British punk/folk rocker Billy Bragg has spent the last three decades embracing grassroots action, protests and politics. Upon quitting the British Army after 3 months in 1981, Bragg began busking with his music and supporting movements to reform the British political system. Bragg is a tireless activist, believing that his work to make a difference starts when he puts the guitar down and becomes more than a protest singer.
Every Wednesday, our resident Gleek Eric Garneau gives his take on last night’s Glee covers.
In “Extraordinary Merry Christmas,” Artie (Kevin McHale) is offered the chance to direct McKinley’s glee club in a televised Christmas special. Little do the other club members know he takes his Christmas inspiration from some bizarre sources.
“Extraordinary Merry Christmas” is not the first Christmas special to air on television this year. It’s not even the first Glee Christmas special to air, thanks to the irreverent, genius and criminally unpopular NBC sitcom Community, which last Thursday dedicated its entire Christmas episode (entitled “Regional Holiday Music”) to spoofing the Fox musical juggernaut. The staff behind Community probably couldn’t have predicted that they’d get payback for spending a half hour in Glee‘s shoes; this week, Glee decided to live in Community‘s world with an episode you’d expect to see on that show or, really, anywhere but Glee. The Christmas special Artie ends up producing is a (directly referred-to) mash-up of the much-maligned 1978 Star Wars Holiday Special, Judy Garland’s classic 1963 Christmas special, and at the end some Charlie Brown Christmas for good measure. The result basically ends up a cover of a TV show. Though Glee certainly likes to allude to existing pop culture, even going so far as to recreate certain music videos shot-for-shot, it has never lived in another universe for two acts before. That’s Community territory, but Glee pulls it off marvelously.
Thanksgiving is still a week away, but Christmas songs and albums have already begun swamping the shelves. You’ve got your usual holiday shlockfest from industry heavy-hitters like Justin Bieber and Michael Bublé, but there are a lot of indie acts and label comps floating around too. We’ll have several more Christmas-cover rundowns as the holiday season approaches, but today we’re just tossing together some of the early Christmas covers we’ve come across so far.
In the Spotlight showcases a cross-section of an artist’s cover work. View past installments, then post suggestions for future picks in the comments!
In 1984 a band from Glasgow released a song that sounded like the inside of a jet engine factory, only you could hum it. The song was “Upside Down,” and it stayed on the UK indie charts for almost a year and a half. The band was The Jesus and Mary Chain, less content to push the envelope than to blow a hole through it with feedback and distortion. With their first album, Psychocandy, they made it official: here was a group that combined the squall of The Velvet Underground and the tunefulness of The Beach Boys to make torture chamber pop, producing a wall of sound that surely had Phil Spector nodding approvingly.
Quickies rounds up new can’t-miss covers. Download ‘em below.
• North Carolina collective Stephaniesid describe their sound as “pop-noir,” which is a phrase that could also be used to describe the Dream Academy (“folk-pop-noir” perhaps). Their cover of “Life in a Northern Town” brings a joyful bounce to the proceedings, adding in xylophones, horns, and whimsy aplenty.
MP3: Stephaniesid – Life in a Northern Town (The Dream Academy cover)
It’s unsettling to think what might have become (or not become) of rock music if not for one man in Memphis and his modest recording studio. The talent that Sam Phillips welcomed into his Memphis Recording Service in the early 1950s was legendary and included B.B. King, Rufus Thomas, Howlin’ Wolf, Junior Parker and Ike Turner. These early blues and R&B artists gave Phillips and his fledgling label, Sun Records, some minor notoriety that would soon attract rock, country and rockabilly upstarts such as Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, and of course, Elvis Presley. His willingness to produce raw-sounding records featuring reverb and distortion caused some to say Phillips didn’t know what he was doing, and others to praise his unique genius. Perhaps Phillips’ biggest stroke of genius was seeing the potential in the young Presley boy that just kept hanging around. Pairing Elvis with guitarist Scotty Moore and Bill Black on bass in the summer of 1954 initially led to a lackluster session until, after a break, Elvis began goofing around with Arthur Crudup’s “That’s All Right.” Instantly Phillips knew he was hearing something special – the white artist with the “negro” sound that he had been seeking.
Jerry Leiber, the famed songwriter, passed away yesterday at 78. He was the lyricist in the songwriting duo Leiber and Stoller while Mike Stoller handled the composing. Together they penned such classic pop songs as ”Hound Dog,” “Kansas City,” “Stand by Me,” “Jailhouse Rock,” and “Yakety Yak,” among many other hits which were originally performed by artists like Elvis Presley, The Drifters, and Ben E.King. In 1995 Leiber and Stoller’s catalog of hits was turned into the Broadway musical Smokey Joe’s Cafe, which was nominated for seven Tony Awards. The duo was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1985, and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987.
Live Collection brings together every live cover version we can find from a prolific artist.
Warren Zevon had paid his dues for years before his self-titled 1976 release would finally get him a fair amount of critical attention and a modest amount of airplay. In his first pass through L.A. he was a session musician and jingle writer, penned a few songs for the Turtles and released a forgettable solo debut in 1970. Then he spent a couple years on the road with the Everly Brothers, both together with Phil and Don and then with each of them solo, like a child of a divorce custody battle, as the brothers were beginning their estrangement. A self-imposed exile in Spain would follow and when Zevon returned to L.A. in late 1975, his pal Jackson Browne was there to help him get a record deal. Zevon had some things in common with his laid-back Asylum label contemporaries, but what separated his music from Browne, Linda Ronstadt and the Eagles was his ability to write caustic and satirical songs about unconventional people often in awkward situations.