… but I digress

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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 – “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.





Cover Battle – “Bad Moon Rising” October 3, 2014


The song “Bad Moon Rising” by Creedence Clearwater Revival is a familiar tune; it’s been around since 1969. It’s been used in movies (An American Werewolf in London, Blade, The Big Chill); in tv shows (Supernatural, The Following, Cold Case); and in video games (Guitar Hero). The song talks about that sense you get when you just know something bad’s coming, it feels like the universe is throwing you outsized warnings and you’re kind of on pins and needles waiting for it. But the music behind it is so bouncy and peppy it makes you feel happy, not nervous.


Another tv show that’s used the song is The Walking Dead. Even though it’s one of my favorites, I really don’t remember this Mourning Ritual version being used in a trailer. No matter, though. It seems to be a perfect fit with the dread, foreboding and fear of the ever present zombie apocalypse depicted onscreen. The slow, creepy opening, and the persistent throbbing drums that get you pumping and amps up anxiety. It makes you feel there’s something just over your shoulder that’s coming to get you. A totally different feel than the original. The more I listen to this the more it gets my neck hairs standing on end. Well done.


Jerry Lee Lewis released an excessively twangy country-sounding version of this. Oh my god, no. This doesn’t work for me at all. It’s not that I necessary have a problem with the really raw, jam session, home-studio sound of it, it’s just the backwoods shack, jug and washboard, moonshine, Deliverance feeling it gives me. That might be more unsettling and uncomfortable than what’s actually going on in the song.


Jerry Lee also recorded this with the song’s original writer, Creedence lead singer John Fogerty. Still has some ultra twangy guitar licks, but it sounds way more polished and artfully produced than Jerry’s solo turn, which makes it a bit more palatable.


Oh lord – now I’ve really I’ve fallen into a twangy vortex! This next one is by the artist Emmylou Harris. So country. So honky-tonk. Lots of wailing. Whoever does the piano solo on this is really good, and the harmonizing Emmylou does with the backup singers blends together well. But still – I may have to listen to something seriously head banging after this.




Cover Battle – “Bohemian Rhapsody” September 19, 2014


Bohemian Rhapsody“. What words can I use to describe it?. Epic. Operatic. Dramatic. Theatrical. Performed by the legendary group Queen, this … masterpiece is like nothing you’ve ever heard. It sweeps through different tempos and stylings and vocals and levels. Excuse my French, but, it’s mother-fucking-brilliant! As such, this is one of those songs you think of as untouchable, not that others haven’t tried. But for most, they’d consider it sacrosanct – not to be tampered with, redone, reimagined, or covered. Except by The Muppets. Theirs is the only alternate version I would even deem worthy. It’s totally cute and hilarious and fun. But that’s it. Up until last week, that is.


During the season episode of the final season [ 😦 ] of Sons of Anarchy, the ending montage begins – a variety of scenes with a musical underscore – I’m looking at the screen, and listening to the music. I hear the opening words, and they sound familiar, and I’m like “wait – what? No. No way; they did not do this” But yes, they did: they covered “Bohemian Rhapsody”.


The musical director for SOA, Bob Thiele, has always been incredibly adept about finding just the right songs for the show. They’ve redone a few other songs over the years, that I never thought I would like as covers and they’ve blown me away each and every time. This was no different. I was floored by the audacity, but it was so well done, and so appropriate, that I loved it.


As mentioned above, the cover done by The Muppets is a true joy. Not only do they cover the song, but they pretty much recreate the stance of the original Queen video. They do change the words in some parts to fit into the whole Muppets world, but it’s still pretty perfect.


In checking the internet, I also found another really fun one. It’s a parody version with a Star Wars basis. It’s well executed, with a lot of attention to detail. I’m sure it would go over big at any Comic Con.


The group Panic! At the Disco does a live version which, surprisingly, I actually like. I don’t think it has the same force and power as Freddie Mercury’s vocal with Queen, but it’s really, really good. And I’m not just saying that because the lead singer is shirtless, I swear.


Actor and singer Adam Lambert performs parts of the song on stage with the surviving members of Queen. During the performance they play major portions of the original video, then Adam and the band come back in. It’s very effective and captivating. It gave me chills.


Adam actually performed the song for his audition on American Idol. Leading judge Simon Cowell clued into his theatricality and flair, and seemed a little unsure of him being a good fit for the competition. He ultimately gave him a “yes” vote. As did the other 3 judges, enthusiastically, because Adam is a good singer. The drama and exuberance is just a thrilling bonus.


