Thursday, June 10, 2010

55 Covers. (Never Say I Don't Love You.)

Okay. So. At one point—blathering on about Gaga, I believe—I mentioned briefly my intense affinity for covers. Now, having recently received Guilt By Association from my stepsister, I feel the need to revisit the subject—& to share, with whomever will listen, some really fucking excellent songs. 55 of them, to be exact—because apparently my secret X-men superpower is to accidentally choose nicely-rounded amounts. (Truthfully, I think I went a little overboard: So. Much. Linking. My. Dear. Jesus.)

[ NOTE: The format goes, "Song Title—Artist Doing the Covering (Artist Being Covered)." ]

* * * * *

[ EDIT: Oops—it's actually the band that Butler formed when the Furs were on hiatus. Apologies. ]

Covers can be tricky sometimes. I say this because nothing (repeat: nothing) could replace the floating, goosebumped feeling I got when I first heard the real “How Soon Is Now?”—& get, in lite version, each time since. That said, I’m a sucker for Richard Butler’s nasal rasp-drawl, & an honest-to-goodness rock surge with the first chorus does sound damn good. So I suppose it’s like children—love them equally, but differently.

In fact, maybe one of the best things about covers is this dual understanding—being able to at once appreciate the two parallel tracks of original & interpretation. For example, this song is just so deliciously different from the Stooges version, while simultaneously earning its own merit with those odd industrial clangs under wispy French vocals.

* * * * * *

There are, of course, many genres of covers. One of the most common in today's irony-ridden pop climate is the Guilty Pleasure cover (or, in more negatively-tinged cases, the Isn't It Funny How I Dug This Piece Of Obscurity Out of the 80s' Asscrack & Am Now Playing It Acoustically cover). Of course, these sorts of covers work best (or, at all) when both artist & listener share a genuine—if shame-ridden—like for the song. I mean, really: let's not pretend I don't know every damn word to Say My Name. Here are some more to tickle your fancy:

[ This one is VERY guilty—& also very good. ]

* * * * * *

Then come my personal favorites (when done well, that is): the Is That Even the Same Song? covers, versions that really rework the original, altering its gist significantly (e.g., changing the genre, the tempo, the gender of the singer). Average rock songs become either slow-acoustic or the heaviest of metal; techno turns to violins, guitar-wanking to disco beats—&, when you're lucky, it all works out beautifully.

* * * * * *

Most covers, of course, don't quite fit into either of the above categories: a respectable song that the artist actually likes, interpreted in a way that doesn't necessarily shift the song on its axis. & yet—& yet—they are still Just Plain Good:

Apologies for the songs that only link to a clip. (There should only be two or three; I was very thorough...) & as for the customary closing mp3: I politely refuse.

BUT: if you have any covers that you think I ought to hear, I'd love to. Though this clearly isn't my full stash, I know there are still many out there I have yet to experience—so, comment away!


  1. Bits of stuff on a few of these:
    Muse's cover of Feeling Good is excellent- I'm wondering if you've heard the live performance of it that got them banned from BBC's Radio 3?

    Richard Butler's voice is fantastic for How Soon Is Now?, I agree, and that's not a song I would want most people to cover. (It's not actually The Psychedelic Furs, though. It's the band he formed when the Furs split for a while: Love Spit Love.)

    I hadn't heard José González' Teardrop. I like it, I think; it feels as though he's kept the essence of the song while simplifying it greatly, though I may be remembering the original as more "busy," so to speak, than it actually is.

    The Scissor Sisters' Comfortably Numb is absolutely mad.

    Rogue Wave's What Difference Does It Make?- I sort of like it, but there are some components of the original that I really miss. Perhaps that's because of how much I love said original... I'm not sure.

    Hah. I think I like the VV Brown cover, and This Charming Man is something I never would have wanted covered. Perhaps hearing the godawful Death Cab For Cutie cover has made me biased against the idea.

    Placebo covering the Smiths should've been fantastic, but I'm not sure about this. It's missing all the little intricate Johnny Marr bits!

