Cover Battle – “Fell in Love With a Girl” November 14, 2014
I had never heard this song until I got into the cover version from Joss Stone. Actually she switched up the gender and changed it to “Fell in Love With a Boy”. I’m a big fan of Joss Stone. She’s got an old-soul, rhythm voice that’s just amazing for someone so young. (Damn, whippersnapper!) She gives this a funk-tastic, sexy vibe. I love how the song opens with the scratch of an old 45 single. The great drumbeat is provided by producer and The Roots drummer Questlove.
The original version -“Fell in Love With a Girl” – was written and performed by The White Stripes. It’s a seriously fast-paced track that goes by in under 2 minutes. That’s practically unheard of these days. Hearing this original version is jarring compared to the smooth soul of Ms. Stone. This is very hard rock, loud, punk like. And just like Joss’s cover has an old throwback style to it, the White Stripes version also feels retro. Can’t say it’s something I would put on repeat, though, but the Lego video is pretty cool.
I found an acoustic version from the White Stripes as well. I’m kind of a sucker for stripped down, acoustic stuff and I could get into this more than the fully produced punk one. It’s making me wonder what it would sound like if Joss and the Stripes did a collaborative version. Could be amazing; could be a mild train wreck.
I also found something by The New Royales. It’s definitely more in line with the White Stripes feel. It adds a pulsing electronic sound that can get annoying, and possibly seizure inducing. It’s a good cover though. Pretty well-done.
The strangest cover I discovered is probably the most unexpected. It’s done as a “Lullaby Rendition” (?!?) and it’s just too freakin’ cute. I love this thing.
PRINCE!!! ON THE INTERNET! November 10, 2014
I fully expect this to get taken down at any moment, so enjoy it while you can
Cover Battle – “Helter Skelter” November 7, 2014
It took me several listens to decide which Beatles version of this song to bring you. I wasn’t really sure if I could discern the subtle differences, so I kept going back and forth between two of them. Then I decided – what the heck? – I’ll bring you both!
The “original” recording of “Helter Skelter” sounds rough and raw and primitive. Not unprofessional, by any means, but there’s a sense of wildness to it and an improvisational grit that’s common in early recordings without benefit (?) of modern technology. It has texture. There’s a remastered version from 2009 that sounds a shade cleaner. I think I prefer the first one, but just by a hair. I actually think, however, that some of the covers I’ve heard are better to listen to than either of these “originals”.
My first introduction to “Helter Skelter” was through the album Rattle and Hum. I think I knew there was a song named “Helter Skelter”; I knew it was by the Beatles, and I knew that Charles Manson had used it for his own purposes or whatever (resulting in a book by Vincent Bugliosi and a subsequent movie with the same title), but I had never actually heard the song before U2 recorded it.
I took an immediate liking to it. Even now, writing this, I’m rocking out in my chair, furiously bobbing my head and putting it on repeat. It’s done before a live audience so you have the energy and appreciation of the crowd, that big arena sound, and the skill, talent and enthusiasm of a band at the height of their worldwide popularity and acclaim. The U2 version takes a rock classic perverted by a madman and, with jangly, driving guitars, hard drum beats and Bono’s impassioned voice, reclaims it for the people.
I heard bits of the song, again, in the movie, Across the Universe. It’s performed as part of a scene that starts peacefully with the title song and then goes into the more rebellious fury of the cover battle song. It’s a powerful segment exemplifying the spirit of the 60’s: war, social unrest, groundbreaking activism, and a radical rethinking of the established view of government, citizenship, war, peace, death and life.
The figure that you glimpse performing “Helter Skelter” in the movie is actress/singer Dana Fuchs. I have her doing a full version in a live performance. It’s really nice to see this done by a female artist that rocks out just as hard, if not harder, than some of the male artists that usually tackle this. Her voice is strong and raspy ; bluesy and soulful. She has a take-no-prisoners intensity to this and just blows it out of the water.
Another take charge, balls to the wall female rocker that handles this without apology is Pat Benatar. Her commitment level is perfectly matched by her band. This is another great performance from a solid artist.
Motley Crue gives this the heavy metal treatment: big, bold, noisy and head-bangy. It doesn’t bring in anything different or innovative but it’s a fine enough version.
Sir Paul McCartney delivers a truly incredible performance of this during the 12.12.12 Hurricane Sandy Relief Fund concert in NYC. There’re a few instances of vocal strain, but so what? It’s Paul freakin’ McCartney!!! The dude continues to be fantastically awesome. At the age of 72 the man is still creating, still expressing – still kicking major ass onstage, and he never half-steps it. And his band (including Taylor Hawkins of Foo Fighters) is right there with him.
As for Siouxsie & The Banshees:
‘Nuff said. Moving on.
I happened upon a sample sound clip from Roger Daltrey of The Who. It’s from an all-star tribute album, The Art of McCartney, that’s due out on November 18. Just this tiny little snippet makes me excited to hear a full version. Should be quite wonderful.
