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 – “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 – “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 – “Rhiannon” August 1, 2014
Rock group Fleetwood Mac, led by “white witch” Steve Nicks, performs the song “Rhiannon”. (The song was actually inspired by the legend of a Welsh witch.) I think their recording is just perfect – the music and the lyrical content blend so wonderfully with the uniqueness of Stevie’s voice. There is not a bad thing that I can say about this song. I never get tired of listening to it.
I was very surprised to find a rendition done by country singer Waylon Jennings. Apparently he was a huge fan of Stevie’s, and even asked her to write a song for him and his wife and singing partner, Jessi Colter. Unfortunately, for them, by the time the song was ready the relationship was over, but fortunately for Mac fans Stevie recorded the resulting song, “Leather and Lace“, herself. (The song just so happens to be the subject of an earlier Cover Battle)
I’m so used to the original that this sounds really odd to me. Stevie’s recording is just so haunting, magical and mystical that I just can’t find that this version does the composition much justice at all.
Japanese artists Superfly perform a kick-ass version. The guitar work is really sharp. The vocalist, Shiho Ochi has a harder edge to her voice while still being very melodic. It calls to my mind the laidback punk cool of Debbie Harry coupled with the power of Pat Benatar. For some reason, though, the video only showcases the guitarist.
Redd Kross did a very, very, very low-tech recording of the song. I think they may have done it standing around a cassette tape machine. It has that kind of a throwback sound to it, like they were doing a homemade mix tape. It’s different. They do it as a straight up rock song. At the end, they go all out, just jamming and having fun. Their obvious enthusiasm for the material kind of made me smile. ;-)