For a Northside Festival showcase over the weekend, the music book series 33 1/3 hosted a series of all-cover shows dedicated to three albums they’re written about. Deradoorian covered Black Sabbath’s Master of Reality, Ava Luna covered Serge Gainsbourg’s Histoire de Melody Nelson, and Frankie Cosmos covered Liz Phair’s Exile in Guyville. We have videos from all three below.
They Say It’s Your Birthday celebrates an artist’s special day with other people singing his or her songs. Let others do the work for a while. Happy birthday!
It’s hard to believe, but in a couple months we’ll be celebrating the twentieth anniversary of the release of Exile in Guyville, the benchmark indie album that revealed Liz Phair to the world at large. She won a reputation for her lyrical candor, never using a euphemism when a dysphemism will do (look that up in your Funk & Wagnalls), and delivering those lyrics in a perfectly imperfect everywoman voice, set to spare but incredibly catchy melodies. Subsequent albums saw her staying true to her voice no matter where it took her, and as songs like “H.W.C.” attested, she never lost her spunk.
So there are a lot of songs about masturbation. Let’s just leave the introduction at that.
Warren Zevon – Dancing With Myself (Billy Idol)
Why in 1992, eleven years aft er the song’s double popularity as hit singles from Idol’s original group Generation X (shortened to Gen X for this record) and as a solo cut, Zevon decided to bust out his one-man acoustic cover live is beyond me. But I’m glad he did. One can only wonder if he danced while singing it (the literal sort of dancing I mean). For a more unintentionally disturbing version, check out Gonzo singing about it on Muppets Tonight. Yikes. [Buy]
Byron Lee and the Dragonaires – My Ding-a-Ling (Chuck Berry)
The fact that this was Chuck Berry’s only number one hit – in 1972 no less – should be a source of shame to music fans everywhere. Still, the rock legend may have pioneered the musical-instrument-as-penis metaphor that lead to “Bang on the Drum All Day” and the Dylan song below. This horn-fueled reggae take livens it up that you can ignore the inane lyrics. [Buy]
Claw Hammer – Praying Hands (Devo)
This one is basically an instruction manual on technique, proclaiming Devo’s renowned class for the world to hear. Equally tasteful, Claw Hammer breaks it down into loose garage rock when they cover the full album Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo. [Buy]
Scala & Kolacny Brothers – I Touch Myself (The Divynals)
Now this song has never been particularly subtle, but somehow when a full female choir sings it together it becomes extra creepy. Like Renee Fleming telling you way more than you wanted to know. [Buy]
David Bowie – Pictures of Lily (The Who)
Townsend claims he wrote this because he wanted to see a song about masturbation become a hit. Well he succeeded, immortalizing British actress Lillie Langtry in a somewhat twisted way. She did indeed die in 1929, as the song says, and one wonders how the “Jersey Lily” would respond to her most famous legacy. [Buy]
Liz Phair – Turning Japanese (The Vapors)
All of these songs are more or less gross, but in 1980 the Vapors took things one step further by adding racial sensitivity to the mix. I won’t go into the details about how turning Japanese relates to masturbation, but it’s gross. Like many masturbatory groups, they deny the charges, saying that “Turning Japanese is all the clichés about angst and youth and turning into something you didn’t expect to.” Well, that’s probably not why Liz Phair, singer of the classics “Blowjob Queen” and “H.W.C.” (look up what it stands for) chose to cover it. [Buy]
Jason and the Scorchers – Absolutely Sweet Marie (Bob Dylan)
Living up to their name, this cowbilly punk crew scorches through this Blonde on Blonde classic. Though this is Bob at his most lyrically inscrutable, some metaphors are clear. “I’m just sitting here beating on my trumpet” = best euphemism ever. [Buy]
Eden Automatic – She Bop (Cyndi Lauper)
Time for the ladies to have a say. Eden Automatic gives a surf-rock swagger to Cyndi’s pleasure-proud hit, precluding Britney Spears’ “Touch of My Hand” by several decades. Bonus: You can download Eden’s full album for free over at Aimestreet. [Buy]
The Raconteurs – Teenage Kicks (The Undertones)
Alright, now here’s where I draw the line. Everyone says this songs about masturbation, but I don’t see it. The Raconteurs do such a kick-ass version though I’ll let you decide for yourself. [Buy]
Paddy Milner – Blister in the Sun (Violent Femmes)
To tide you off before the Femmes-themed post I hope to do soon, here’s a jaunty piano-backed take on their biggest (or only) hit. Milner bounces around the keys with strange cadences and notes, backing his more conventional voice. Very Femme. [Buy]
I almost didn’t do a Christmas theme this week just to buck the trends, but decided that, though Christmas songs may be a cliché, they’re a good cliché. So instead I’m just gonna post more tracks than normal. Which, given that every week my lists get longer, is really saying something. So go drink too much eggnog, accidentally kiss your second-cousin under the mistletoe, and wake up on December 26th to unpayable credit card debt. Cause, after all, isn’t that what Christmas is all about?
Relient K – 12 Days of Christmas (Trad.)
