For the Birds

 Posted by at 8:35 pm  Add comments
Dec 092007

Birds might seem a pretty lame topic for a post, but it turns out there are quite a few good songs about our fine feathered friends. And a lot of band ones too. First person to request Freebird, I swear to god…

The Ramones – Surfin’ Bird (The Trashmen)
The Trashmen’s lone claim to fame could be argued as the first punk-rock song. So, an obvious choice for the Ramones to make even more punk (by singing it out of tune). Crank up the distortion, try even harder to break the drum kit, and sing the same nonsencical lyrics…nice.

Uncle Earl – Canary In a Coalmine (The Police)
Sometimes a group just picks the perfect song to cover. The Police version sounds like the awkward reinterpretation after hearing this bluegrass folk version. Sting clearly wrote for the wrong genre with this one, with maybe his best lyrics ever: “You say you want to spend the winter in Firenze / You’re so afraid to catch a dose of influenza.” This recording is live from earlier this year, but hopefully they’ll release a studio version too.

Patti Smith – When Doves Cry (Prince)
Recorded for her 2002 hits compilation Land, one of the master of the cover keeps just enough of the tune and dance-rock while whining out the over-the-top angry-lover lyrics over some nice fuzz guitar.

Chubby Carrier & the Bayou Swamp Band – Rockin’ Robin (Bobby Day)
Everyone knows Michael Jackson’s hit single, his second solo song ever, but here the lame flute is gone in favor of accordion, and lots of it! And as everyone knows, nothing goes better with squeezebox than saxophone (what??) so there’s a wailed out solo as icing on the cake. Thanks to Cover Freak for this discovery.

Duncan Sheik – Songbird (Fleetwood Mac)
Sheik takes Christine McVie’s classic off Rumours and sings it over a thick bed of strings without, impressively enough, sounding lame. Sounds like a track from a 40’s Cary Grant musical.

Bruce Springsteen – Pretty Flamingo (Manfred Mann)
Given that Manfred Mann had about half their hits with Bruce songs, it was mighty kind of the Boss to reply the covering favor. And, of course, he makes it epic, throwing in rambling anecdotes about the pool hall and never-ending sing-a-longs. Never officially recorded it as far as I know, but this version is from the legendary Hammersmith shows of ’75.

Willie Nelson – Bird on a Wire (Leonard Cohen)
Nelson’s country twang can be quite grating, but it offsets the beautiful melody and arrangement here perfectly, keeping it down to Earth with some emotive singing and, hooray, more accordion.

Dartmouth Aires – The Cuckoo (Taj Mahal/Trad.)
A very poppy update of the classic folk ballad, I can’t exactly figure out the origins of this great arrangement. They give Taj credit, but it sure doesn’t sound much like his version to my ears. Anyone know more?

Element 101 – I’m Like a Bird (Nelly Furtado)
This may be one of my least favorite songs ever. Without Nelly’s nasal vibrato, it’s somewhat better here. Somewhat. If you like punk covers of pop songs though, check it out.

Jars of Clay – I’ll Fly Away (Albert E Brumley)
The gospel staple gets a slightly updated take, with help from other Christian rocker. Still plenty of soaring vocals, inspirational message, and all that.

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