If you don’t live in Australia, the name Hoodoo Gurus might not mean much to you, but in the ’80s and early ’90s they were one of the nation’s preeminent college rock bands (think R.E.M. or The Feelies). Though they never found equally huge acclaim stateside, since reuniting they’ve been crowned veritable national treasures back home, being inducted into the Australian music hall of fame a few years ago, and having a song adopted as the official theme song of the National Rugby League (speaking of things that never made it big in the states…). And now, on their current tour of Australia, The Decemberists have begun performing a cover of one of the band’s biggest hits, “Death Defying.”
“Jimmy Mack” by Martha Reeves and the Vandellas is a Motown classic, upbeat and insanely catchy. Not that you’d know it from the new cover by Animal Collective, who, it will not surprise anyone who knows them to learn, have changed the song radically. They’ve been performing it on their current tour, and finally laid down a studio version a few days ago at the KCRW Morning Becomes Eclectic session.
Some covers are more equal than others. Good, Better, Best looks at three covers and decides who takes home the gold, the silver, and the bronze.
Guns N’ Roses’s “November Rain” is a huge song. Its size doesn’t just come from its length (it’s almost nine minutes long, making it the longest single ever in the Billboard Top 10). It’s not its long gestational period, either (Tracii Guns says that Axl Rose already had a working version of it in 1983, back when he was still with the L.A. Guns). Nor is it only the cryptic video (Axl lost somebody, for sure, but otherwise who knows was was going on exactly?). “November Rain” is an epic because in addition to all these elements, it takes the listener on a journey, and it’s one we’ve all been on before.
When the song begins, we’re dropped into a relationship on the edge. It’s been on-again, off-again, and both parties are unsure of where they stand. Slash’s first two solos during this part of the song soar, making you feel like everything is going to work out for these two. The last verse reinforces this feeling. When Axl sings “Never mind the darkness, we still can find a way. And nothing lasts forever, even cold November rain”, we feel like this couple has turned the corner and is on the right path.
And then comes the apocalyptic coda. Instead of tenderness, we get intensity. Between the thunder of the piano and the snarl of the third guitar solo, it’s clear that we ended up getting two songs for the price of one. This is the story of a relationship on the rocks, surviving through its ups and downs; and then the bloody aftermath, when nothing is left but loneliness and the need to rage.
Because of all the territory the original spans, any cover of “November Rain” has fertile ground for interpretation. An artist could focus on any part of the myriad emotions crammed into the original and explore further. Here are three covers that did a particularly good job with this power ballad.
So that’s how you spell “Jai Guru Deva, Om.”
That’s Candace Leca singing this classic Beatles cut with the lyrics written on 100 different balloons. The video was created by Leca and her husband, Mike Paglia, who plays guitar and piano on this cover of a song they both love and have always wanted to cover.
The New York Times this morning reported what they called “an exceedingly strange case of simultaneous musical inspiration”: two totally separate dance covers of Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car,” released a week apart. And both are going viral in Europe. But are either of them any good?
Indie rock sensation St. Vincent, contributes to the soundtrack of Luca Guadagnino’s forthcoming erotic-thriller A Bigger Splash, featuring Tilda Swinton, Ralph Fiennes, Mathias Schoenaerts and Dakota Johnson.
The Berkley College of Music graduate shares her cover of the Stones‘ “Emotional Rescue” featured on the highly acclaimed film’s soundtrack – which garnered the Soundtrack Stars Award at last year’s 72nd Venice Film Festival, where the movie made its premiere in September.