seems almost irrelevant. Iggy Pop’s version may not be the best, but he makes the song distinctively his own, as anyone doing a cover ought.

Gloria – Iggy Pop

For my second song, I went for a jazz version of an Iggy Pop original. But not a noodly lounge-jazz version, a full blast free-jazz version from Danish band The Thing. In place of wailing guitar there is wailing sax, and in place of Iggy Pop’s snarl is an equally aggressive Neneh Cherry.

Neneh Cherry and The Thing - Dirt


Enya – Sail Away
Frankly, I do not like this song. Words cannot express how much I dislike this song. It is an ear worm song in the worst possible way.
Santana – Sail Away
Saw Santana as Bluesfest. He was playing a reasonable set, warming up rather well. Then he does THIS song!!!!! I exploded at the concert, there was a lot of swearing. I insisted that we had to leave, Santana had fallen that far in my esteem. Santana will not be the same for me.


(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction - Rolling Stones / Devo
If Art isn't Science then you have to accept the occasional failure on your way to greatness... and so it is even for the Greatest-Band-Of-My-Early-Adulthood... DEVO. These guys from Akron Ohio were students at Kent State University at the time and one was involved in the protests that ended with the shooting of unarmed students by the Ohio National Guard (two of the four people killed were friends of his). This event led to the main theme of De-Evolution of US society that permeated DEVO from then on.

This cover of "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" appeared on their first album "Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo!". The lyrics certainly fitted with the mindset of the band even though they took a markedly different approach to the arrangement. Also note in the video that the team are wearing Club Devo catalog items "Yellow Suit YS7891 - Protect yourself from dangerous human elements and stay cool during meltdowns in this official DEVO suit. A classic in formal attire. (Features Non Corrosive Snaps.)" and "3D GLASSES 3DG 477- The Real McCoys, As seen on Saturday Nite Live (and elsewhere). Adds a new dimension to your 2-D life!". Sadly, neither of these items are currently available on the Club Devo website any more...
The Lunatics have taken over the Asylum - Fun Boy Three / Collide
I've said it before and I'll say it again, the variety of music coming out of the UK in the 70's and 80's was phenomenal. A real melting pot... And Fun Boy Three were typical of that. Three ex members of The Specials that continued to distill SKA in their own unique way. I've always liked the original but at the time didn't really connect with it as a social statement... hindsight is a wonderful thing and when you remember that this was released the year after Reagan was elected President of the USA you can see the relevance of what was being said.
Collide is an American based duo in the Industrial genre that have been active since 1995. They run a mix of original and industrialised covers and produce an album every 3-5 years... not prolific but definitely professional. I think they've done the song justice to the point where I'll play it over the original more often than not. On the homage side of the covers equation... they respect the original but add their own unique touches.
Fun Boy Three

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