    Sorry for the long comment- I like this sort of thing, and I seem to have gotten a bit rambly. I'll come back and listen to more of these when I've got time.

  2. Well, NOW I have (heard the Muse version that got them in trouble). As I, too, often resort to bouts of "fuck fuck fuckin' fuck," I'll take this as a cautionary tale: to remind me never to play live on the radio.

    Agreed on all positive counts, of course. (& yes, that Death Cab Smiths cover was really, really bad. Scarringly bad.)

    As to the Rogue Wave version: I know, I know—it's missing the riff! Which just happens to be the best riff ever! (Which I cannot for the life of me play on the guitar!) Still—though I felt I couldn't let it switch sections, as it is still Anglo Boys With Guitars (my most-times preferred music demographic)—I like how it totally shifts the song off its former rhythm, makes it kind of chugging & dreamy as opposed to quick & biting. The line "What difference does it make?" sounds very different wailed by Morrissey (insistent, manic) than it does when slowly rounded out in soft Irish syllables.

    & as for Placebo: I mean, you're right. For that matter, no Smiths cover is ever really going to do Marr justice. I just love 1) the surge after the first chorus (I'm a massive sucker for surging), & 2) the uber-90s-itude that Placebo embody, to me, at least—with the nasal singing & the distorted guitars, cheeky boyish attitude—& yet, at the same time, what a nice match Molko is for Morrissey: sexually ambiguous, voice sliding all up & down the scale with little care for propriety (& he, too, was very cheeky). One of the great things, especially about this latter genre of covers, is the chance to hear a song reinterpreted in a way that is basically close to home, but by a voice that completely de-/re-contextualizes it—in this case, substituting "megadrive" for "hearing aid," effectively rocketing the song forward a decade. (Their 20 Century Boy, too, falls in this category.)

    But you don't have to let my opinions sway you—really. I just like to talk. As much as you like this sort of thing, I mean... I had to stop myself from writing a paragraph under each song. So thank you for affording me the opportunity to wheedle further.

    &, by all means, listen away!

  3. I'm certainly impressed with what Rogue Wave did to the rhythm. I just don't like it as much as the original. Incidentally, I've been working on the riff from What Difference Does It Make? myself, actually. Now that I'm done with finals, maybe I'll have time to get somewhere.

    About "megadrive" for "hearing aid": Morrissey's played that song in his solo concerts (well, him with a band, not by himself, but you know what I mean- no Smiths), and he replaces "Walkman" with "iPod". It sounds much worse to me, somehow, though maybe that's because I've somewhat perversely become attached to the anachronism of listening to him sing about Walkmen in this age of iPods.

    I'm looking through the rest of these and listening to the ones where I know the original, mostly. Small bits and pieces:
    -My friends have been telling about Pomplamoose, and I've been avoiding listening to them for some reason, but now I'll have to investigate further- they've made Telephone quite enjoyable. The bass on the chorus...
    -Devendra Banhart is /weird/, man. I remember you telling me about him years ago, but I never got around to hearing any of his stuff. (Also, I'm amused by the insertion of a bit from another Oasis song- the guitar line at the beginning is from Champagne Supernova.)
    -That's certainly an original thing to do with a song from The Little Mermaid. (I've seen that movie so, so many times. It's all my sister's fault...)
    -I like this Violent Femmes cover of Crazy much more than the original. Much, much more than any other Violent Femmes I've heard, for that matter.

    On the topic of Covers I Think You Should Hear:
    Radiohead doing a live (live on a webcast thing, though, not in concert) cover of The Headmaster Ritual by The Smiths. It's got a classic rambling Thom Yorke introduction ("Oh, yeah, we can... nobody else is listening anyway, anyway. Are they? I don't know. We can't tell. So, uh, we- we, uh, this is a Smiths song. This is about when we were younger, but we didn't write it.") and Jonny Greenwood being lovely and gangly and Thom Yorke being oddly good at imitating strange Morrissey noises and it's just generally pretty good.
    The original is also one of my favorite Smiths songs, though of course it's hard to choose...

    More later- it seems to be time for dinner.

