Ocean’s, the girl/buddy heist film starring Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett, Anne Hathaway, Mindy Kaling, Sarah Paulson, Rihanna, Helena Bonham Carter, and Awkwafina was spawned from the George Clooney – and before that, Frank Sinatra – series’ of similar name. The film opened on Nancy Sinatra’s birthday (June 8) with her iconic, Lee Hazelwood-penned 1966 #1 hit “These Boots Are Made for Walkin’” featured predominantly in the trailer and the soundtrack. Both trailer and soundtrack include the original and an even more up-tempo cover version by electronic artist Nick West.
When I interviewed “Weird Al” Yankovic about the polka covers medleys he does on every album, there were two he described as noble failures: “Hot Rocks Polka” (1989) and “Bohemian Polka” (1993). In both, he deviated from his traditional mashing up of a dozen different genres for a single-artist focus: the Rolling Stones and Queen (in their case one song, “Bohemian Rhapsody”).
“As much as I like going with the tried-and-true, after a while you want to see if something else is going to work,” he said in my book. “Both those polkas were sort of experiments. And both worked okay. But in general, I found that people tended to like the full-on random medleys better. Like the Stones thing was a nice tribute, but there wasn’t as much of a surprise going from song to song. It was like ‘Oh, and here’s another Stones song.’ And I think a big part of the humor in the medleys is the random, jarring juxtaposition of one song to the next, done polka-style. I thought ‘Well, I tried that, now let’s go back to what works.’”
Let’s be blunt: No one needs novelty songs.
Loosely defined as “a satirical or comedic parody of popular music,” most people instinctively leave the room – or the house – at the first whiff.
Or do they? What, then, explains the enduring popularity of Dr. Demento, querulous-voiced prankster and legitimate, if puzzling, cultural icon? A rock ’n roll writer, label A&R man, and sometime roadie, he began broadcasting a rock and oldies show at Pasadena station KPPC in 1970. He quickly found that the novelty songs he slipped in – notably Nervous Norvus’ “Transfusion,” a truly demented tale about reckless driving, and a precursor to the Cramps’ psychobilly – were what his listeners really wanted to hear.
Now 76, Dr. Demento – a.k.a. Barret Eugene Hansen – ceased terrestrial radio broadcast in 2010, though his program persists online. And now we’re treated to Dr. Demento Covered in Punk, by some counts his 15th official album release. If you’re already hooked on the good doctor’s offbeat charms, you’re likely not in need of encouragement to purchase this collection of supposedly “punk” covers (more on that later) interspersed with the Doctor’s commentary. But can we rightfully recommend this 2+ hour compilation to the rest of the record-buying public? The answer, surprisingly, is: “Yes!” Sort of.
Master of oddball radio Dr. Demento is largely credited with popularizing “Weird Al” Yankovic by being the first DJ to play his music on the radio. The Weird One recently returned the favor by recording an accordion-driven cover of the the Ramones’ “Beat on the Brat” for Dr. Demento’s upcoming Covered in Punk compilation, the second single from that compilation after William Shatner’s version of the Cramps’ “Garbageman”.
Just to be clear, Al’s “Beat on the Brat” is not a parody. Though to be fair, the refrain to the original is so ridiculous that it might as well be a joke. The same could be said for most of the Ramones’ catalogue. For this version, “Weird Al” is backed by punk-rock supergroup Osaka Popstar, which recorded its own version in 2008.
Today is the day! At long last, Cover Me: The Stories Behind the Greatest Cover Songs of All Time is in stores and online at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, IndieBound, Powell’s, and many other places (including, hopefully, your local independent bookstore!).
A lot has happened since I first announced the book back in May. The New Yorker published an excerpt about Devo’s meeting with Mick Jagger. I was interviewed on SiriusXM about the Hendrix, Cash, Aretha, Pet Shop Boys, Elvis, and Creedence Clearwater Revival chapters. And most importantly for you reading this, I put together an exclusive bonus mix that blog fans can get when they buy the book (it says “pre-order,” but we’ll say “week-of-release order” counts too).
And I wanted to share one more thing, another blog exclusive: An audio companion to the book.
—November update: The book is now out, but if you review it on Amazon or elsewhere, the mixtape can still be yours! Just send proof of review to the email below.—
Cover Me: The Stories Behind the Greatest Songs Of All Time comes out October 3. It dives deep into twenty iconic covers, from Elvis’s “Hound Dog” through Adele’s “Make You Feel My Love.” I interviewed artists like David Byrne and Roger Daltrey to get the untold stories behind their greatest covers. You can read all about it here.
Now we’ve got a special bonus for anyone who preorders: a free digital album of other covers of those same songs.
What’s the greatest “Take Me to the River” that’s not by Al Green or the Talking Heads? My favorite “Hurt” untouched by either of those men in black? An “I Will Always Love You” that sounds like the artist has never heard either Dolly Parton or Whitney Houston’s versions? This mix answers all those questions.