In addition to performing the song with Adam Lambert, the band also did a performance of it with Elton John, tackling the earlier, more ballad-like section, and Guns N’ Roses front man Axl Rose, taking on the later raucous role. They come together for the very end. I like hearing Elton’s voice. There’s a true respect and admiration for the material, the band, and Freddie that’s evident in his care with the song. Axl gives the later hard rock section his usual all-out frenetic gusto. It’s a respectable job.


A few years ago, a new hotel, The Cosmopolitan, was opening up in Vegas and they brought out a series of really … interesting commercials. (Their tag line was “Just the right amount of wrong”.) One of them featured the song, acted out, in a very dramatic way, using only the lyrics. The guitar riffs and whatnot were brought in at the end. I thought it was very creative and successfully done.


The most unexpected cover has to be the one from Jake Shimabukuro’s 2010 TED Talk presentation. On the ukelele. It’s unbelievably cool. This video is longer than the other versions only because they tack on a 3 minute Rolex commercial at the end. So, unless you’re seriously into Rolex watches you can shut it off after the 7:03 mark.


As they tend to be, cover versions done by William Shatner are usually pretty out there and have a strongly WTF? flavor. But this has to be one of the most batshit crazy things I’ve heard in quite some time. I think medication might be in order. For him, and for me.


I found a documentary on the making of “Bohemian Rhapsody” that you might also be interested in. It runs just under an hour.




Cover Battle – “Love is a Battlefield” September 12, 2014


Classically trained as an opera singer, Pat Benatar broke out into superstardom during the 1980’s and became a bona fide badass rock goddess. At the age of 61 she and her collaborator, guitarist, husband Neil Geraldo are still touring and going strong.


Her song, “Love is a Battlefield” plays as a kind of empowerment anthem. This theme is actualized in the official video where Benatar (as a runaway) becomes … a dancehall girl (??) and eventually leads her fellow coworkers in a dance/rebellion/walkout against their sleazy controlling boss. I mean, this guy even has a gold tooth. And I think it’s chipped!


This song doesn’t seem to be a popular one for covers. Sure, there are random regular people doing various versions all over Youtube but I couldn’t find any name artists that have done one. However, I was inspired to choose this song from a commercial for an upcoming Lifetime movie, Deliverance Creek. I was only half listening to it, then I caught the words and realized what song they were doing. I listened more intently and decided to track it down. And here we are.


Holly Knight’s Story of O, featuring Sara Skinner is the group that performed the Deliverance Creek cover. It’s very dark and creepy. It brings an element to the song that is totally fresh, yet haunted. And twisted. And decayed. I love this reinterpretation. And I may actually watch Deliverance Creek, too. Incidentally, Holly Knight is one of the original writers (along with Mike Chapman) of “Love is a Battlefield”.


There’s a version done by Canadian artist Jann Arden that I’m not such a fan of. I really liked Jann’s 1994 album, Living Under June, so I was looking forward to hearing what she did with this. She takes it much slower than the original, but not as a slow as Story of O. I think, maybe this midway tempo just beiges it out and makes it the aural equivalent of decorator neutral. It’s blah, meh and uninspiring.


The last one I have for you today is not actually considered a cover. It’s billed as a “literal version” where the words comment on and make fun of the imagery of the actual video. The few I’ve seen have been very funny and enjoyable. This one is as well.





Cover Battle – “Best of My Love” September 5, 2014


Looking at the title of this week’s song you might think I’m getting forgetful and starting to repeat myself. (Ha-ha Starting? That ship has sailed, my friend)


Last week we had “Best of My Love” by The Emotions; this week we have “Best of My Love” by the Eagles. Different song, though, so this isn’t a comparison to the previous one.



The Eagles are a Southern California rock group. They rock; they croon; they satisfy a lot of different musical yearnings. They’ve written some of the best songs of all time. At least in my opinion they have. They are definitely one of my faves.


This “Best of My Love” is a slow, heartfelt, soul-deep reflection of a relationship on its last legs. The lyrics of the song are so spot on: you love someone; you try to make it work and be the best version of yourself, but sometimes actions don’t always equal intent. And then after it falls apart, you “monday morning quarterback” your way over the whole thing. You forgive your partner; you forgive yourself, and realize you both only had the best of intentions but it all got away from you.


Although written by Eagles collaborators Don Henley and Glenn Frey (along with J.D. Souther), the song was released by someone else prior to the group’s recording of it. The actual first version was done by John Lees of Barclay James Harvest. All I can say is “Holy mother of crap – MAKE IT STOP!!”


