No one does classic rock covers like The Gaslight Anthem. In our In the Spotlight feature, we saw them reinvent songs by the Replacements, Tom Petty, and, big surprise, Bruce Springsteen. Their cover of Kelly Clarkson’s “I Do Not Hook Up” proved they can break out of the mold and they did so again this morning on Australia’s Triple J, covering Jack Johnson.*
Shuffle Sundays is a weekly feature in which we feature a cover chosen at random by my iTunes shuffle. The songs will usually be good, occasionally be bad, always be interesting. All downloads will only be available for one week, so get them while you can. After you listen, discuss this week’s tune in the comments.
Update: Jack Johnson hilariously parodied on last night’s “Saturday Night Live.” Watch it here. Vegan cookies!
Say what you will about Jack Johnson, but not many artists have two White Stripes covers under their belt. This beach bum went on a Jack & Meg kick in ’05-‘06 though, recording one cover for a soundtrack and jamming a second live.
For 2006’s Curious George soundtrack Johnson took on the elementary-school classic “We Are Be Friends.” It’s Conan O’Brien’s favorite Stripes tune (he brought them in to sing it his last night on Conan last February) and does seem more appropriate for a kiddie movie than anything with lines like “I’m gonna fight ‘em off / A seven nation army couldn’t hold me back.” “Friends” helped drive the disc to #1, making it the first soundtrack to an animated film to hit that spot since Pocahontas in ’95.
Johnson fans couldn’t have been surprised to learn their man was a Stripes fan though. After all, he’d been playing “My Doorbell” live since the previous September, the same month the Stripes released it as a single promoting their underrated Get Behind Me Satan. Here’s Jack and Meg White performing it on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart (the show’s first musical performance) in December. They also performed “The Denial Twist,” which you can watch here.
That was thankfully before 2007, when White began performing it on bass. Yes, bass. There’s a recording of that here, but beware. As I wrote in a review at the time, “This may be one of the most drastic reinventions they’ve ever done, from catchy little piano ditty to distorted bass screecher (the first time Jack’s even played the instrument no less) and the general consensus is correct…it sucks.”
Johnson graciously left the bass at home when he busted this “My Doorbell” cover out Feb 20, 2006 a few weeks after the Curious George soundtrack came out for the BBC’s “Live Lounge” program. Tapping on his acoustic guitar while Zach Gill of Animal Liberation Orchestra (I believe) plays the piano and provides backup vocals, it sounds exactly like you would expect. This is a good thing: Johnson is more than qualified to pull off the poppy side of Jack White.
What do you think? Discuss this song in the comments section below.
Don’t know why I didn’t do this earlier. The White Stripes have been one of my favorite bands ever since I saw a video of them performing “Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground” on MTV surrounded by inanely dancing candy cane “fans”(here it is). Since then I’ve seen them live four times, and hope they reunited this year for another go round. While we wait though, many others are keeping their tunes alive.
The Dynamics – Seven Nation Army
Turns out there’s a cover or two for this song – who knew? Hell, everyone from the Flaming Lips to Duran Duran has tried it on for size. None match the bossa-nova funk of this slow-groove though. [Buy]
Aluminium – Why Can’t You Be Nicer to Me?
