Nov 032017
 

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

that's entertainment covers

There are many reasons to love Paul Weller, the primary songwriter and singer for The Jam, but here’s a reason to hate him: he claims to have written 1981’s great “That’s Entertainment,” in ten minutes, while drunk. I suspect that most of us couldn’t write a song as good as “That’s Entertainment” if we spent our entire life trying, whether or not we were under the influence of any substance.

The Jam rose to fame, at least in England, on the back of songs that were mostly angry, fast and loud. As time went on, though, they began to include softer songs, without diluting their powerful political and social point of view. What makes “That’s Entertainment” so potent is the sense of barely contained rage in its mostly acoustic, relatively quiet arrangement. The lyrics are a stream of consciousness collage of scenes from ordinary life in Margaret Thatcher’s England, a country that Weller felt was tilting strongly toward the wealthy and privileged and away from the needs of ordinary people.  According to Weller, these vignettes were all visible from the bus he was on the night he wrote the song, and as a whole, they paint a picture of sadness and hopelessness.

So, Weller sings about “paint splattered walls and the cry of a tomcat,” “a freezing cold flat and damp on the walls,” and “opening the windows and breathing in petrol,” each verse followed by the sarcastic refrain “That’s entertainment, that’s entertainment.” (The song was, in part, inspired by a poem, “Entertainment,” by Paul Drew, and I wonder if there is also a backhanded reference to the glossy musicals compiled by MGM in their films from the mid-1970s with the same title). Continue reading »

May 192017
 

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!

The man’s been stuck hearing “Hope I die before I get old” jests for a good half-century now, so we’ll just wish Pete Townshend a happy 72nd birthday and leave it at that. Except to add that he’s written some of the best songs played on classic-rock radio, as well as some of the best that classic-rock radio doesn’t play. Townshend’s writing gift has always been the ability to express achingly personal sentiments in a way that speaks for millions, from youth well into middle age, and the musical world is all the richer for his sharing it.
Continue reading »

Mar 082012
 

Back Track looks back at an old cover that deserves a new spotlight.

David Watts is a real person according to Ray Davies, which makes the song unique in its character study. Lacking the mockery of the British class system, and missing the common person woes of the working citizen, “David Watts, ” the 1967 song from Something Else by the Kinks, is authentic in its compliments, although not without moments of ironic, homoerotic lyrics, as the Kinks were wont to write. The song simply reminds us of a person we desire to be, but cannot become. It’s a universal concept, going beyond the world of England, presented as a bouncy pop song. Continue reading »

Feb 102010
 

It’s a good week to be a florist. Valentine’s Day is around the corner and roses are selling like a product that actually has some practical value. No, I never quite saw the romance in a present that will make you bleed if you hold it the wrong way. I think this is why no one ever gives me roses. That and the fact that I’m a guy.


Sexton Blake – Rose Parade (Elliott Smith)
You don’t forget the first time you hear Elliott Smith. I remember hearing the first notes of “Speed Trials,” the first track off Either/Or, and realizing I had some catching up to do. Covers of Elliott Smith songs are unusual in one regard: they tend to be better the less they change. [Buy]

Cassandra Wilson – For the Roses (Joni Mitchell)
Joni called this song her “first farewell to show business,” taking a leave of absence after putting out her 1972 album of the same name. It’s hard to imagine any record executive extracted the intended message from the dense imagery though. [Buy]

The Twilight Singers – Roses (Outkast)
One of the strangest pop hits of the last decade. André 3000 and Big Boi goof on golden calculators, support bras and boo-boo, yet it all takes an uncomfortable turn with that disturbingly detailed death fantasy. “Just playin’,” huh? I’m not sure you are… [Buy]

Joan Baez – Rose of Sharon (Eliza Gilkyson)
For decades Baez’s voice was a love-it-or-hate-it-instrument, but in her latter years that glass-shattering soprano has softened to a point that anyone would be moved. Baez opened with this when I saw her live a few years back, a few months before the album came out. [Buy]

Waitswatcher – Trampled Rose (Tom Waits)
Last year Robert Plant and Alison Krauss brought this 2004 Tom Waits song to a vast audience on their Grammy-winning Raising Sand. This instrumental recording may be more obscure, but it’s no less haunting. [Buy]

The Persuasions – It Must Have Been the Roses (Grateful Dead)
The Persuasions record for the Frankly A Cappella label, but that genre designation does not do justice to the deep gospel and soul flowing through their rich vocal arrangements. You might think the music Grateful Dead would be a poor fit, but after listening to Might As Well…The Persuasions Sing the Grateful Dead you’ll never hear the songs the same away again. [Buy]

Maleficent – Where the Wild Roses Grow (Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds)
Who knew a duet between a young girl and her killer could be so romantic? A little less so when shouted perhaps, but the bat-out-of-hell guitar in the background keeps the mantra “All beauty must die” as chilling as ever. [Buy]

The Housewives – Rose Tint My World (The Rocky Horror Picture Show)
The Housewives sound like early Blondie squalling out with Ray Manzarek backing on organ. [Buy]

Everything But the Girl – English Rose (The Jam)
Whatever song Everything But the Girl touches turns to cover gold. They seem to have gone on indefinite hiatus, but their Covers EP should keep you in good hands until they return. [Buy]

Rex Hobart – Every Rose Has Its Thorn (Poison)
Brett Michaels was a sensitive soul long before Rock of Love. [Buy]