… but I digress

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Cover Battle – “Seven Nation Army” July 18, 2014

 

Both the video and the insistent pounding rhythm for “Seven Nation Army“, by The White Stripes, are striking, hypnotic and kind of trippy. It’s one of those songs that makes you want to discover all the nuances. and track down the meaning behind the lyrics, and the story behind the metaphors. The video is almost messianic and the song itself is anthemic. But beyond that, it’s just a fabulous rock song. I found myself hitting repeat many times.

 

On my first listen I didn’t feel that lead singer Jack White was that great of a vocalist. I thought it would get in the way of me really getting into the song, but after several replays the roughness fits for me. I’ve actually heard a couple of things he’s done with other artists, and I’ve been impressed and intrigued by him. In the documentary “It Might Get Loud” we can see Jack jamming on the song with legends Jimmy Page and The Edge, and it’s a thrilling goose-bump moment.

 

The first time I actually heard this song was from a live performance, in Montrieux, by Living Colour. They are most definitely at the top of my list of phenomenal musical acts. They’ve been in the game for years, and they’re still going stronger than ever. The guitar work and drumming on this is so fierce. They put their own spin on it by taking a great song and making it even more badass than the original. I’m so used to hearing the band with Corey Glover doing lead, but I like the gruff rawness of Vernon Reid.

 

New artist Zella Day does this in a totally different way than anyone else. Her version is backed with a simple guitar and sounds much sweeter than the two covers noted above. Even though hers is less throbby and percussive it still stays with you. It’s not unsettling; it’s just haunting and a plays to a mystery within the song. So far we have 3 renditions I wouldn’t mind listening to multiple times.

 

I have another live performance for you, this time from Argentina. It’s done by the group The Pretty Reckless, fronted by actress Taylor Momsen. She played Cindy Lou Who in the Jim Carrey Grinch movie. (Yeah, that makes me feel old, too). Their version brings it back to the hard rocking, and wailing guitar feel. This one, I think, is even more punk-like. (If I know anything about punk. Which I probably really don’t, but whatever). However, I don’t find that they keep the mystery of the song, and with this version I wouldn’t really be compelled to explore the meaning behind it. It’s done really, really well, though, and I wouldn’t mind hearing it again if I want a real head banging, hard driving good time.

 

 

A remix was done, by The Glitch Mob, for the movie G.I. Joe 2: Retaliation. I’m not really a fan of remixes in general because they tend to draw you in with a familiar rhythm and then just beat it into your ears with an aural crowbar until you actually get sick of hearing the original song that drew you in, in the first place. I don’t know the technical term but whatever is on top of the vocals – (reverb, distortion, techno, whatever) is annoying and grating. It’s over powering. It might be great for the G.I. Joe movie or a tie-in video game, but goodness I couldn’t wait for this to be done.

 

A favorite of singer Kelly Clarkson, the song pops up in her live shows quite often. She rocks out to this very well. The specialness is in the song itself, but she doesn’t really add anything. Other than a good live performance.

 

I don’t really think Audioslave adds anything more to this either. The audience seems to enjoy it, but it didn’t do it for me. Just a lot of atonal screaming.

 

X-Factor contestant Marcus Collins released this as his first single, and I’m just like … NO! The video is just horrible and he turns the song into some light fluffy joke devoid of anything worthy of being listened to. It’s ridiculous. He should have just stayed in his lane. Or better yet, just stayed home and not even attempted it. Bad Marcus. Bad, bad Marcus. Now go sit in the corner and think about what you’ve. And keep your mouth closed.

 

I’m not really sure how I feel about what The Oak Ridge Boys did with this. As part of an interview for Sirius XM radio they did this in studio, vocally recreating the familiar guitar riff during the song’s intro, as well as in other spots. It’s dramatic and well-harmonized, but … maybe a little melodramatic with a dash of kitsch? It’s … odd.

   

   

 

Cover Battle – “Positively 4th Street” July 11, 2014

 

See what I do for you guys? What I’m willing to subject my ears to?
Dylan – Bob Dylan!!

 

I’ve never really been able to get past the vocals to actually listen intently to a Bob Dylan song, but I have to say I surprised myself by really getting into his song “Positively 4th Street“. The song’s about being betrayed and, as one commenter put it on YouTube, it’s ‘a classy and poetic Fuck You’ song. And they’re right – the lyrics are just perfect and biting, yet the melody of the song easily grabs you, and belies the harshness of the song’s true intent.