  4. Eew—I don't like "iPod." I think Joan of Arc would definitely at least have a Discman. & it's mostly in the voice/style, all that modernizin' to which I was referring.

    Also: I highly recommend the Pomplamoose cover of Single Ladies. I was very torn as to which to put up, but I decided that I hate Telephone marginally more, & it was therefore that much more of a feat for them to make me like it.

    & I cannot tell you how happy I am that someone else in the known universe appreciates that Jonas Brothers-Little Mermaid cover! I just think the beat & even the chord shift in the second half of the chorus lend themselves so well to a fast, electric-guitar-ed version.

    The Violent Femmes' Crazy is brilliant—but I would advise giving Blister in the Sun, Gone Daddy Gone, & Add It Up at least one more shot apiece. I'm kind of a fiend for the Femmes.

    "This is about when we were younger, but we didn't write it" is perhaps the truest (& most fumblingly adorable) introduction to a cover I've ever heard. I've actually heard this one before, I think—but many thanks for re-submitting it to the pool.

  5. Yeah, Placebo's cover certainly does feel much more modern, musically. I just thought I'd mention the lyrics bit, seeing as you'd mentioned Brian Molko doing something similar.

    Single Ladies is indeed excellent. Hah, I love the little "Don't make me sing this part of the song..." bit.

    I've heard Blister in the Sun (played it on the guitar around quite a few campfires, actually)- I'm pretty okay with it. I've also heard the one with the numbers. Google tells me it's called Kiss Off? I'm really not wild about the voice, somehow, though I appreciate the simplicity and roughness of the whole thing.

    Thom Yorke is an adorable man. That introduction really adds to the song for me, somehow- I guess I tend to like covers better when it's clear that the original song really means something to the coverer.

    Here's another you might enjoy, though I don't know how you feel about either of the artists involved here. Amanda Palmer's going to release an album of Radiohead covers in a month or two, and she's got one of them (Idioteque) up on her website.
    It's not a song I'd have imagined her doing well, but I think she managed to change things up enough to make it interesting and very much her own take on it while preserving the sort of breathless, frantic-and-muted-at-the-same-time (that doesn't make any sense, does it...) nature of the original.

    Another! (You've got me thinking about this, now- you'll have to tell me if you'd like the flood of links to abate for a while.) The Mars Volta's cover of Nick Drake's Things Behind The Sun. It's a beautiful song, and the cover does something sort of unusual- the instrumentation is pretty similar, except for some extra electric guitar layered on in places, but the vocals are quite different. Nick Drake has a beautiful, soothing low mumble, and Cedric Bixler-Zavala has a much higher, sharper tone to his voice. It's interesting, anyhow, and if you haven't listened to Nick Drake you must try some of his stuff. He was a beautiful folk musician in the sixties and seventies, one of those tortured genius types, who recorded three albums of spacious, intricate, innovative folk and then overdosed. It's a tragic story, but he left behind some truly stunning music.

  6. Here's how I feel about Amanda Palmer: Though her perceived personality/way of being in the world generally annoys the bejeezus out of me, & I think she often renders herself ridiculous/obnoxious, I really, sincerely enjoy a lot of her music—including the cover of Creep I posted above, which I consider to be rather breathtaking (especially when her voice cracks: chills, I swear). She is an unusually emotive vocalist—& I love ladies who sing low. Her cover of Idioteque, while not so dear to my heart as Creep (because I didn't fall asleep to Idioteque on repeat every night of 7th grade) is still great. Her voice really is beautiful; hearing her harmonize with herself is just double the fun.

    Also, if you're in the mood for Radiohead covers, I would definitely check out Vampire Weekend's Exit Music (For a Film), above. Though it sounds like a disaster in theory, they somehow pull it off remarkably well. Amanda does a version of it, too (I've seen it somewhere on Youtube)—but whereas she sinks into the melancholy of the song (to her credit, it's difficult not to do), Vampire Weekend add some flutes & bizarre, insistent rhythms to create a really, really excellent slow crescendo to the final verse—at which point, all hell breaks loose, as it ought.

