Last Friday, I posted a few videos from last week’s Town Hall tribute to Bob Dylan’s 1963 concert at the same venue. I included Bill Murray, Steve Buscemi, Geoff Muldaur, Emily Haines, and Bob Neuwirth’s performances, and promised I’d add more videos as they landed. Well, they never landed. But we’ve got the next-best thing: a bootleg audio recording of the full concert. It includes beautiful covers of songs Bob performed at that 1963 concert by the Milk Carton Kids, Laurie Anderson, Mark Kozelek, and many more. And we’ll get to them…but first we have to talk about the dog in the room.
Ben Sollee, Kentucky-born songwriter and exceptionally funky cellist, has certainly been busy lately. Along with releasing his fantastic new album Inclusions this week, he found time to sit down with The Voice Project to record a cover of Joan as Police Woman’s “Real Life.” For those not familiar with The Voice Project, they’re a charity effort that has employed artists ranging from less-known Brooklyn fixtures to Peter Gabriel to make short chains of artists covering each other’s songs with the goal of attracting donations to help women in war-torn Uganda. Not only is it a great cause, but they’ve recorded some amazing and unlikely covers.
Whistling may be all the rage in indie music these days (see: Andrew Bird), but you know what’s due for a comeback? Humming. Okay, I’m not sure humming was ever popular even by the same low standards we’re using for whistling, but this cover makes the case. After all, what other wordless vocalization both indicates that you feel “very well” and shows your “feelings of emptiness”? Thanks, nonsensical Wikipedia entry!
In the latest Voice Project video, the men of Joan As Police Woman hum through a reimagined version of Broken Social Scene’s “Lover’s Spit.” After a little a cappella work by the whole group, Joan Wasser takes charge, proving strikingly talented at belting it out while playing the violin. The rest of the band adds drumming to their humming. Though they lay back, she projects a symphony’s worth of power in her vocals (and violin solo).
Seeing the name Britney Spears appear anywhere in relation to cover songs should strike fear into your heart. The infamous pop music icon has a storied history of disastrous covers, made all the more notorious by the popularity and elitist appeal of the classics she has mangled. Any listing of all-time worst cover songs is all but certain to include either her 2000 mauling of “I Can’t Get No (Satisfaction)” (which even this Spears apologist admits is truly dreadful) or the 2002 reincarnation of “I Love Rock N Roll” that got one bewildered journalist noting that “Joan Jett would be rolling in her grave if she were dead.”
Fortunately, it appears that the pop superstar may have grown wise to the ire her cover songs inspire and withdrew from a game she clearly hadn’t the skills to play. Meanwhile, Britney effect has continued to pervade the world of cover songs on the flip side of the coin: not as one who covers but rather as one who is covered – arguably a weightier assessment of artistic importance than a knack for musical reinterpretation of another’s work. Some of the covers out there of Britney Spears tunes are excellent – and even most of the rest turn out more interesting than your average remake.
Song of the Day posts one cool cover every morning. Catch up on past installments here.
“Whatever You Like” may be one of the more poorly timed hits of the last few years. Just as America entered its worst recession in decades, T.I. releases a song about how much crap he can buy his girl. The video goes a step further, featuring him looking super sincere in front of an enormous swimming pool. Ridiculous.
Needless to say, “Whatever You Like” got its share of tongue-very-far-in-cheek covers (and a great Weird Al parody). One of the best was by Joan As Police Woman, the nom-de-song of Joan Wasser, who – not-so-fun fact – was dating Jeff Buckley when he died. It’s off her best-of-2009 album Cover, which features equally hilarious looks at Britney Spears and T-Pain.
The first post of the month features covers of every track on a famous album. Got an idea for a future pick? Leave a note in the comments!
In 1967 Jimi Hendrix exploded on the scene with his debut Are You Experienced. It only took about twenty seconds into “Purple Haze” to realize rock and roll wasn’t going to be the same. Though Hendrix covers tend to be an excuse for self-indulgent guitar wankery, approaching Jimi’s compositions from other angles reveals an underappreciated songwriting talent.
Edit 1/16: Links removed by request of the RIAA.
RDM – Purple Haze
If Hendrix had lived longer, maybe he would have experimented with mariachi. Since he didn’t, RDM explores the possibilities. [Buy]
Will Phalen – Manic Depression
The number one test of a good song: being able to withstand the transition to solo acoustic. [Buy]
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – Hey Joe (Billy Roberts)
After he blew up in Britain, Jimi brought the Experience to perform on lame variety show It’s Lulu (hosted by the “To Sir With Love” singer). After her inane introduction, Hendrix dutifully makes it through about two minutes of the song before declaring “We’re going to stop playing this rubbish” and busting into Cream’s “Sunshine of Your Love.” The show quickly pulls the plug, but the video lives on. [Buy]
Screaming Trees – Love or Confusion
Grunge pioneers Screaming Trees never achieved the fame of fellow Northwest residents Nirvana and Pearl Jam, but before the label blew up Sub Pop released this song on a 1988 compilation. The guitars are just as loud as ever, but crunch and noise take the place of soloing. [Buy]
Emmylou Harris – May This Be Love
When Emmylou Harris released her acclaimed Wrecking Ball in 1995, she brought her sound over to a new generation of alternative radio listeners with the help of a non-country producer (Daniel Lanous in this case). It set the prototype for Johnny Cash’s American Recordings. [Buy]
Beauty Pill – I Don’t Live Today
Some of Hendrix’s hardest rocking songs are also his saddest. [Buy]
Jamie Cullum – The Wind Cries Mary
Jazz-pop pianist Jamie Cullum’s 2003 album Twentysomething featured covers of “Singing in the Rain” and “I Could Have Danced All Night.” Needless to say, this swinging choice came out of left field. [Buy]
Pat Metheny – Third Stone from the Sun
This song has a similar title as the awful ’90s television show 3rd Rock from the Sun (responsible for the cardinal sin of bringing French Stewart into our lives). Try not to hold that against it. [Buy]
Giant Sand – Foxy Lady
Attending the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame 25th Anniversary show in October (my review), I saw Jeff Beck bring out Billy Gibbons for a faithful version of this one (video). As anyone familiar with their work will guess, Giant Sand takes it in a different direction. Dissonance meets spoken-word recitation in this blast of atonal noise. [Buy]
Patti Smith – Are You Experienced?
Patti released this on her 2007 covers album Twelve. While good, it paled next to more ambitious takes on “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and “Gimme Shelter.” In live performances like this one though, she stretched it out to a blistering twelve minutes complete with free-form poetry and dissonant clarinet solos. [Buy]