With most cover session series such as AV Undercover, the BBC’s Live Lounge and Like A Version you get some bands selecting a cover they feel safe with while others try something completely new. I’m a big fan of reggae covers of other songs (The Dynamics pulls this feat off repeatedly and brilliantly) but have never seen many going the other way, reggae songs into another style. Of course there are excellent exceptions such as The Clash’s versions of Police & Thieves and Armagideon Time.
They Say It’s Your Birthday celebrates artists’ special days with other people singing their songs. After all, why should they have to do the work? It’s their birthday!
Madonna turns 52 today. She’s in great shape for her age. Amazingly great shape. Disturbingly great shape. You don’t want to pick a fight with those biceps. Yeesh.
Man-muscles aside, the woman’s packed her five decades pretty full. The second best-selling female artists in the U.S. (after Barbra Streisand), she’s had 36 top-ten singles and collectively her albums have gone platinum 300 times over. Madonna’s influence spreads far beyond sales figures though. Not since Elvis first shook his hips has an artist’s sexuality caused more hand-wringing about the decline of civilized society. Even today, she’s still pushing buttons with crucifix besmirching and lesbian be-smooching. Your grandpa may not know the lyrics to a single Madonna song, but chances are he has an opinion about her.
To honor the hit machine/provocateur, we’ve collected five of our favorite Madonna covers. The Dynamics stretch out “Music” to an eight minute soul rave while Picturehouse moans his way through an acoustic “Papa Don’t Preach.” Meanwhile, the Chapin Sisters bring their three-part harmonies to “Borderline,” the Enemy gives us a cabaret piano “Hung Up,” and the Meat Purveyors bounce through a bluegrass medley, mandolin solo and all. Great stuff for a great artist. Happy birthday, Madge!
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]