Apr 212011

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!

Iggy Pop, born James Osterberg in Muskegon, Michigan, turns a remarkable 64 years old today. Remarkable because he spent so much time living on the edge. He arguably created punk rock with his band The Stooges in 1968, uniting the D.I.Y. ethic of mid-’60s garage rock with a nihilistic attitude and Jim Morrison-inspired performance antics. After three albums, Pop’s extreme drug abuse led to the demise of the band and a stint at an L.A. mental institution. Continue reading »

Mar 232011

This March, we pit 64 Beatles covers against each other in what we call Moptop Madness.

Yesterday’s winners: Johnny Cash, “In My Life” and The Breeders, “Happiness Is a Warm Gun”

The winners of some of Round One’s hardest-fought battles go head-to-head today. First, Siouxsie and the Banshees’ gothic “Helter Skelter” faces Wilson Pickett’s soulful “Hey Jude.” Then, it’s all acoustic when Tenacious D’s “Abbey Road Medley” challenges Elliott Smith’s “Because.”

Listen to each pairing below, then vote for your favorite. For added sway, try to convince others to vote your way in the comments. Voting closes in 24 hours. Continue reading »

Mar 122011

This March, we pit 64 Beatles covers against each other in what we call Moptop Madness.

Yesterday’s winners: Johnny Cash, “In My Life” and Nick Cave, “Let It Be”

It’s a battle of loud versus soft, dissonant versus harmonious today. Junior Campbell’s light-hearted “Drive My Car” faces Siouxsie and the Banshees’ gothic “Helter Skelter.” Then, Deerhoof’s spastic “The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill” meets Elliott Smith’s smooth “Because.”

Listen to each pairing below, then vote for your favorite. For added sway, try to convince others to vote your way in the comments. Voting closes in 24 hours. Continue reading »

Dec 082010

On her second release, singer/songwriter/pianist Diane Birch unites with neo-soul outfit The Phenomenal Handclap Band for The Velveteen Age, a seven-track cover collection of dark eighties/early nineties cult hits. Album cover aside, however, little here suggests the tunes’ stygian origins. Exuberance, not melancholy, is the dominant atmosphere.

To say Diane Birch and The Phenomenal Handclap Band reimagine gothic rock as pop would be misleading. Classics of the genre like the Sisters of Mercy’s “This Corrosion” and Siouxsie and the Banshees’ “Kiss Them for Me” were rousing pop songs from the start. Rather, Diane Birch and The Phenomenal Handclap Band reimagine these songs as seventies pop, complete with Motown and doo-wop flourishes. On “This Corrosion,” Sisters’ singer Andrew Eldritch self-consciously refers to his outsider rock as “selling the don’t belong.” By giving the dark side of the eighties/early nineties a retro feel, Diane Birch and The Phenomenal Handclap Band repackage that same “don’t belong” for a new audience. Continue reading »

Nov 112010

Five Good Covers presents five cross-genre reinterpretations of an oft-covered song.

“Helter Skelter,” one of many hit tracks from the Beatles‘ exalted 1968 White Album, has often been lauded as a progenitor of heavy metal. There was just something about the track’s discordant guitar, insistent toms, and raucous vocal that spoke to musicians who wanted to be loud. Led Zeppelin properly outlined the genre a couple years later, but with this song the Beatles alerted us to the possibly of its existence in the first place.

It makes sense, then, that metal bands of all kinds would want to take a crack at “Helter Skelter,” the granddaddy of heavy. They’re not the only ones though; dozens of covers by famous artists exist for this song, as well as countless interpretations by those less noted. Below we’ve picked out five that stand out from the crowd. Continue reading »

Jul 082009

I was a Bob Dylan fan long before I got into the Band. I thought they were good with him but kind of lame by themselves. See, I first heard “I Shall Be Released” on Dylan’s 1978 At Budokan live album where it has full horns, gospel chorus, and blasts right out at ya. Compared to that the Band version just sounded flaccid. Thankfully I’ve come around since then. Seeing The Last Waltz will do that to ya.

Paul Barrere and Fred Tackett – Tears of Rage
The first of several Dylan-assisted songs on the album, it’s the one he’s all but forgotten about live. Luckily Barre and Tackett remembered it at an ’03 concert, jamming out with a couple guitars and a winding story. [Buy]

The Beatles – To Kingdom Come
“There’s no way the Beatles recorded a Band song,” I hear you saying. Well it’s true. It’s from the Get Back sessions in London, the sound of them messing around. Unfortunately though the recording of the guitar is crystal clear the vocals are very difficult to hear. Time for a remaster? [Buy]

Karen Dalton – In a Station
With drum rolls like that to open a track, it doesn’t even matter what comes next. Bonus points if the rest is good too. [Buy]

Plastic Penny – Caledonia Mission
Obscure U.K. psychedelic band Plastic Penny only released three albums, all with currency-related titles. Luckily their second from 1969 includes the rare cover of this tune, sounding like the original filtered through Jefferson Airplane. [Buy]

The Gaslight Anthem – The Weight
I saw Mavis Staples perform this live with The Decemberists (read about it) and god I wish there was a recording. The Gaslight Anthem’s Brian Fallon is no second-best though, strumming his way through a take so simple it nails the song in the heart. [Buy]

Kiyoshiro – We Can Talk
“Japan’s King of Rock” here, singing a Japanese-language take on one of the Band’s lesser-known tunes. No idea how well the lyric is translated, but the delivery is worthy. [Buy]

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – Long Black Veil (Dill/Wilkin)
Plenty of people sung it before The Band, but once they released their version no future artist could perform it without having their take in mind. Cave channels Johnny Cash more than The Band though. Well, he channels Cash for nineteen seconds. From then on, what can he do but channel Cave? A dark, stomping version like none you’ve ever heard. [Buy]

Widespread Panic – Chest Fever
The organ intro heard round the world. I saw Band drummer Levon Helm hit this one live last summer and Larry Campbell ripped through an equally epic opening on his guitar. Read about it, then go buy the Endless Highway Band tribute this tune’s off. [Buy]

Blood, Sweat and Tears – Lonesome Suzie
The original was pretty slow, but it’s downright punk speed compared to where BST take it. Until the horns come in. Then all bets are off. [Buy]

Siouxsie and the Banshees – This Wheel’s On Fire
I don’t know how they do it, but with this and “Dear Prudence” Siouxsie and co. have a knack for turning the most unlikely of tunes into phenomenal gothic stomps. One for the all time great Dylan covers list. [Buy]

Wilco and Fleet Foxes – I Shall Be Released (Bob Dylan)
Unlike “Tears” and “This Wheel,” “I Shall Be Released” gets no co-writing credit from The Band, though they did play it at Big Pink for the famed “basement tapes.” Wilco busted out the jailbird’s lament at several concerts last fall, backed by Americana crooners Fleet Foxes, and put the mp3 up on their website in exchange for a pledge to vote. [Buy]