    In other news, OH MY GOD NO WAY: I love that song! Though I admit to not having fully explored Nick Drake, despite his tragic plight, I do have Pink Moon, & it is beautiful. Plus, a friend of mine is way into the Mars Volta, so I like them by association—& hearing the two combined is really a treat. So distorted & half-alien, like the original was sucked through a vat of Moog then hung out to dry.

    & feel free to keep posting, if you'd like. As I said, I always love to hear other people's recommendations!

  7. Only rarely can I get into Amanda Palmer's ukulele covers. They tend to feel too sparse, somehow. I'm also sort of annoyed at the song Creep in general, mostly because so many people seem to think it's a totally representative Radiohead song, and, while it's pretty good, it's so far from their best.
    I enjoy her version of Fake Plastic Trees, though.

    I avoided that one the first time upon reading "Vampire Weekend," to be honest. I've got a bit of a prejudice against them, I suppose, but I'm giving it a listen now. I haven't heard the original, by the way- OK Computer is one of the albums I don't have.
    Christ, this is excellent. I shall have to stop hating Vampire Weekend now! I'm totally feeling those "bizarre, insistent rhythms" you're talking about. That build-up into the final bit is incredible.
    Now that I think about it, I'm pretty sure I've got the free tribute album that has this cover on it. I've never listened to it, for whatever reason. I think I may have been hoping to hear OK Computer before hearing covers of bits of it.

    YOU KNOW NICK DRAKE? I love you.
    I've only got Pink Moon as well, actually, though I've heard quite a few songs from other albums. Pink Moon is wonderful, though. The whole of it was recorded during two hours one night and two hours the next, and each song is a single take of him and his guitar, with the exception of a piano overdub on the title track, and it makes it such a beautifully simple thing. Because of that, and of its length (the whole things isn't much over half an hour, if I remember correctly), the whole album feels to me like a sort of distilled, pure essence-of-Drake.
    One other song of his that I think you should hear (it's probably my favorite, if I've got one) is Three Hours:
    The Mars Volta are one of my favorites as well, and they put on one hell of a concert.
    Also, "sucked through a vat of Moog then hung out to dry" is an excellent description!

    By the way, how did you put those italics in your comment? Do these comments accept HTML?

  8. I absolutely understand your feelings towards Creep; that's why it's in the Guilty Pleasures section. I just can't help but feel linked to it because it was such a big-deal song for me when I was an angstsplosion of a preteen. (I'm not kidding: every night, on repeat. For hours.) So hearing Amanda Palmer sing it, her lament-worn voice warbling over those notes that used to seem so important to me—& especially all stripped-down, bare-bones & raw—I just can't help but be really awkwardly moved by it &, regardless, love it. Still, I do get where you're coming from—especially on it being token Radiohead. I would say it was an anomaly on several levels.

    & I had an inkling you might avoid Vampire Weekend; most I know do (including, you know, me). But I took a chance on this cover, because Exit Music is one of my favorite Radiohead songs, & was pleasantly surprised. Speaking of which, you should definitely get OK Computer. ASAP.

    Nick Drake rocks. As does that song. (& many thanks for the compliment—I sometimes worry that the way I see similies in my head doesn't quite translate...)

    As to italics... I kind of just went for it, & apparently HTML is a go. Wahoo!

  9. I think the reason Creep's status as The Radiohead Song bothers me is that, while it's a good song, it's a good song that could've been written by any of a number of bands from the nineties, I think. Even ignoring later, more experimental songs, I think most of The Bends takes that same sort of nineties thing and does something new with it.
    That said, I'm sure I'd have none of the problems if everyone else didn't like it quite so much.

    I know, I know... it's on the list of Albums Asa Will Really Get Around To Buying After He's Bought This Guitar He's Buying And Given His Boyfriend A Terribly Late Birthday Present (et cetera, et cetera...) along with The Smiths' Meat Is Murder and other things I'm forgetting at the moment but have written down somewhere. Radiohead-wise, I've already got The Bends, Amnesiac, and Hail to the Thief, and I'd love to get the My Iron Lung and Comlag EPs (Bends and Hail to the Thief eras, respectively).