 

Now here’s the kicker – the version I really got into wasn’t actually Dylan! In searching YouTube people can title the vids however they want. I found one, clicked on it and listened. It sounded like Dylan to me, only slightly more understandable. It was only after playing it that I read the description. It was actually a version from a Post Productions tribute album that I got into. Apparently it’s really hard to track down a (good?) Dylan version. I found the one above and I was like “Yeah, okay, there’s the voice; that’s why I don’t listen to Dylan”

 

The first time I heard any of the song was a bit of it done by Katey Sagal on “Mary“. Those lyrics always stayed with me. Periodically I would think about but never look for it. Finally I googled that little snippet and found out what the song was. I really wish I could find a video or even just an audio clip of her doing the entire song. But, for now, this will have to do. She sounds beautiful.

 

The cover that Dylan, himself, touts as his favorite was done by Johnny Rivers. I’m a fan of Rivers’ work. It has that Johnny Rivers sound yet it also sounds very folky, and even more melodic and matter of fact than my favorite version from Post Production. Not sure if I’m totally on board for this one, sad to say.

 

The Byrds do it slightly more up-tempo, yet they sound very Dylanesque. But not so Dylanesque that it makes my ears bleed. This also seems to be the shortest version of the song that I’ve found. They do it live and although not done angrily, somehow, I can hear the bitterness more clearly in this than in any other one that I’ve found. Or maybe that’s just a product of listening to so many versions in a short span of time.

 

You can hear The Beatles doing some of the song during a video of their “Let It Be” Sessions (at the 0:50 mark). An official version was never released though. This is another one I would have loved to hear a full recording of.

 

Jerry Garcia, lead singer of The Grateful Dead, and creator of The Jerry Garcia Band, is another example of a musical legend that I’m just not into. His rendition with Merl Saunders grabs me from the first note. It sounds bluesy and the guitar is so masterful. Jerry’s vocal is a bit wistful and just slightly sad. I really enjoyed this one a lot.

 

Lucinda Williams opens this with more of a country-sounding vibe. It’s not twangy, thank goodness. Though I’m not a fan of her voice, I do like the way it serves to bring out and illustrate the hurt feelings behind the song.

 

The punk group X sounds a bit taunting in their performance of the tune and they take it back to that “Fuck You” place with their hard guitars and shouty … not so melodic vocals. They don’t seem to have any regard for a harmonious, engaging way, and they succeed on that point. But you still want to listen.

 

Bryan Ferry keeps it very straightforward and heartfelt. The piano is a nice departure from the omnipresent guitar-focused versions out there. It gives it more of a simple, plainspoken honesty.

 

English group Simply Red brings in more orchestration on this classic. The lead singer Mick Hucknall kind of sounds like Dylan, a bit, here. Just not as eardrum-destroying.

 

Unfortunately, for this next cover, I was only able to find a Grooveshark audio clip. But it’s really good. Violent Femmes brings the rock and the punk and the rockabilly excitement to this song and turn it into, as they say, “a catchy little ditty”. It’s a bit raucous but fun and cool. It’s also so danceable that you might not even pay attention to the lyrics on the first few listens. I do like it very much, though.

 


 

   

   

 

Cover Battle – “Heart of Glass” May 23, 2014

 

Heart of Glass” was the first song I ever heard by Blondie. When I saw the video I honestly didn’t know what to make of the group. Lead singer Debbie Harry’s persona seemed so matter-of-fact or jaded or blasé or high or … I don’t know what. Yet she seemed so punk-glamorous at the same time. It was weird to me. But I liked it. Now, of course, I think she’s fantastic and cool as hell.

 

The jazz recreation by The Bad Plus is almost unrecognizable. It’s wildly … different. And … creative, I guess. But at times it sounds like a drunk stumbling across the keyboards. You can hear the original, mostly, in the quieter moments of the sound tsunami assaulting your ear drums. Starting around the 3:22 mark is where you get any real sense of the actual song that you know.

 

The Nouvelle Vague cover is odd. And horrible. And really drags.

 

Speaking of horrible, we have a version done by Lily Allen. I don’t know if she’s trying to sound old-timey and cutesy-cutesy, but it’s annoying and not as joyous and wonderful as the applause of the live audience would make you believe.

 

The live cover from Arcade Fire is a pretty good interpretation. It doesn’t stomp on the original and grind it to shit like other versions do.

 

The model Gisele Bundchen recorded this (for an H&M clothing commercial, I believe) with electronic music man Bob Sinclar. Let’s just say … she should stick to wearing overpriced ridiculous looking clothes* and being a football wife.

   

   

 

*Do you realize how hard it is to find a picture of this woman looking ridiculous?! It’s like – does she ever take a bad picture? Good grief.

   

 

Cover Battle – “Dancing With Myself” September 20, 2013

 

Hot. British. Spiky. Punk. Sneering. Badass Attitude. Anarchic. Perfect description of Billy Idol, and this song. But unlike a lot of strictly punk songs, this one has an accessibility to it. It’s not off-putting and doesn’t necessarily make you want to wreck stuff. It’s my favorite version. Although, surprisingly, not the original (!)