Within the first 2 or 3 notes I knew it was gonna be tough to sit through. I mean, first of all there’s twang. Extreme amounts of twang. And I totally get that the Eagles’ music might be seen as a good basis for adding twang. But if you do it well it won’t annoy me so much. This is not a subtle or artful use of twang.


Also, it reminds me of the worst kind of elevator muzak, dentist office waiting room, brainwashed stepford wives village mall music. It’s not even palatable enough to be an acceptable form of karaoke. It sounds totally corny and lame. Frankly, I consider it an abomination. To music. To the Eagles. To my eardrums.


Now to be fair I actually went and listened to (well, tried to listen to) a couple of their other works. They’re actually a little bit better than on this cover, but I’m still not thrilled with their stuff.


Singer Yvonne Elliman does a slightly peppier, more up-tempo version. Her voice is light and a touch breathy. She doesn’t really add anything interesting to the song. It’s very bland and not something I’d return to for another listen.


I like hearing this in Rod Stewart’s scratchy voice. It’s a good arrangement, and even though you clearly hear a strong undertone of the Eagles … twang (there, I said it. Okay?) it’s not overpowering. The tempo, arrangement and Rod’s vocals work well together. It’s an Eagles song but it’s definitely Rod Stewart doing it his own way, while still honoring the group’s original. (I’m still considering it the original even though it’s not).


Following in the words of Monty Python “And now, for something completely different …” , I have the reggae group Aswad. There’s absolutely no sign of twang anywhere in this piece. Even with the radically different sound Aswad still keeps to the original reflective feel of the Eagles’ intent. Surprisingly I actually like it, and think it was pretty well-done.


For the last cover I have an actual country version. It’s by the duo of Brooks and Dunn. It’s got the requisite slide guitar twang, but it not really obnoxious about it. I mean, they’re a country duo and the twang is an expected element, but I’m cool with it here. There’s a nice smooth drumbeat here that I appreciate. I could actually enjoy this one.





Cover Battle – “Best of My Love” (The Emotions) August 29, 2014


The original recording of “Best of My Love” was released by The Emotions, (If you clink the link, turn your sound down first. Trust me on this) in 1977. It’s a great example of 70’s soul music: well-crafted, great harmonies, easy to dance to. Just an all-around joy fest that typifies the era, yet never gets old.


Christina Milian performs a bit of the song in the John Travolta movie, Be Cool. It stays true to the tempo of the original, but it’s very screechy. And the performance is just a trio of pop tarts gyrating annoyingly, but I guess that was what was called for in the movie. Honestly not sure if a straight rendition on stage would be any different, since I’m not really familiar with Christina’s work and really have no interest in exploring further.


The incomparable Mary J. Blige sings a bit of the song in a fun little holiday season commercial for The Gap, featuring Josh Duhamel and Sarah Jessica Parker. There’s a dash of a funk undertone to it. It’s basically just a snippet, but I would be interested in hearing a full version if she ever releases one. It’s still celebratory but doesn’t give me as much of a ‘get down and party’ feeling as the three-part harmony of The Emotions.


I was unable to find a video anywhere for the version done by Sheena Easton, in 2001, but I did find audio on Grooveshark. You can listen to it here. The pace is sped up and “popified”. It kind of sounds like a fairly forgettable karaoke run, albeit with pretty good production values. I’m not really impressed.


Another version I couldn’t seem to track down a video for was done by Phoebe Snow. There is an audio, here, at Who Sampled. This one is funked up somewhat, like the Mary J. version above. The extra instrumentation sounds a little distracting to me though. It’s juuuust on the verge of being a “… and the kitchen sink” version. You know – let’s throw everything in there. It’s kind of busy.


The live performance clip by En Vogue is highly energetic and brings you back to the spirit of the original. Unfortunately it’s entirely too short. Would loved to have been able to find something more complete.





Cover Battle – “Chim Chim Cheree” August 22, 2014


Chim Chim Cheree” is a highlight of the Disney film Mary Poppins. It’s mostly sung by Dick Van Dyke, as a chimney sweep (Cockney accent? Not a success.) and the two little children accompanying him. Towards the end Julie Andrews joins in with Dick. (I didn’t mean that to sound dirty, but now that it does I’m gonna roll with it.)


In the song there’s a line “When there’s hardly no day , Nor hardly no night, there’s things half in shadow, And half way in light” that sounds, if not quite ominous, then at least a bit haunted or potentially disturbing. The version by Turin Brakes changes the tune from a light cheerful ditty to something darker and more serious. In this video version, we’re confronted with the face of homelessness. We look in the eyes of people we try to avoid and ignore and see that they’re human; just like us. The juxtaposition of the images with this happy, magical song from childhood is striking and takes you aback. I actually enjoyed this reworking. I think it’s quite wonderfully done. Please note: all proceeds from the sale of this song go to shelters in Amarillo, Texas and in the UK.