The cover version from Oasis really had to grow on me. My first impression was that it was quite unremarkable, and I couldn’t really come up with what, in particular, made me see it that way. But after several replays I’m finding more of an appreciation for it. Paying more attention to the music and the arrangement on the back end of the song, without the vocals, helped me to reevaluate things. Now listening to the whole thing a little deeper I can see that the vocals fit in very well. It sounds like they were using some throwback technology that made the recording, especially the vocals, sound like they were recorded back in the day. There’s an almost tinny echo underneath the whole thing that takes it slightly out of time from modern musical production advances.
With Steven Tyler’s trademark yelps, Aerosmith stays faithful to the song while still maintaining their signature style. The guitar work is strong and on point, if a bit rushed. A really good interpretation.
Cover Battle – “Across the Universe” October 31, 2014
“Across the Universe“, written by John Lennon, was originally released in 1969. The more I listen to it the more beautiful it becomes to me. It’s very positive and uplifting. It puts me in a peaceful frame of mind, and subtly expresses the idea that our thoughts float out into the universe and we become in tune with each other. It seems like such a simple song, but it’s incredibly profound and enlightening.
The “best version” (as touted by the YouTube poster legendofbirdbridge) begins with what sounds like a nature documentary (or Hitchcock’s The Birds). I believe this was done in connection with a World Wildlife Fund charity album. After the avian influx John’s voice comes in all swirling and psychedelic. It’s almost like you’re falling into a meditative state. And maybe that was the intent.
The “rare version” (uploaded by rizlatune) is much simpler, more beautiful and effective. It does have a little bit of a symphonic background to it, but it’s not overwhelming.
When I saw this next version listed in my YouTube search results, I got really interested to hear it. I mean, how could I not? David Bowie and John Lennon doing the song live? Just the idea of it is pretty awesome, right? But, turns out, this is some sort of “fake-out” or really an impersonation of both artists. It’s listed on a YouTube channel under “Mersey Boys“, in association with British comedian Stevie Riks. He does a bunch of other “interesting” musical impersonations/homages, as well.
At first I was like wtf is this? It’s really cheesy and a little trippy (granted the song itself is kind of trippy. Or maybe it’s just the background in the video). But the singer/impressionist is pretty dead on with the sound and persona of both artists. Although his Bowie does remind me a bit of a Tom Baker acid trip version of Doctor Who.
The British group 10cc does a live version that’s pretty faithful to the original, if more stripped down. It’s done simply, with no overblown orchestration and it’s very soothing and quite lovely.
On the album Abbey Road: A Tribute to The Beatles, the song is performed by Jackson Browne and Robbie Krieger. This one’s a little painful to slog through; it just doesn’t work for me. The addition of the choir around the 2:32 is too much. There’s so much going on that it detracts. And distracts. Sometimes in paying tribute you screw up the beauty of the pure song and this kind of does that for me.
The bell/chime/whatever-it-is that opens the Cyndi Lauper cover is jarring to my ears. This is another example of throwing in too much stuff. As I noted above the song is a bit trippy on its own but adding in a bunch of airy, new age, hippy dippy, crunchy granola, ethereal-sounding elements devalues it, taking the focus away from the simple, profound beauty of song. It’s interesting, though, that the closing section (around the 4:06 mark) is reminiscent of the out of this world ending music on The Beatles’ A Day in the Life.
Now, having said what I did about a lot of stuff being thrown into a cover, the fact that there’s a lot going on in David Bowie’s rendition does not make me hate it. In fact I think this is fantastically executed. Even though it’s much less meditative, what he’s done in no way overshadows the song; it only enhances it.
Fiona Apple is a very intense, thoughtful, passionate artist. I think she’s a really good fit for this song. Her voice is sweet and airy, very light, yet strongly focused and effortlessly serene in her interpretation. As in the video, her voice is an island of calm response to the chaos that can sometimes surround us all.
Another beautiful interpretation is brought to us by Rufus Wainwright. Again, not sparse, but nothing overly produced. What he does comes in service of the song, not a drive to be clever or a showy sense of ego.
The German rock band Scorpions bring us a guitar-laden cover that’s very earnest and sincere. Their version feels almost like a lullaby. It’s nice.
In the Julie Taymor-directed musical Across the Universe, the main character, played by actor Jim Sturgess, begins “Across the Universe” and gradually ends up in the middle of piece that focuses on the riotous song “Helter Skelter“. The visuals in this section (in the whole film, really) are just stunning.
Cover Battle – “You’re the One That I Want” October 24, 2014
“You’re the One That I Want” is the big finale in the movie Grease. The sweet, good-girl bobby soxer Sandy (Olivia Newton-John), dons tight leather clothes and teases the hell out of her hair (basically changing her whole persona) to win the heart of Danny (John Travolta), the cool bad boy of Rydell High. He’s so amazed by her transformation, and his “teenaged” (Travolta was 24 at the time) hormones, he becomes discombobulated and admits his feelings in an energetic burst of song. With a full rousing dance number, of course. It’s all in nostalgic fun, though, right? Okay, he does don a letterman’s sweater to kind of become what she wants, too. But I still think her change is way more drastic. And sexist. And yet, I sing along, believing true love triumphs. Yada yada.