 

The original was issued only a year prior, by … Billy Idol. And Generation X. During his stint with the British punk band , Generation X, Billy and his band mates wrote and released Dancing With Myself. After the band broke up Billy remixed the song and released it, effectively helping to launch his successful solo career.

 

The Gen-X original recording is sparser and not as produced as Billy’s solo remix. It has a less polished sound to it. While I guess a real music expert might call this a truer punk version, the solo effort sounds way more punk to my ear. This sounds more like a well-done demo to me.

 

The Donnas version, while fast-paced, still has nowhere near the same level of punkiness of Billy’s original (remix). It’s a nice, serviceable cover. It just doesn’t have the gritty, ballsy, in your face melodic harshness of the original. When Billy Idol sings this you can hear the “fuck you” sneer and attitude. When the Donnas do it, it’s a fun party song. You can even make out all the words, and that certainly doesn’t seem punk.

 

Nouvelle Vague, a group I admittedly had never heard of, takes this to a 20’s sounding flapper type vibe. It’s such an unexpected redo, you don’t know what to think at first. It’s old-style, yet there’s a light freshness to it that you’d think would diminish the song. But it doesn’t. It’s quick, kicky and fun, and I really really like it.

 

I think Blink 182 increases the tempo, just a little. Perhaps they’re attempting to out punk Billy or maybe to add a slight touch of goofiness to it? I’m honestly not sure. To me, it doesn’t really add anything to the song, except maybe put it on the radar of a younger generation of fans that will (hopefully) be interested in tracking down the original.

   

   

 

Cover Battle – “One Way or Another” August 2, 2013

 

The song was originally done by Blondie – the punk new wave hard-driving rock band fronted by the magnetic melodic muse, Deborah Harry. It’s frenetic and focused yet all over the place. It switches tempo frequently and Debbie’s vocal is alternately manic, creepy and seductive. I mean, is she trying to catch her stalker or is she the ultimate stalker? You’re not really sure, but you don’t even care. She and the band just rock out and give it all they’ve got, maintaining their edge all the way through. I love it.

 

As for the collaboration between Blondie and Joss Stone – it doesn’t work for me. I don’t think Joss’s voice works for the song and I don’t really think she and Debbie mesh that well. They’re both powerful performers with great strong voices but together it was distracting and discordant. It kind of sounded like a hot mess.

 

As much as I didn’t want to like it (I think I am getting better about accepting remakes and covers and reimagininings, though) I thought the One Direction version was kind of cute. And it’s not just because it’s for Red Nose Day, on behalf of the British charity, Comic Relief. They are rather engaging young blokes. Plus the way they’re hopping around in the video reminded me of The Monkees, so it was fun.

 

I have a different reaction to the next version. Oh my gosh, I cannot even tell you how much I hate this one. I won’t even call it a remake. It’s just a massacre. I was surprised that there was only one cover version done by a “name” group. I had originally only found the One Direction one, then I kept looking and saw the Mandy Moore cover. Unfortunately, while listening to it I really started to gag. I mean Mandy Moore seems like a nice person and all but this sounded horrible to me and so far away from anything even remotely enjoyable or catchy. Ugh.

 

   

   

 

Cover Battle – “Runaway” July 19, 2013

 

I have an affinity for music from the 50’s and 60’s. I don’t know why, I just always have. One of my favorites is “Runaway” by Del Shannon. Maybe it was the opening guitar strums leading into the piano or just the fact that it’s so undeniably catchy. When it popped up as the theme song for one of the coolest tv shows ever, Crime Story, I was in heaven.

 

The supergroup The Traveling Wilburys did a really nice cover that keeps the flavor and feel of Del. It has that casual sense of musician friends that truly enjoy each other just jamming for the fun of it, while still respecting the original work. Of course with George Harrison, Roy Orbison, Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne and Bob Dylan you really can’t go too wrong.

 

I’m still getting used to Bonnie Raitt’s version, but the more I listen the more I get into it. I’m enjoying the down home bluesy harmonica and the soul injection Bonnie provides.

 

I found three other versions, all in different genres. I listened to all of the metal (Witchwolf). I tried to listen to the punk (The Scumsluggers), but could not quite make it through. And I attempted the disco (Eruption) but I believe the trauma I experienced after hearing the punk and the metal versions was just too much for my delicate psyche to bear. You, however, are welcome to discover them on your own.

 

I’m going to go lie down now.

   

   

 

BONUS: Crime Story opening theme:

   

   

 

Patti Smith plays last concert at CBGB – October 15, 2006 October 17, 2010

USA Today article

CBGB on wikipedia

CBGB official site

CBGB Timeline of Highlights


Founder Hilly Kristal


Patti Smith

 

 
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