Sep 282018
 

‘The Best Ever’ series counts down our favorite covers of great artists.

I’ve been watching early episodes of Saturday Night Live recently. On the fifth episode ever – back when it bore the shorter title Saturday Night – the host was comedian Robert Klein. Two musical guests joined him: Loudon Wainwright III and ABBA.

Wainwright’s performance plays it straight, just him and his guitar on stage. With ABBA, though, the show undermines the Swedish quartet from the start. They have to perform “S.O.S.” on a sinking Titanic set, competing for screen time with Klein and some SNL writers pretending to drown in vintage dining-lounge attire. Even when the camera lands on ABBA, it waves and swoops to indicate they’re going down with the ship too.

The second performance, “Waterloo,” does them even dirtier. Before the first verse even ends, these words pop up on the screen: “Right now ABBA is lip-syncing. It’s not their fault. The tracks didn’t arrive from Sweden.” The band appears to have no idea they are being thus undermined, even as the audience titters. I’ve watched the entire first season now, and haven’t seen any other musical performer treated this way. (The individual videos sadly aren’t anywhere embeddable, but the full episode is on Hulu).

This SNL appearance neatly embodies the ABBA dichotomy. On the one hand, they were such huge stars that the show simply had to book them. On the other, they seemed so irredeemably uncool that the show felt obliged to mock them so it didn’t lose its cultural cachet. And forty-plus years on from that performance, we treat them the same way. We’ll sing and dance along to their songs – particularly after a drink or two – but only the most ardent poptimist would put ABBA anywhere but the “guilty pleasure” category.

True, the productions may be dated, and the outfits ridiculous, but at their core the songs are rock-solid. Songwriters Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus, sometimes aided by band manager Stig Anderson, penned songs that still rise above the cheese-tacular performances. And there’s no better evidence than in the thousands of genre-spanning covers. Everyone from Richard Thompson to Portishead has covered these songs – and not with a wink and a nudge either, but honestly finding timeless lyrics and melodies beneath ABBA’s very of-its-time presentation.

Cher did it too, releasing her ABBA tribute album today to piggyback on the second Mamma Mia! movie’s success (commercial success, that is, as the reviews were not kind – a true ABBA divide, there). So in honor of that, we decided to pick out the best ABBA covers ever. No, none of Cher’s make the list. But thirty other artists do. Continue reading »

Sep 212011
 

Every Wednesday, our resident Gleek Eric Garneau gives his take on last night’s Glee covers.

In “The Purple Piano Project,” Coach Schuester rallies the troops after last spring’s devastating Nationals loss in New York City. New Directions needs to recruit, and it needs its mojo back. But the antagonistic Sue Sylvester — now running for a seat in Congress – has once again made up her mind to squash the glee club’s dreams. Also, alliteration abounds.

Hi everybody! Welcome back from summer break to my weekly Glee write-ups. I enjoyed writing this feature last year, and it seems like enough of you enjoyed reading it to warrant my continuation, so on we go into season three!

The show made a few subtle (not often a word we associate with Glee) changes coming into this latest season to address criticisms from the last – most notably, that the show had grown aimless. To guard against that happening again, the creative trio behind Glee did something new over the summer – they outsourced their writing. Now Brad Falchuk, Ryan Murphy and Ian Brennan have a co-executive producer, two consulting producers and two staff writers to help them craft stories (most interesting to me is Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, a veteran of Spider-Man comic books and, yes, the recent musical). Continue reading »

Jun 232010
 

Song of the Day posts one cool cover every morning. Catch up on past installments here.

Electric Light Orchestra gets no love. Sure, in some ways they embodied everyone wrong with popular music at the end of the ‘70s, but come on, “Mr. Blue Sky” is so catchy! Catchy enough that Randy Newman wrote an only-slightly-mocking tribute to the band (who, fun fact, hold the record for the most U.S. Top 40 hits without ever hitting #1).

Five Iron Frenzy loves ELO though. The ska “Sweet Talkin’ Woman” cover on their Quantity Is Job 1 EP displays nothing but feel-good affection. The horns and peppy backing vocals show why for eight years this Denver octet was one of the most unabashedly fun (and funny) ska bands. They’ve also covered “It’s Not Unusual” and “Mama Mia,” so don’t say that Christian musicians never have a sense of humor.
Continue reading »