This next video is what sparked me to choose this for a Cover Battle. It’s a full length form of a Chanel No. 5 commercial featuring model Gisele Bundchen. As I was listening absentmindedly, a phrase caught my attention, then I realized what the song was. The tempo fits the lush, dreamy romantic feel of the commercial, but it’s such a departure from the usual way you hear this song. The commercial, sorry – the film – was beautifully directed by Baz Luhrmann with a full-fledged storyline and real acting, by Gisele and Michiel Huisman. The song itself is sung by artist Lo-Fang.
Australian brother and sister duo Angus & Julia Stone also does this in a tempo radically different from the original. Angus plays guitar, while Julia, alone, handles the vocal. Her voice is kind of girly and a little precious. On first listen it was a little grating to my sensibility, but the more I replay it the more ingratiating it becomes. I’m coming around to liking it; it’s very sweet. And precious. But not in a bad way. The ending is very sudden and just kind of cuts off abruptly. I don’t know if that’s how they actually decided to end the recording or if it was something with the person who uploaded the video.
Cover Battle – “Alison” October 17, 2014
The ballad “Alison” was written and originally performed by an artist whose music I’m really growing to enjoy – Elvis Costello. It comes from his first album, My Aim is True, which is also a line in the song. Mr. Costello is a skilled musician and a prolific songwriter, and has been entertaining multitudes of fans in a variety of genres for decades.
I’m not really all that into the studio release; it just seems there’s too much thrown into it. I’m partial to the live versions. They’re simpler, less cluttered and much more reflective (or introspective). Everything you hear has a purpose, as opposed to just being melodic filler, like the studio production.
When Elvis appeared on the Jonathan Ross chat show, we got an impromptu acoustic version. The first part of the video is an interview then at the 5:05 mark he performs a bit of the song.
The song was covered by Linda Ronstadt in 1978. Not my favorite. Generally, I’ve been a fan of a lot of her songs, but I don’t think this one worked for her. More importantly, it didn’t work for the song. It takes something away from it. And there’s a weird little saxophone periodically in the background, and then fading out at the end. Like – wtf is that even doing there?
Another version I can get behind comes from a favorite of mine, Holly Cole. She does it in her elegant torch song manner with a touch of a slower tempo. It’s quite nice.
The live performance from American Football is just … not good. I’ve never heard them before but I’m hoping this was just a really off day, and the singer had a bad cold because this was just … not pleasing to listen to. It was kind of messed up, actually.
Cover Battle – “Sweet Transvestite” October 10, 2014
The song “Sweet Transvestite” is one of the many highlights of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, a cult movie obsession. It comes up in our first onscreen introduction to Dr. Frank N Furter, played by the remarkable Tim Curry. From that moment on he owns the movie. The song, and Curry, offer an erotic temptation, blatantly causing us to reexamine and redefine our own inner desires and perversions, magnetically drawing us out of the box and over to the kinky side.
This next version is done by actor Mark Pellegrino. You may not know his name, but if you own a television or have gone to movies I’m pretty sure you’ll recognize his handsome face. At the 2012 Salute to Supernatural convention in Vancouver (or VanCon, as it’s known) he performed a really good, sexy karaoke version on stage with costars Richard Speight, Jr., Matt Cohen, and singer Steve Carlson. He definitely has fun with it, and the audience just eats it up.
Actor Anthony Head brings this one back to the Brits with his rendition from a 2006 tribute show. Just as Tim did, he brings a mesmerizing flirtiness and raunch to the role, without imitating Mr. Curry. Anthony puts his own brand on the experience.
Apocalypse Hoboken starts their cover out slow and draggy; making it sound like the song was done not by Frank N Furter, but by the character Riff Raff. I don’t really feel any sort of eroticism in this – just a brute heavy metal sound, that plays more on the wild, counterculture, non-conformist aspect of the whole Rocky Horror proceedings. They do have a bit of fun with the “antici … pation” part of the song, though.
Please don’t hate me for this but I brought you a Glee take on the song, with a woman as Frank N Furter. On one hand it makes no sense, but on another it does. Even though Rocky Horror is considered a “cult” classic, it’s so popular that you might even call it mainstream. By having Frank N Furter portrayed by a biological woman it’s kind of taking it back to its original roots of playing with “alternate” sexualities and making you question the constructs of gender identity. Or maybe I’m just over thinking this. Basically I’m just putting this here as a showcase for the incredible voice of Amber Riley.
There was one version I really, really wanted to find for you guys. And for me, too. It was Eric McCormack performing it in the Rocky Horror 25: Anniversary Special put together by VH1. After repeated searches using a ton of different word configurations I found segments from other celebrity performers, but not the one I desperately wanted to give you. And myself. So, alas – no video of Eric. ;-(
But, at the last minute, I did find pictures.