Sep 182015

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.

When all the bien-pensant trendsetters diss the Eagles (and they do, they do), “Boys of Summer,” written post-Eagles 1.0 and pre-hell freezing over by Don Henley, their best singer and their best writer, is the song that leads my opening statement for the defense. I remember the first time I heard it; I’d long before grown weary of the old band, but this song astonished and delighted. The combination of sound and lyric served to kick me into a mythical time remembered, irrespective of impossibility, brown skins shining in what little sun made it into my drab surroundings, lifting me into celebration, looking back, yes, always looking back. (I recall actual Deadheads kicking up over the perceived lyrical put-down, but to me, hell, it was a reminder and a kick-start.)

It’s a difficult song to do well, as the original hits all the bases available. Second Hand Songs tells me at least twenty-three have tried, with YouTube adding several more risible attempts to the list. One was even a successful hit in Eurodisco land, as some may remember. Wanna hear that one again? Tough, it ain’t here tonight. But here are three others, in ascending order of quality.
Continue reading »

Aug 052011

Some songs are synonymous with a particular season. Don Henley‘s “The Boys of Summer” was a Top Ten when it was released in 1984, and when it was re-released in 1998 it still hit #12. That’s a song with some longevity. Unlike so many summer songs, Henley’s ode to summer is a real downer, a remembrance of summers past rather than a celebration. Many covers of the song maintain that sense of melancholy, including a version by the Ataris that became a hit in its own right. Earlier this summer, Au Revoir Simone bucked the trend with their dream-pop version, but ultimately it fell a bit short. Papercuts, another band that can be lumped into the dream-pop genre, recently tried their hand at the summer classic. Continue reading »

Jun 292011

Sometimes it’s cool to take a classic song and use entirely new instruments to play it. Maybe they’re instruments that don’t necessarily fit together or fit with the original. It works…sometimes.

Using that approach, Au Revoir Simone’s cover of Don Henley‘s “The Boys of Summer” presents an interesting dichotomy. They kick it off with some very cool synth-organs, overlay those with a sweet ’80s electronic drum beat, and throw in a tambourine about halfway through. Disparate as the sounds are from one another, they fit together magically, like some crazy summertime electro Midnight Mass. Continue reading »


 Posted by at 3:18 am  No Responses »
May 272009

Sorry I have been M.I.A. for the past few weeks. I have actually been in the hospital, since apparently 22 is the new 78. Lots of backlogged posting to get caught up on, so keep an eye here over the next week for some stuff, including the long-awaited debut of derpferdheisshorst’s “Ziggy Stardust” cover.

In honor of my days as the youngest person in the cardiac ward, this week’s theme is hearts. The medical accuracy of some of these songs may be suspect, but the sentiment rarely is.

Amilia K. Spicer – Only Love Can Break Your Heart (Neil Young)
Hey Neil, fun medical fact: plenty of things besides love can break your heart. Myocarditis, for instance. A quick wikipedia search leads me to recomment the following title change: “Only Coronary Heart Disease, Cardiomyopathy, Cardiovascular Disease, Ischaemic Heart Disease, Heart Failure, and Hypertensive, Inflammatory, and Valvular Heart Diseases Can Break Your Heart.” Someone tell Ms. Spicer. [Buy]

The Fray – Heartless (Kanye West)
I’m one of the few defenders Kanye’s recent album has. Sure, the autotune gets annoying eventually, but tracks like this and “Love Lockdown” are classic pop singles. Check out his recent video with Rihanna for more gayfish action. [Buy]

Jesse Malin – Hungry Heart (Bruce Springsteen)
Like many of Bruce’s hits, the deceptive pop hooks of this one covered up the darker lyrics (another example: “Dancing In the Dark”). Fellow Jersey boy Malin’s slower fuzz-acoustic takes no such pains to disguise the sadness. [Buy]

Don Henley – Searching For a Heart (Warren Zevon)
I realize most of you don’t want to hear about my medical history, but given that the theme of this post is entirely self-indulgent to begin with, allow me to point out that at one point that least week the doctors were literally searching for a heart to replace my own. Luckily it didn’t come to that, but that changes the whole song’s meaning for me. [Buy]

