Wednesday, October 22, 2008

You Can't Step into the Same River Even Once

There's something fascinating about cover versions, the way they are familiar yet off-putting, the way they rearrange the furniture in your musical mind. (Look I could get all Freudian on your ass about this, and what would Sigmund say about my phrasing there anyway, but I'm not that kind of guy. Still, you might want to go read this essay.) That shifting can be a pleasant surprise--"oh, you now have such a great view out the window!"--or a disaster magnet--"damn, who moved the couch right where I could stub my toe when I walked through the room not thinking!"

Of course, listening to music makes us all toes just aching to stub. Suddenly we have to think to contextualize the recontextualization. After all, we are all poorer for Sixpence None the Richer's version of "There She Goes," since it helped push the La's even further away from ever being known. And at this point Ryan Adams' "When the Stars Go Blue" has been bastardized so many times it leaves you questioning if you should like the original in the first place.

But good covers manage to add, subtract, multiply, divide in ways to make you sing the praises of new math. They don't even have to obliterate the original, as we'll see--Kate Bush's "Hounds of Love" is still wonderful even if the Futureheads add more bubble to the song than seems imaginable (and while seemingly doing it faster, actually bring the cut in within seconds of the Bush version).

This is all prelude to some CDs. Tom Hilton at the ever-wonderful If I Ran the Zoo suggested we do a CD exchange of all cover versions. I couldn't stop and made two. Here they are, if you want to play along at home.

Two more notes:
1) There are things I wanted to use but couldn't as I have them only on vinyl and I got so frustrated trying to download my albums that the turntable to do so is currently in the garage (sort of the doghouse for hard-to-use electronics). If I could, I would definitely have The Feelies take on "She Said She Said," Costello and Lowe dueting on "Baby, It's You," Yung Wu doing "Big Day," and maybe even Peter Gabriel's "Strawberry Fields Forever" or the Fred Banana Combo crushing "Yesterday."
2) In some of these cases I've never heard the original, but like the cover so much that's good enough for me. For instance, I can't imagine "Packs of Three" sung from the (original) male viewpoint, but that first line sung by Shannon McArdle (pictured at right) you've got my attention. The other never heard originals: "Joed Out," "I Love You You Big Dummy," "In the Mirror," "Motel Blues" (heck, Wainwright has even covered this himself now), "Wild and Blue."

disc one
Futureheads "Hounds of Love" The Futureheads (orig. Kate Bush)
Steve Earle "Time Has Come Today" Sidetracks (orig. Chambers Brothers)
Lucinda Williams "Main Road" Sweet Relief (orig. Victoria Williams)
K. McCarty "Walking the Cow" Dead Dog's Eyeball (orig. Daniel Johnston)
Syd Straw "By This River" Pink Velour (orig. Brian Eno)
Crooked Fingers "When U Were Mine" Reservoir Songs (orig. Prince)
Richard Thompson "Oops! I Did It Again" 1000 Years of Popular Music (orig. Britney Spears)
Jon Langford & Sally Timms "Broken Bottle" Por Vida: The Songs of Alejandro Escovedo (orig. Alejandro Escovedo)
Johnny Cash "Hurt" American IV: The Man Comes Around (orig. Nine Inch Nails)
Petra Haden "Don't Stop Believin'" Guilt by Association (orig. Journey)
Luna "Sweet Child o Mine" The Days of Our Nights (orig. Guns N' Roses)
Barbara Manning & the San Francsico Seals "Joed Out" No Alternative (orig. The Verlaines)
Alejandro Escovedo "Sex Beat" Bourbonitis Blues (orig. Gun Club)
The Raincoats "Lola" Rough Trade Shops: Post Punk Volume 1 (orig. Kinks)
T Bone Burnett "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend" Twenty Twenty: The Essential T Bone Burnett (orig. Carol Channing)
Yo La Tengo "You Tore Me Down" Fakebook (orig. Flamin' Groovies)
The Golden Palominos "These Days" This Is How It Feels (orig. Jackson Browne)
Robert Plant & Alison Krauss "Gone Gone Gone (Done Moved On)" Raising Sand (orig. Everly Brothers)