Richard Russell, founder of XL Records, and Joey Talbot, British composer, came together in 2005 to record one of the greatest tribute albums I’ve ever heard, an all avant-garde orchestral series of mostly-obscure Stripes tunes. The String Quartet Tribute this ain’t. They touch all albums from their first to their most recent at the time, even taking on b-sides and soundtrack contributions along the way. Click this link and get this album now. [Buy]
Long Goners – Ball & Biscuit
Jack White’s blues-rock barnstormer brings it all back home with some indie slide-folk. Lead singer Bernadette Seacrest has clearly learned much from the Stripes, having the presence of mind not to change the genders in the song as is so common (see Joss Stone’s horrendous “Fell in Love with a Boy”). Would the Stripes’ “Jolene” have made sense with “please don’t take my…woman”? This one’s from a hit-or-miss tribute disc called Indie Translations of the White Stripes. [Buy]
Chris Thile – Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground
This ex-Nickel Creek man brings his mandolin bluegrass and yelping falsetto to this fiddle and harmony-filled ditty. With such a rockin’ woodsy sound, a tune about leaves and dirt makes perfect sense. [Buy]
Nikka Costa – The Denial Twist
It was their third single from 2005’s Get Behind Me Satan and, many would argue, the most enduring (“My Doorbell” eventually got irritating). Costa’s version sounds similar to the swamp guitar original until the horns blast away all memory of the White siblings (read: exes) and Nikka’s wail forces its way to the front of the sound. [Buy]
The New York No Stars – The Big Three Killed My Baby
An appropriate song for this day and age, no doubt, as the big three are going down themselves. The original’s a classic Jack screecher, taken down here for some lounge-jazz that proves that the song does indeed have a melody. From yet another tribute album. [Buy]
Jack Johnson – My Doorbell
Johnson got a lot of blog attention for his twee cover of “We Are Going to Be Friends” on the Curious George soundtrack. It was bland and boring, sure, but not really objectionable; frankly, I would say the same is true for the original. A better tune, Johnson puts his laid-back pleasantness to, you know, chill use on this poppy confection, recorded for a radio show. [Buy]
Bree Sharp – We Are Going to be Friends
Like I said above, not a huge fan of this song. Many others are, however, and I can’t help remember with fondness its use in the opening of Napoleon Dynamite (video, in case you forgot). [Buy]
The Pistol Whippin’ Party Penguins – Hotel Yorba
It’s a live one, from the never-ending source of wonder that is archive.org. Sounds like a folk-bluegrass jam session, with lots of group singing and a fiddle solo! So, basically just like the original. [Buy]
Chan Marshall – I Want to Be the Boy
You probably know this little lady as Cat Power, and she’s been on a bit of a covers kick lately. She takes a break from her beloved vintage soul at a live show in ’03, interspersing it with typically self-effacing remarks about no one singing along. Only problem here: she does change the gender. And stops it early, which is a shame. Grr… [Buy]
Sorry this post is a couple days late, but hopefully there’s enough here to make up for it. It’s about a diverse a post as I’ve had, with the only theme being artists who are playing Bonnaroo 2008. It’s a great line-up so far, with more to be added, so check it out at bonnaroo.com. First up we’ll do covers of Roo artists.
Patricia O’Callaghan – Better Man (Pearl Jam)
Having an opera-trained soprano doing a grunge song is a shakey proposition, but it works pretty well here as she reins her voice in from unnecessary theatrics. Starts off with some nice piano that I wish it had stayed with the whole time.
Rodrigo y Gabriela – Orion (Metallica)
Why Metallica is headlining Bonnaroo is beyond me, as there are few bands I can stomach less, but at least there a few nice covers of their songs. This one shows the Mexican acoustic guitar duo (who, incidentally, played Roo last year) put their flamenco-metal spin on the Master of Puppets instrumental, transforming it into something that doesn’t make you want to rip your ears out. Well done.
The Automatic – Gold Digger (Kanye West)
I’m a big Kanye fan, but this is one of the worst singles he’s released. It’s much better as an ironic acoustic rock jam with some screeching backing vocals and flute riffs.
Kind of Like Spitting – Title Track (Death Cab for Cutie)
I need to get myself educated about this band before June, as all I have is a few covers they’ve done. From the one cover of a songs I have though, there’s potential.
And now Roo artists covering others, which gives you a better sense of the festival sound this year.
Jack Johnson – Mama, You Been On My Mind / Last Thoughts on Woody Guthrie (Bob Dylan)
I really want to hate this laid-back guitar-strumming surfer dude, but the few covers I have by him are all pretty good. He keeps the momentum here in a song perfectly suited to his voice, before doing a rhythmic melodic version of Bob’s one spoken-word poem. The man knows his Dylan, as I’ve never even heard it covered before.
Phil Lesh and Friends – All Along the Watchtower (Bob Dylan)
Another Dylan one here, but a band it could be argued does only covers (depending on where you place songs by the Grateful Dead, a band Lesh was in). This has to be one of the most covered songs ever, but Lesh keeps it fresh (har har) here at an ’06 concert. Joan Osbourne has a beautiful gospel intro before some lively jamming and solos worthy of the song.
The Raconteurs – Bang Bang (Cher)
Jack White knows how to do a cover as well as anyone and with a little more exposure this could be the band’s Jolene. In almost ten minutes his wavering vocals interact with pounding instruments and waves of distortion in a live staple. They do it in about five parts, each one building on the last in an passive-aggressive tour de force that chills.
Robert Plant and Alison Krauss – Killing the Blues (Rowland Salley)
These guys do almost exclusively covers, with a laid-back swing feel that suits the duo perfectly. Steel guitar and brushed drums give them space to explore vocally here, with T-Bone Burnett at his best production-wise.
