It seems like just yesterday, girls across the country were shaking it like a polaroid picture at the smooth request of André 3000, one half of the popular hip hop duo Outkast. But, alas, it’s been nearly a decade since “Hey Ya!” was released as one of two lead singles off of the pair’s double album Speakerboxxx/The Love Below. That’s not to say the song doesn’t have much life left in it yet, as PigPen Theatre Company clearly proves with their folky performance of this funky hip hop tune.
In a recent On the ‘Tube segment, we featured comedian and musician Brett Domino aka Rob J. Madin and turned you on to this Internet sensation with his viral videos covering popular hit songs. This time, instead of using one of the usual odd instruments like the keytar, stylophone, ukulele, theremin, recorder, or accordion that Domino has been know to use, we get a fun cover on the Skoog. The Skoog is a new instrument created by Skoogmusic and it’s pretty amazing. You play the Skoog by physically interacting with it. By pressing, squeezing, rubbing, stroking, tilting or manipulating the Skoog in different ways, you can control the different instrument sounds. The Skoog uses physical modeling, and not just sampling, midi or wavetables – variations in your touch directly affect the sound you produce. Every subtle gesture you make is converted into musical sound.
Some covers are more equal than others. Good, Better, Best looks at three covers and decides who takes home the gold, the silver, and the bronze.
OutKast played a major role in putting hip-hop from the South on the map. The duo, made up of ATLiens André “André 3000” Benjamin and Antwan “Big Boi” Patton, have won numerous awards, including multiple American Music Awards and Grammys. Before Speakerboxxx/The Love Below brought us “Hey Ya!,” Stankonia brought us “Ms. Jackson.” OutKast’s first single from Stankonia was “B.O.B.”, which didn’t get as much attention as anticipated due to its controversial subject matter. “Ms. Jackson” was the second single, and that was the one that propelled the album, winning the Grammy for Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group.
The idea for the song came from Benjamin’s experience with Erykah Badu (his baby’s mama) and her mother (his baby mama’s mama). Although the song is upbeat, with a catchy chorus and fast rap lines, it tells a rather sad story, not unlike the later “Hey Ya!”
In my search for the top “Ms. Jackson” covers, I looked for a particular trifecta:
- a strong start with “this one right here goes out to all the baby’s mamas’, mamas,”
- a powerful stress on the “ooh”s after “I’m sorry Ms. Jackson,” and
- the delivery of the crucial line: “forever, forever, ever, forever, ever?”
Scott Bradlee deserves a victory lap. For five years as the founder and leader of Postmodern Jukebox, he’s taken the hits of today and given them the vintage sounds of yesteryear, with the assistance of many very talented friends. His live-in-the-living-room rearrangements have earned him more than half a billion views on YouTube, all without major label support or corporate sponsorship. You would think that The Essentials, a collection of greatest hits, would be an ideal capper to this remarkable achievement.
But there’s still the sense that Bradlee has something to prove – he’s looking to place this album high on the Billboard charts as he takes PMJ on its North American tour this month. “No more talk of Postmodern Jukebox as a ‘YouTube act,’ or ‘online viral sensation,'” he says. “This is real, we’re here to stay, and we’re ready to change the music industry.”
“Hey Ya!” was one of the defining songs of the 2000s. No matter how sick of it one got, making it through the entire four minutes without smiling proved an impossible feat. Since that mega-mega-hit André 3000 has rested on his musical laurels, releasing only a soundtrack to a subpar movie. He’s back though, bestowing upon the world a sixty-second Beatles cover that advertises the NBA. Totally worth the wait!
Doing a 180 from the last post’s Dylan covers, today we’re gonna showcase covers of the lowest of the low, the pop song. We’re talking the song that’s written by a team of middle-aged men for some dimwit nineteen year old to auto-tune her way through. Basically, everything you hear on the radio these days. As you might imagine, take away the elaborate production and the irritating fact that someone’s making a killing with these songs, and you wind up with lots of potential for fun covers. With comps like Pop Goes Punk selling big, the pop cover is almost a genre by itself. Here it is, done right.
Jenny Owen Youngs – Hot In Herre (Nelly)
Probably my favorite of the bunch, it takes a real talent to turn a rap song into a…non rap song. But she does it, adding a cutesy tune that is fabulously inappropriate for the lyrics, complete with awkward white-dude backing vocals. Finds like this are why I follow covers.
The Mountain Goats – The Sign (Ace of Base)
A folky duet by a group that seems to be enjoying this one a little too much. The lead singer was quoted as saying this was not supposed to be a joke cover, but rather should bring out the lyrical quality of the original. Whatever.
Willie Nelson – Time After Time (Cyndi Lauper)
If you didn’t know the original, you’d be hard-pressed to figure out this wasn’t a Willie Nelson song with a particularly catchy melody. He plays with the rhythm of the chorus in a way that throws you at first, but works.
Matt Weddle – Hey Ya! (Outkast)
A Youtube sensation, this version takes the quirky pop sensation and plays it straight, an irony-free meditation on hype and failure. When people perform pop songs as if there’s a deep meaning, 99% of the time they sound like idiots. This is the other 1%.
Jamelia – Numb (Linkin Park)
This was on pretty constant rotation for weeks after I discovered it at Copy, Right. Stripping down the heavy-handed production of the original in favor of heavily-strummed acoustic guitars (perhaps the main staple of good pop covers) reveals an incredibly catchy melody.
Shawn Colvin – Crazy (Gnarls Barkley)
One of today’s premier cover artists, this one floated around the blogosphere when it came out last year. It’s very tightly done, if perhaps a little precious.
The Raconteurs – Crazy (Gnarls Barkley)
And, on the exact opposite end of the spectrum, we have Jack White’s side project here. They performed this live a few times in ’06, including this version at Lollapalooza, thrash-rocking it out with some banshee squealing choruses.
Fountains of Wayne – Baby One More Time (Britney Spears)
Sounds about like what you would think Fountains of Wayne doing a Britney Spears song might sound like.
Nickel Creek – Toxic (Britney Spears)
More modern Britney here, this one’s a little love or hate, with fiddle, banjo, and loads of falsetto. I love it.
Dartmouth Aires – Ask the Lonely (Journey)
What pop cover set would be complete without a little Journey, the definition of guilty pleasure? And with a soloist who can belt it like just like Steve Perry, it doesn’t get better. [Note: Apparently Journey’s just good for acapella; Petra Hayden (formerly of the Decemberists) does a nice Don’t Stop Believing.]
Astrid Swan – When You Were Young (The Killers)
I feel like I’m showing all my cards in this entry, as many of these are among my favorite covers ever. The piano by itself would be pretty enough; add on top of it her gorgeous voice and you’ve got a version better than the original.
The Mooney Suzuki – Just Like Jesse James (Cher)
Just released on the album Guilt By Association, it’s another one that sounds so perfect for its context that it’s hard to remember it used to be very, very different.
Hurra Torpedo – Total Eclipse of the Heart (Bonnie Tyler)
The rhythm is off, the guitar playing is out-of-tune, and the vocalist can’t sing. But it’s being played by the leading Norwegian kitchen appliance band, so really what more do you need? (Don’t believe me…to youtube!)
John West – Umbrella (Rihanna)
There are a billion cover versions of this already, by everyone from Mandy Moore to Tegan and Sara, but the cello in this one makes it better than most. It takes the über-catchy factor out of the song, making it an acoustic slow jam that rocks you to sleep.