Tom Waits – Young at Heart (Frank Sinatra)
With music by Johnny Richards and lyrics by Carolyn Leigh, this pop standard is most often associate with Ol’ Blue Eyes. Tom’s deadbeat dog take blends country with gutter, an interesting interpretation from a guy’s who’s always professed to be old at heart. [Buy]

Guy Davis – Sweetheart Like You (Bob Dylan)
A Nod to Bob has to be one of my favorite cover compilations ever, not least because of this accordion-led blues gem of one of Dylan’s lesser-known pieces of misogyny. [Buy]

Novemthree – Un-Break My Heart (Toni Braxton)
The ‘80s always gets flak for being a terrible decade for popular music, but those songs were at least fun! In my book the ‘90s beats it for general awfulness (in other news, Third Eye Blind has a new album). Whether you agree or not, indulge in a little nostalgia with the free Roaring Nineties covers compilation over at CCLCT. [Buy]

We Versus the Shark – Dummy Discards a Heart (Deerhoof)
Spastic and punky, the flailing horns propel this blaring quickie through the root. Murmurmur has loads of rocking covers from these guys, including looks at Radiohead and Ben Folds Five. [Buy]

Lydia Lunch and Nels Cline – Heartattack and Vine (Tom Waits)
Slow grunge-blues backed by pounding drums and pre-Wilco Cline letting loose squalls of guitar shriek whenever he gets the opportunity. [Buy]

Blues Magoos – Heartbreak Hotel (Elvis Presley)
Barelling barroom piano slams throughout this wail of a tune, wringing more emotion out of these simple lyrics than even the King himself. [Buy]

Nov 262007

Leonard Cohen is one of the few artists whose songs have cover versions not only better known than the originals, but actually better to listen to. Cohen’s somewhat tuneless voice may be partly to blame, but a larger issue is the horrific 80’s production on many of his albums. Fabulous songs are buried beneath layers of synthesizers and drum machines (have you heard the original Hallelujah?). No more was this more apparent than on his 1988 album I’m Your Man. Though it’s filled with classic Cohen songs, listening to the original album is a test of endurance. Luckily plenty of artists have made the effort, finding the gems buried beneath mountains of mud. So throw away your copy of the original (sorry Len) and play this mix instead. I’d imagine Cohen would like it better too.

Kid Harpoon – First We Take Manhattan

The original is a slow-burner, always threatening to explode without ever actually doing it. The Kid fixes that, by stripping it back to an acoustic guitar…then rocking it up to 11 at double-time, creating a sound that’s Gogol Bordello meets The Decemberists.

Aaron Neville – Ain’t No Cure For Love

Neville, of The Neville Brothers fame, reins back his normal vibrato to give a soulful reading that’s half Judy Garland, half honky-tonk.

Don Henley – Everybody Knows

You’d never know what a fabulous song this was from Cohen’s version, where he sounds like he’s falling asleep. Henley makes the song’s merits very clear, starting off quiet and building fast to a number that shows what good production can accomplish, with the great lyrics are front and center.

Elton John – I’m Your Man

Keeping it rocking is Elton’s take on the title track, with plenty of female backing vocals, crunchy guitar and horns. Screw Rocket Man, this sounds like Elton back in his Crocodile Rock days.

Patricia O’Callaghan – Take This Waltz

A would-be opera singer, O’Callaghan channels the winding streets of Paris with piano and accordion backing her multiple-octave soprano. This approach would be over-the-top on many Cohen songs, but works well for this one. The Disney-esq flute solo at the end is a little much though.

Monsieur Camembert – Jazz Police

I wasn’t sure if I’d find a cover of this one, but youtube came through with this Sydney 10-piece doing some rocking jazz-funk, only taking the party down for a strange echoey chorus. Off their double album of live Cohen covers Famous Blue Cheese that I’m on the lookout for, check out three more Cohen tracks at their myspace page.

The Pixies – I Can’t Forget

Even when tackling unlikely source material, The Pixies can’t help sounding like themselves, with weird guitar effects and off-kilter harmonies.

Robert Forster – Tower of Song

Tackling an oft-covered Cohen number, the Go-Betweens frontman gives it a mid-tempo pop gloss that’s miles better than the cover by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, culled from an hour-long jam on the song, that gives you nothing but a migraine.

—Quick bit of cross-blog promotion: Any Tom Waits fans out there, I’m compiling a set of unreleased live covers of his songs, the first three sets of which are available here and here.—