Next I have a version from the movie, Saving Mr. Banks, about the efforts it took to get Mary Poppins to the screen. It’s a lovely little piano piece, with a recitation from Colin Farrell , who plays the father of P.L. Travers, the creator of Mary Poppins.


Allan Sherman did a very funny parody lampooning the myriad number of products sold on tv.


Duke Ellington does an excellent take on this, adding horns, drum and big orchestration, without overpowering the piece. It’s very jazzy and truly elegant. The music ends around the 2:48 mark, but for some reason the vid continues on for over a minute more. This is the only one I found with just this song on it. There’s another YouTube hit for Ellington’s version but it has 4 other songs as well, and goes on for 15 minutes. So take your pick.


The Manheim Steamroller version is strictly instrumental. It starts out very creepy, then adds a sense of whimsy. It sounds like something that you’d hear on the soundtrack for a Tim Burton film. In that context it might be kind of cool, but just listening to it on the fly, it’s a little weird and a bit macabre.


In the hands of Esperanza Spalding this song is it’s virtually unrecognizable, though not in a bad way. It’s mostly instrumental with a little vocalization thrown in here and there. It sounds completely magical and she transforms it into high art.


Not too sure what to make of the last one here. It’s just a snippet, and it’s performed by comedian David Alan Grier, in the movie Amazon Women on the Moon. There’s even a B.B. King cameo. David’s part ends around the 3:55 mark. I’m not sure what’s going on with this movie but I think I might have to check it out.





Cover Battle – “Black” August 15, 2014


The song “Black” by Pearl Jam is beautiful. It’s well-written and emotive. It’s relatable to anyone who’s lost at love a time or two. It starts off so simply and builds to almost operatic heights of intensity and heartbreak.


As good as the studio version is, the MTV Unplugged performance of the song is incredible. Again, it starts simply, and you melt into it. Soon (and subtly), Eddie and the band turn it up – and I’m just mesmerized. Eddie Vedder has a kind of Jim Morrison or Joe Cocker-like intensity when he really gets rolling. It’s like seeing a musical possession: it’s thrilling and frightening, wild yet controlled, otherworldly yet totally grounded. Eddie’s sitting down the entire time but you’re almost holding your breath expecting him to jump up and get the holy ghost. It’s like he’s a whirling dervish who’s been nailed to the stool.


And so what if you might not be able to distinctly make out every single word when Vedder sings it? He puts himself completely into the song – heart, soul, blood, sweat, spit, spleen … 127%. (That might just be a rough estimate).


The cover by Smith & Meyers of the group Shinedown is fine. It’s fairly respectable; it’s enunciated quite well. It’s … okay. It just doesn’t have the same intense and passionate wallop of the Pearl Jam version.


And I’m not really feeling the live cover by Aaron Lewis of Staind, either. It seems very draggy and sad, much more than it needs to be. It’s kind of blah. Maybe anything less than Vedder on this song just sounds whiny and emo to me.


Baseball player Bronson Arroyo tackled the song on his debut album of cover songs, Covering the Bases (get it? a ballplayer doing cover songs? huh, huh?). Honestly, it’s not as bad as I thought it might be. Still not Vedder but I think it might kill on karaoke night at some bar.





Cover Battle – “Down With the Sickness” August 8, 2014



I’m keeping this one short and sweet, ‘cuz I’m tired. 😉


I am by no means what you’d call a “metal head” but I do like a good head banger, and “Down With The Sickness” by Disturbed definitely qualifies.


I don’t even recall how I came upon the song. It could have been while looking for other cover battle stuff or through a twitter or Facebook link, but anyway, I love this song. I was even thinking that the opening riffs would be a cool/creepy/wtf? ringtone for a cell phone. (I’m weird like that). The guitar riffs are so sharp they almost sound like drums. I’ve never heard anything like that; I love it. You should check out some of Disturbed’s other efforts.


The only other version out there is done by the comedy entertainer known as Richard Cheese (dick cheese, get it? Gross and nasty, sure but the throwback feel is sorta cheesy too, so I can see the humor. I’m twisted like that) The style is just so far afield from the original it makes me chuckle. It’s a big band, swing type of sound and makes the song seem like one of the old American standards. He gives it a full orchestra treatment and some very smooth, Michael Buble type vocals. He’s totally into it. It’s hysterical. And well done.





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