Tegan and Sara – Dancing in the Dark (Bruce Springsteen)
You’ve probably heard their cover of Umbrella, but this one’s even better, taking Springsteen’s poppiest song and making it all shoegazer indie.
Willie Nelson – Time After Time (Cyndi Lauper)
Lauper’s inane ramblings trying to deliver a Grammy the other day were pretty pathetic, but she used to be a pretty legit pop star, with some pretty fun songs. I’d think Nelson’s country warbling would be a terrible fit for this song, but the arrangement is perfect and he keeps the twang out his voice in a subdued take that isn’t afraid to mix up the chorus a bit.
I was planning on doing some sort of “Best Covers of 2007” retrospective or something, but I’m sure you’re already as sick of those lists as I am, so instead of looking back this week, I’m gonna look forward, to 2008. Lord knows I’m not the only one hoping that year brings some major changes in the world and this country in, oh let’s say, November. So in hopes of that today’s theme is revolution at its most extreme, social change at its least. This country’s direction needs to change fast for a litany of reasons you can I’m sure come up with yourself. And first one to figure out where the post’s title comes from gets a virtual pat on the back.
Thompson Twins – Revolution (The Beatles)
The most obvious song to fit this theme, I had a bit of trouble finding an interesting cover. This one’s pretty good though, an 80’s version of the hard-driving classic. I particularly like the bomb-sounding drum after “destruction”.
Kevin Davis – Paths of Victory (Bob Dylan)
One of Dylan’s many unreleased 60’s songs (well, unreleased at the time), it shows where he got the “protest singer” label that he so resented later. It’s more fun than many of them though, with a bouncy tune brought forth in Davis’ joyous version, highlighted by Jason Lamb’s harmonica.
The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem– When the Ship Comes In (Bob Dylan)
I tried to limit myself to one Dylan tune, but there are just so many that fit the theme I had to throw both of these in there. And who better to do this one than one of the groups that inspired Dylan originally, Liam and co. Their harmonies are as tight as ever at this performance at the ’92 Dylan 30th Anniversary Tribute Concert.
Joan Osborne – Why Can’t We Live Together (Timmy Thomas)
Thomas was a one-hit wonder with this reggae-flavored number about holding hands round the globe and all that. Osborne is also a bit of a one-hit wonder, with her cringe-inducing song about God being a stranger on the bus and all that. However, she’s a great cover artist as she takes on soul and motown classics like these on her ’02 disc How Sweet It Is.
Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings – This Land Is Your Land (Woody Guthrie)
Jones and her band (the group that backed Amy Winehouse on her recent smash album) are being talked about more and more since their new album came out in October, and for good reason. There hasn’t been soul this exciting since Stax went under. And Guthrie works surprisingly well in this context, a refreshing break from the dozens of acoustic guitar-strummed versions out there.
Jack Johnson – Imagine (John Lennon)
If you do like solo acoustic songs however, here you go. No piano, no elaborate string arrangements, just some nice finger-picking by Johnson on a laid-back rendition.
Merry Clayton – Gimme Shelter (The Rolling Stones)
This one blurs the boundaries of the cover a little bit, as Clayton was the memorable backing singer on the original. As she’s not a member of the Stones though, and her own version is markedly different, I let it slide. Markedly different and, dare I say it, markedly better (credit tavorus dresshead support). She’s got a vocal power Mick could only dream of, and lets it blast one this horn-infused rave-up.
Bruce Springsteen – This Little Light of Mine (Trad.)
From his ’06 tour with the 12-piece Seeger Sessions Band, it’s got wild horns, backing singers, accordion, banjo, and probably the kitchen sink in there somewhere too. Back-porch hootenanny at its best.
Mavis Staples – Eyes on the Prize (Trad./Alice Wine)
I could have just posted this whole album as this week’s post, a selection of spirituals and hope songs on Mavis’ We’ll Never Turn Back from earlier this year. Producer Ry Cooder is as much the star as she is, backing her low and restrained singing with dirty guitar and thumping drums to give it a grit that few gospel albums can match.
The Wave Pictures – A Change Is Gonna Come (Sam Cooke)
I can’t find much information about this group other than their webpage (which has a few other nice covers), but they sure know how to sing Sam. Slowly thudding drums and wavering guitar gently nudge the gorgeous vocals forward. Another good cover of this one is Bob Dylan’s live version. After his Blowin’ in the Wind inspired this song, it all comes full circle. Here’s the video.