disc two
Magazine "I Love You You Big Dummy" Secondhand Daylight remastered (orig. Captain Beefheart)
Yo La Tengo "Dreaming" Freedom of Choice (orig. Blondie)
Superchunk "100,000 Fireflies" The Question Is How Fast ep (orig. Magnetic Fields)
The Schramms "In the Mirror" Rock Paper Scissors Dynamite (orig. The Saints)
Portastatic "St. Elmo's Fire" Scrapbook ep (orig. Brian Eno)
Johnny Cash "One" American III: Solitary Man (orig. U2)
Big Star "Motel Blues" Live (orig. Loudon Wainwright III)
The Mendoza Line "Packs of Three" Final Reflections of the Legendary Malcontent (orig. Arab Strap)
Jon Rauhouse w/Howe Gelb "Indian Love Call" Steel Guitar Rodeo (orig. Mary Ellis & Dennis King, more famously Jeanette McDonald & Nelson Eddy)
Alex Chilton "B-A-B-Y" Feudalist Tarts (orig. Carla Thomas)
David Byrne "Don't Fence Me In" The Bachelor sdtrk (orig. Roy Rogers, sort of)
Miles Davis "Time after Time" The Essential Miles Davis (orig. Cyndi Lauper)
Emmylou Harris "Wrecking Ball" Wrecking Ball (orig. Neil Young)
Nouvelle Vague "I Melt with You" Nouvelle Vague (orig. Modern English)
Iron & Wine and Calexico "Dark Eyes" I'm Not There (orig. Bob Dylan)
John Cale "Hallelujah" I'm Your Fan (orig. Leonard Cohen)
The Mekons "Wild and Blue" The Curse of the Mekons (orig. John Anderson)
Nickel Creek "Spit on a Stranger" This Side (orig. Pavement)
Los Lobos "I Wanna Be Like You (The Monkey Song)" Just Another Band from East L.A. (orig. Louis Prima)
Graham Parker and the Rumour "I Want You Back (Alive)" Squeezing Out Sparks & Live Sparks (orig. Jackson Five)

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Blogger Mike said...

Some good stuff in there, George, but I'm concerned and surprised that you neglected to include The Best Cover Ever™. I'm talking, of course, about the Cowboy Junkies cover of "Sweet Jane."

Otherwise, I agree, it's all a matter of opinion. But leaving that off is like starting Frank Robinson or Hank Aaron in RF on the all-time All-star team. A good choice, but notoriously, clearly "wrong."

Speaking of covers, by the way, run a YouTube search some time and track down a good quality vid David & Gillian doing a sweeeeet cover of Neil Young's "Country Girl" in Memphis (maybe Nashville). Amazing.

4:43 AM  
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4:57 AM  
Anonymous Freealonzo said...

I agree favorite covers are pretty personal, if I came up with a list, it would probably be 95 percent different than the one above (not that yours isn't great, it is).

But what I wanted to let you know is that you can get CDs of that Feelies EP and Yung Wu album from Twintone records. They'll burn a copy for you directly from the masters.

Basically go to the link below, on the left, click on artists, and then click on The Feelies. You can click on which album or EP you're interested in and have it burned and sent to you for $20 ($15 for the EP).

That's how I got my copy of Shore Leave

5:53 AM  
Blogger Smitty said...

I got a copy of Susan Tedeschi's "Hope and Desire" CD off of iTunes. It's all R&B covers, and is excellent. One of my favorites is Tired of My Tears, which is a Ray Charles cover, if I'm not mistaken.

6:26 AM  
Blogger George said...

Mike, I hate to disagree but this is one of the places our musical tastes don't align. I'm not a Cowboy Junkies fan--her voice always seems pretty without purpose or edge and their songs seem enervated, nowhere moreso than on that "Sweet Jane" cover. I did flirt with putting the Mott the Hoople cover of "Sweet Jane" on one of the CDs but forgot.

And yes, any Welch-Rawlings cover tends to be great, but they also tend to happen only live.

Free, I did see you could get the CDs burned and I should do that. I always figured that since I have both on vinyl I'd do it myself, but that's not exactly happening quickly. I love that Yung Wu album.

Smitty, Susan Tedeschi (aka Peter Gammons' anti-Manny) has been a subject for further research for me for a long time. Maybe, soon....

9:30 AM  
Blogger Mike said...

I'm not a Cowboy Junkies fan

I'm not really either. Take "Sweet Jane" off Trinity Sessions and I doubt I ever bought the album.

But it's ok for you to be utterly, completely, embarrassingly wrong once in a while. We can still be friends.

4:45 AM  
Blogger Mike said...

Here's the Rawlings-Welch "Country Gilr" I mentioned. Too good not to gift you:

4:47 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

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7:39 PM  

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