    That song is beautiful. I ended up learning it, more or less, and performing it at a benefit concert for Haiti that a friend organized at school. There's something about playing his songs... it sort of feels like touching something fragile and almost sacred, in an odd way. One of the things I'd love to do this summer (and probably won't get around to) is learning Pink Moon in its entirety. It seems like something worth doing.

    Another cover for you, in light of your recent excursions into the wonderful world of Placebo: Running Up That Hill (originally by Kate Bush)

  10. That Kate Bush cover is awesome. So is the Kate Bush song Wuthering Heights. So is this video mashing the Kate Bush song with Zac Efrons Hill Sprints of Angst from High School Musical 2.

    & definitely buy all of those albums—especially Meat is Murder. I also, being me, recommend every Bowie album ever (excepting, perhaps, the Tin Machine fiasco) & Brian Eno's Here Come the Warm Jets.

  11. I can't say I'm terribly into the song, but that video is indeed pretty wonderful.

    I went and found that list I made a while back of albums I was hoping (at that point) soon to get, and having removed a few things I no longer want and added a few that I've recently come to desire I've arrived at this:
    My Iron Lung - Radiohead
    COMLAG - Radiohead
    OK Computer - Radiohead
    Songs of Faith and Devotion - Depeche Mode
    Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me - The Cure
    Meat Is Murder - The Smiths
    The Queen Is Dead - The Smiths
    Strangeways, Here We Come - The Smiths
    This World and Body - Marion

    Right now I think My Iron Lung, Meat Is Murder, and This World and Body are my highest priorities, but I'm not sure...

    As for Bowie: I really do enjoy him, but I don't own much of his music. I have a sort of Best Of thing (I know, I know... I almost never get those damn compilations), but nothing besides that. Of course I've heard many other songs of his on YouTube and elsewhere. I think were I to get one album of his it would most likely be Outside. I love Hallo, Spaceboy and The Heart's Filthy Lesson.

  12. Here are the Bowie albums you need, in the order you need them:

    The Rise & Fall of Ziggy Stardust & the Spiders from Mars.
    Hunky Dory.
    (Live, Santa Monica, '72.)
    Aladdin Sane.
    The Man Who Sold the World.
    (Bowie at the Beeb.)
    Diamond Dogs.
    (David Live.)
    Station to Station.
    Scary Monsters.
    Let's Dance.

    THEN: Outside.

    Also, I would prioritize all three of those Smiths albums before the rest.

  13. Why such little love for Outside?

    Do you know Marion? You should hear some Marion, I think, though I don't know how much you're into this sort of thing. They're this obscure band that apparently seemed destined to become the next stars of that Nineties wave of Britpop, but then just sort of disappeared after just two albums, the latter of which never really made any impact at all.
    Some songs, if you feel like listening:
    Miyako Hideway, the only single from their second album, The Program
    Violent Men, their first single
    Let's All Go Together, because it's sort of different and I like it, too.

  14. It's not necessarily that I have little love for Outside; that's a list ranked mostly by chronology, only slightly by preference—mainly because I find such lists impossible, especially with Bowie. I just think that he had such a prolific & varied career—most of which was based in the '70s-'80s, that it seems strange to me that your first major buy would be such a late album. But who am I to say; it's just a recommendation.

    Marion sounds lovely—&, at least after a preliminary listen, only serves to prove how influential the Smiths were in the landscape of Britpop. Definitely get all three of those Smiths albums, ASAP—especially The Queen Is Dead, which someone in some magazine once called the best album, ever.

  15. Fair enough. I see what you mean about the strangeness of buying such an atypical album first. It's a bit of a moot point, I suppose, as I don't really expect to buy any Bowie particularly soon, what with that list up there still to be dealt with.

    The thing about the Smiths is that there are so goddamn many wonderful songs that were only ever released on B-side compilations- The World Won't Listen, A Hatful of Hollows, etc. Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now, Panic...

    Someone or other hailed Marion as "the next Smiths". Morrissey actually talked about how much he enjoyed them as well, if I remember correctly.

  16. You'll be pleased to hear that I'm now the proud owner of Meat Is Murder.