Archive for the ‘Coverage’ Category

h1

Threesome: alchemical transformations

June 30, 2008

Following up on our previous post, here are three heavy metal covers done right. Arab Strap (pictured above) do a version of “You Shook Me All Night Long” which should erase any memory of Celine Dion’s butchery. And as promised, here’s Emm Gryner’s quiet, piano-based version of Ozzy Osbourne’s “Crazy Train.”  Finally, the Dresden Dolls dusted off Black Sabbath’s 1970 anti-Vietnam-War anthem,  “War Pigs,” for their live shows:

Politicians hide themselves away
They only started the war
Why should they go out to fight?
They leave that role to the poor

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

MP3: Arab Strap – You Shook Me All Night Long (more Arab Strap)

MP3: Emm Gryner – Crazy Train (more Emm Gryner)

MP3: The Dresden Dolls – War Pigs (live) (more Dresden Dolls)

h1

Coverage: worst cover ever?

June 27, 2008

UK-based magazine Total Guitar recently published its lists of the 30 best and the 20 worst covers of all time. They chose Celine Dion’s version of AC/DC’s “You Shook Me All Night Long” in the latter category, which is definitely a worthy contender (that’s AC/DC, above). The BBC World News has a 36-second excerpt, and you can see how much of it you can take (I had heard enough at about the six-second mark).

As you might expect from a magazine called Total Guitar, their best cover ever was Jimi Hendrix’s version of “All Along the Watchtower.”

Stay tuned for a much better cover of “You Shook Me All Night Long.”

Agree or disagree with their choices? Feel free to nominate your own in the comments!

h1

Coverage: The Dresden Dolls, “Pretty in Pink”

June 17, 2008

Pretty in Pink poster

Guest blogger Scott says:

This comes from a CD of 80s movie theme covers by various artists. Some of the other tracks are nice, but this is the only one that I really feel sounds like the artist tried to make it their own. And I had seriously never listened to the words of the verses before this. The original emphasizes the chorus, and its association with the Molly Ringwald oeuvre caused me to assume that it was just a “Hey, look at that girl” standard. Amanda really makes the verses tell their somber story much more effectively.

MP3: The Dresden Dolls – Pretty in Pink [Psychedelic Furs cover]

More Dresden Dolls: website myspace amazon

Previously: Coverage: Emm Gryner, “For What Reason”; Coverage: Vampire Weekend, “Exit Music (for a Film)“; Coverage: I Hate Kate, “Major Tom”

h1

Coverage: Sarah Harmer and the Weakerthans, “Islands in the Stream”

June 5, 2008

Islands in the Stream cover art

Sarah Harmer and the Weakerthans do the Bee Gees by way of Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers. What’s not to like?

MP3: Sarah Harmer and the Weakerthans – Islands in the Stream

h1

Coverage: Emm Gryner, “For What Reason”

May 22, 2008

Emm Gryner

Guest blogger Scott says:

I’d call Emm Gryner the Canadian Tori Amos, except that Amos’s covers almost universally terrify me. Sure, it’s nice to have her there so you can actually understand the lyrics to “Smells Like Teen Spirit” for a change, but her affectless approach to Eminem’s “’97 Bonnie and Clyde” or The Boomtown Rats’ “I Don’t Like Mondays” leaves me expecting her head to spin around and start vomiting cherries. Anyway, Gryner does a better job with Ozzy Osbourne’s “Crazy Train” than with this. But you asked for indie, so indie you get.

[ed: Ozzy is cool with us, and we love the cover – stay tuned!]

Three fun facts about Emm Gryner: She toured with David Bowie (backup vocals and keyboards), including playing Glastonbury. She started her own record label, Dead Daisy, and signed In-Flight Safety. She was on the Mayor’s Honour List [pdf] of her hometown, Sarnia, in 2004.

MP3: Emm Gryner – For What Reason (Death Cab for Cutie cover)

More Emm Gryner: website myspace amazon

Previously: Coverage: Vampire Weekend, “Exit Music (for a Film)“; Coverage: I Hate Kate, “Major Tom”; Coverage: Self, “Ana Ng”

h1

Coverage: Vampire Weekend, “Exit Music (for a Film)”

May 8, 2008

Guest blogger Scott says:

Yet another example of “literate, geeky bands with overeducated lead singers.” Vampire Weekend isn’t the sort of sound I normally like, but any band that writes a song that starts off “Who gives a fuck about the Oxford comma?” is okay in my book. I have an idea for a project in which I develop a CD of music for each stage and process of a typical audit process [ed: Scott’s day job] that comes entirely out of my blasting “Oxford Comma” into my headphones for most of a week while I dealt with our copyeditors back in February.

So I wanted to include Vampire Weekend on this, but wasn’t aware of any covers that they had done. Fortunately, they made it comparatively easy to find by contributing to a tribute to OK Computer. Radiohead, like Vampire Weekend, is a band that, based on how I generally think of my musical preferences, I shouldn’t (and initially didn’t) like. Given their joint residence in the “music I don’t understand why I like” zone, a Vampire Weekend cover of Radiohead just seems right. Add to that the fact that the original comes from the closing credits to a film that, for all its flaws as Shakespearean theatre, still managed to be a solid cover movie, as it were, and I think this fits in very nicely.