A punk-rock take on the Christmas classic, made more memorable than your average punk cover by the addition of a new chorus. This has to be the most obnoxious song to carol, with verse after verse of shitty gifts, but the K guys manage to keep it fresh through at least 10.
Sufjan Stevens – O Come O Come Emmanuel (Neale/Trad.)
We got a taste of Sufjan’s reworking of Christmas classics last week, but here’s another, a subtle and fragile plea.
Jackson Browne & Bruce Cockburn – All I Want For Christmas Is World Peace (Timbuk3)
Incredibly lame title, but other than that the lyrics are interesting (“chestnuts roasting on my VCR”), and the two provide some earthy harmonies. Sure it’s a little over-the-top, but sincerity doesn’t have to be a bad thing. A couple slight audio imperfections, since it’s live, but nothing bad.
The Stars – Fairytale of New York (The Pogues)
Probably my favorite Christmas song, it’s full of fury and despair until the redemption at the end. No wait, there is no redemption, it’s just bitter the whole way through. There’s no way to better The Pogues version with Kirsty MacColl, and these folks don’t try, but provide another nice take, a lot more sincere and a lot less drunk. If you don’t have the original though, you need it.
Jethro Tull – God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen (Trad.)
Ian Anderson and co. came out with a Christmas album a few years ago and, surprisingly enough, it’s not terrible. The original songs are very good themselves, which is rare for any “new” attempts at Christmas material. This instrumental cover, while not departing from the classic Tull sound, would be enjoyable to throw on during some ham stuffing or turkey basting.
Liz Phair – Winter Wonderland (Bernard & Smith)
She doesn’t show her groin, whine about divorce, or sing about how much she loves semen on this one. Instead, it’s a moderately updated take with a some drum machine and muted acoustic guitar backing a straightforward vocal.
Johnny Cash – Little Drummer Boy (Davis)
Kind of like Hurt, after you’ve heard Cash’s version no others measure up.
Jimi Hendrix – Little Drummer Boy/Silent Night/Auld Lang Syne
When you throw it in an instrumental distortion medley though, it takes on a whole new life
The Hotshots – Snoopy Versus the Red Baron (The Royal Guardsmen)
This was a favorite of mine as a kid, a new twist on the Christmas spirit that really hits home. This reggae-ska cover was a #4 hit in the UK and, though I think it suffers greatly for having eliminated the chorus, is otherwise fun.
Anberlin – Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) (Darlene Love)
The original was the centerpiece of maybe the most famous Christmas album of all time, Phil Spector’s A Christmas Gift For You. I couldn’t decide whether to put up this version or the softer one by Death Cab for Cutie, but that’s all over the blogosphere, so here’s a new one, a sort of alt-rock take that’s full of chutzpah. Wait, wrong holiday?
Darlene Love – Christmas Must Be Tonight (The Band)
I was really hoping this wasn’t originally by The Band since their version is so good I wanted to post it, but it was and I had to find another. Love just came out with a full album of Christmas material a couple years ago (she knows where her talents lie I guess), and has a voice that has aged beautifully, with far more character than her old stuff. Really belting this one out, she reminds me of seeing Mavis Staple sing The Weight with The Decemberists.
Bruce Springsteen – Christmas Day (Detroit Junior)
Live from one of his holiday shows in ’01, it’s a great call-and-response number that has loads of energy and doesn’t say a thing. Tell me those horns don’t get you dancing though.
Lost and Found – Mary Mary (Avery & Marsh)
Here’s a Christmas song I’m sure you’ve never heard, done in Lost and Found’s “speedwood” style (like speed-metal, but wood). If you can make it through some nasally vocals, it’s worth it.
Wax Audio – Happy Xmas (War Is Over) (John Lennon)
Couldn’t decide on this one whether to go for good or interesting for a cover of this, and I went for the latter. Listening to it at first I didn’t realize the premise, and I almost thought it was William Shatner. Turns out the vocals are by a different daft gent working way beyond his ability level, President G-Dubs Bush. Listen to it, it’s certainly creative, and even almost catchy in its own right. Here’s something similar done to R.E.M.
Ed Harcourt – In the Bleak Midwinter (Rossetti/Holst)
A lesser-known Christmas hymn here, it’s got a lot of history as a mid-19th century poem later set to music. Harcourt rocks it out, reels it back in, then rocks it out harder.
Herbie Hancock ft. Corrine Bailey Rae – River (Joni Mitchell)
The original song doesn’t really have all that much to do with Christmas when you listen to it, but it’s become a holiday staple for some reason, and lord knows there are plenty of good covers of it. This one’s off the surprise black sheep nomination for this year’s Album of the Year Grammy.
Neko Case – Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis (Tom Waits)
I would think this would be impossible to cover, but Case does a nice slow-burning version accompanied only by some sort of airy organ.
Tom Waits – Silent Night (Mohr/Gruber/Trad.)
Tom used to use fragments of this to bookend Christmas Card live in concert in the late 70’s, but I hadn’t realized he recorded a version for a charity album ten years later. Where the 70’s version was drunken piano, that instrument is nowhere near this martial holler with soaring vocals (well, the ones that aren’t Tom’s are soaring), strings, accordion, and god knows what else thrown in there.