Instrumentals

 Posted by at 9:56 pm  No Responses »
Mar 232009
 

Lyrics are important, but it’s a shame the art of the hit instrumental seems to have been lost. Turn on oldies radio and from Booker T. to the Ventures, instrumental guitar jams pop up and now and again. The instrumental is on death’s door, but certain segments of the indie aesthetic are trying to revive it. Explosions in the Sky is an all-instrument post-rock band (whatever that means), and Andrew Bird released an instrumental disc to accompany his recent Noble Bird. While we wait to see whether the instrumental makes a comeback, let’s take a wander through time looking some instrumentals of the past and present. But remember: Walk, don’t run.

Bob Dylan – Rumble (Link Wray)
When Wray passed a few years back, artists like Dylan and Springsteen began covering this one in their live shows to pay tribute to the unheralded master of the distortion guitar. [Buy]

Orquestra America Romantica – Tequila (The Champs)
The original’s got that south-of-the-border vibe, so this Brazilian orchestra goes with that with blaring horns, flying percussion, and drunken shouting. Because yes, technically this song has lyrics I suppose, but it’s just one word. [Buy]

The Pink Fairies – Walk Don’t Run (The Ventures)
My favorite instrumental of the bunch, it doesn’t get much more dance-crazy fun than the Ventures’ original. To, their credit, the Fairies don’t try. Instead they produce a ten-minuet psychedelic swirl that Wire magazine proclaimed one of the best covers ever. They even come up with some vocals for the beginning! Groovy. [Buy]

The Juggernauts – Wipe Out (The Surfaris)
So many sound-alike covers of this one, it’s refreshing just to here something different. The Juggernauts give it a world music feel, playing theme on acoustic guitars while employing all manner of percussion, whistling, sound effects, bird calls, etc. for the drum breaks. [Buy]

Surf Champlers – James Bond Theme (Monty Norman)
I’ve been planning on doing a post on theme songs for a while, and still may, but I couldn’t resist putting this here. It’s a little more world music, lead guitar complemented by South American percussion and reggae strumming. [Buy]

Ironweed – Nashville Skyline Rag (Bob Dylan)
When Dylan went country in ’68, he didn’t mess around. His disc Nashville Skyline included a duet with Johnny Cash, a song about all the different types of pie he likes, a steel guitar instrumental. Ironweed takes it out of Nashville and up to Appalachia, giving it that bluegrass aesthetic with banjo, mandolin, and lots of old-timey pickin’. [Buy]

DeVotchKa – Overture (The Nightmare Before Christmas)
Accordion? Violins? Tuba? It’s a strange mix indeed, but what better to do a Nightmare tune justice. Not just a Nightmare tune though – a dozen of ‘em all mashed into the movie’s overture. DeVotchKa’s bizarre concoction incorporates them on as it thumps along. [Buy]

Figurines – New Orleans Instrumental No. 1 (R.E.M.)
The blogging gods over at Stereogum put together a whole set of Automatic for the People covers that included not one but two takes on this one (the other by Jana Hunter). Interestingly, both of them added wordless vocals. While hers was slow and dirge-like, the Figurines keep it fresh and bouncy. [Buy]

Cida Moreira – Fawn (Tom Waits)
Tom Waits’ sense of heartbreaking melody is second to none, so his knack for memorable instrumentals should come as no surprise. Coming from his work for the Robert Wilson play Alice, “Fawn” is a more recent example that gets a beautiful piano treatment by Moreira. Even though her wavery soprano comes in at the end, it’s just another instrument here. [Buy]

Danzo Rezno – Ghosts 38/Demon Seed (Nine Inch Nails)
Ticketmaster foe Trent Reznor did the world of instrumental music a huge favor last year when he released a four-disc set of new instrumentals, “a soundtrack to daydreams” he called it. Each song was titled Ghosts [#] and featured the dark, brooding sound that Nails fans expected. Danzo pulls out a piano take that starts out quiet until the guitars come in and then…well. He even incorporates an instrumental version of Trent’s “Demon Seed,” from his non-instrumental disc last year. Dude’s prolific to say the least. [Buy]

BRUUUUUUUUUUCE

 Posted by at 6:09 pm  No Responses »
Feb 252008
 

I’m seeing Bruce Springsteen for the first time this Thursday with the E Street Band, and that seemed as good a reason as any to choose a theme. I’ve got dozens, if not hundreds, of Springsteen cover songs and, I gotta be honest, most of them are pretty good. Maybe it’s the basic rock structures he uses that lend themselves to reinterpretations, or the simple lyrics everyone can relate to. I’ve omitted songs from Born to Run and Born in the USA here, as those are both albums I may do a full album post on later. Incidentally, look out for next week’s Full Albums Covered post which should be, well, thrilling…

The Band – Atlantic City
My favorite off of the overrated Nebraska, most of which puts me to sleep. The Band rocks this one out with backporch swing and stomp. Mandolins, banjos, organs and Levon’s vocals propelling it forward, there’s an energy Springsteen borrowed from when he rearranged the song for his hootenanny folk revival tour in ’06.

Paradise Brothers – Souls of the Departed
I can’t find any more information online about this group other than this cover, so who knows if they’ve even done anything else. I hope so though, because the sound here with wailing guitar and a pounding bass drum lends a raw anger to the song only implied in the original. This one, along with several others, is off the excellent Light of Day tribute album.

Steve Earle – State Trooper
A lot of covers of this one, I’m not completely sure why it’s so popular (so much that Arcade Fire played it with him last fall). It tends to get a treatment like the original, aggressively acoustic. Earle realizes where it needs to go though, so he plugs in and rocks out in this live version from ’87.

Nils Lofgren – Man at the Top
If anyone should know how to do a Bruce cover, it the man’s guitarist himself. Beautiful acoustic takes like this one highlight Lofgren’s phenomenal picking abilities, and make me think Bruce should use some of this in his concerts.

Pete Yorn – New York City Serenade
I never took much notice of the original from Bruce’s pre-fame jazzy days. It changes tunes and dynamics so much I couldn’t keep track of what the song actually sounded like. It still has about fifty different parts here, but Yorn keeps the same feel throughout and keeps you awake with emotive vocals and harmonica.

Link Wray – Fire
Mr. Rumble himself, the defacto inventor of distortion, lends his angry guitar crunch to turn in a seven minute thrash of a cover. Springsteen returned the favor when Wray passed, opening several shows with his signature tune.

Marc Broussard – Back In Your Arms
The 80’s sound of the original, courtesy of Max Weinberg’s drum machine-like playing, is gone here, replaced by horns, a gospel choir and an absolutely killer vocal performance.

The Clarks – The River
My favorite Springsteen song, I go back and forth on whether this cover works. It seems somewhat inappropriate to have a hard-rocking version of such a sad song, but it’s well done and jumping. I’ll leave you to decide.

Ani DiFranco – Used Cars
Originally a snoozer off Nebraska, DiFranco employs wavery guitar and some weird vocal effect to create a real slow-burner you can’t ignore.

Johnny Cash – Further On (Up the Road)
The master of the cover teams up with Rick Rubin again for his final album, released posthumously, which gives the song a whole new meaning. Beautiful and bittersweet, his voice is resigned but hopeful. This wasn’t recorded long before he passed, so I hope he met whoever he was singing to.