MP3: Vampire Weekend – Exit Music (for a Film) (Radiohead cover)

Vampire Weekend: website myspace emusic

Previously: Coverage: I Hate Kate, “Major Tom”, Coverage: Self, “Ana Ng”, Coverage: The National, “Mansion on the Hill”

h1

Coverage: I Hate Kate, “Major Tom”

May 1, 2008

Guest blogger Scott says:

There are so many things that ought to be wrong with this song. Peter Schilling wrote a conspicuously 80s new wave song that wasn’t so much a cover as an, I don’t know, elaborate retelling of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity”. In the U.S., at least, he was a one-hit wonder with this song. And, let’s face it, “Space Oddity” is a musically interesting Bowie song, but the lyrics don’t have enough of a story to really merit retelling them with different words. It’s not a good songwriting technique.

I Hate Kate seems like more of a Creed/Korn-esque pseudo-punk band than indie rock. Checking on some of their original songs would support that assessment, but the consensus seems to be that this makes their genre “alternative rock I don’t care for,” not “other than alternative rock.” Regardless, not my cup of tea. But apparently, poorly-written new wave synth-pop + screechy-voiced “goes to eleven” frat boys = something that evens out reasonably well in the middle. It’s the new math.

MP3: I Hate Kate – Major Tom

More I Hate Kate (if you must): myspace

Previously: Coverage: Self, “Ana Ng”, Coverage: The National, “Mansion on the Hill”

h1

Coverage: Self, “Ana Ng”

April 22, 2008

Guest blogger Scott says:

I have it on good authority from my other purveyor of indie rock opinions that Self is “made of industrial-grade awesome”. This being their only song I’ve heard, I can’t really offer insight into that conclusion, except to say that, were that so, you’d think I’d have an easier time finding their album for purchase somewhere other than Amazon for ridiculous import prices. Additionally, I’m not aware of any facilities for processing and refining high quality awesome. Maybe overseas in an industrializing country with lower environmental standards.

Like so many impressionable geeks, I was introduced to They Might Be Giants by older, cooler friends at a young age (in my case, sophomore year of high school). And, after years of addiction, obsession, withdrawal, and relapse, I’ve reached a point where of course I buy a tribute album to them. This song is the highlight.

MP3: Self – Ana Ng (They Might Be Giants cover)

More Self: website myspace amazon

Previously: Coverage: The National, “Mansion on the Hill”

h1

Coverage: The National, “Mansion on the Hill”

April 12, 2008

My friend Scott, who is an aficionado of cover songs, was kind enough to make me a mix CD, including a set of amusing and insightful annotations. I prevailed upon him to be a de facto z=z guest blogger and he graciously agreed; I’ll be posting some of the songs, together with his notes, over the next few weeks.

Here’s what he says about The National’s cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “Mansion on the Hill”:

Further proof that indie rock stars can occasionally be just as pretentious and minutia-obsessed as some of their fans. God forbid you’d cover a Bruce Springsteen song that somebody had heard of, or even a lesser-known track from one of his hit albums. No, “Mansion on the Hill” is a track that never charted from one of Springsteen’s least-popular albums, Nebraska. If it didn’t sound so good, I’d ask for my money back.

MP3: The National – Mansion on the Hill

Image: The National by Flickr user faithdesired, reposted here under its Creative Commons license.

h1

Coverage: The Mountain Goats, “The Sign”

March 18, 2008

Well, I totally failed to post anything about either of the Mountain Goats shows I went to last week, so here’s a taste of what John Darnielle is like in concert – this is their cover of Ace of Base’s 1993 hit, “The Sign“. A quick YouTube search reveals that The Mountain Goats have played this song live many times. The MP3 below is from yet another version, in which Darnielle alternately threatens and encourages the audience, and it still makes me laugh, even after scores of hearings.

MP3: The Mountain Goats – The Sign (live)

h1

Coverage: The Main Drag, “All My Friends”

March 8, 2008

The Main Drag

I should add to my previous post that The Main Drag endeared themselves to me forever when they chose to cover LCD Soundsystem’s “All My Friends” for Coke Machine Glow (I kind of like that song). Their version loses the staccato piano and swaps out James Murphy’s world-weary but assertive voice for the straight-up emotion of Matt Boch and Adam Arrigo.

MP3: The Main Drag – All My Friends

About Coverage

h1

Coverage: Stars, ‘This Charming Man’

February 26, 2008

One of the recurring themes in Daniel J. Levitin’s book, This Is Your Brain on Music, is the the centrality of expectations, both fulfilled and violated, in our experience of music. We have expectations at the level of individual phrases (whether chords are resolved or not, say), at the level of the song structure, the genre, and the overall sound (why Western music sounds different from say, traditional Chinese music). This probably goes a long way towards explaining why most of us need to hear a song a few times for it to ‘register.’ But it occurred to me, reading this book, that there is another important area of violated or fulfilled expectations, and that’s the existence of cover versions of songs. Cover songs – good ones, anyway – combine pleasing familiarity and pleasing novelty in a neat little package.

At a more intellectual level, Rosie Swash, of the Guardian Unlimited’s Music Weekly podcast, talked about the three factors that make for a good cover version: the element of surprise; history or meaning; and the cover artist making the song their own.

So welcome to Coverage, an intermittent feature on this blog, in which I post some of my favourite covers. Enjoy!

Stars – This Charming Man [original version by The Smiths]