“Porcelina of the Vast Oceans” is the most ambitious track from the Smashing Pumpkins‘ most ambitious album, Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness. It was recorded in different pieces and assembled in the studio, which helps explain the stark contrasts between the different sections of the song. It’s one of those songs where the Pumpkins kind of turned into a prog rock band.
Famed alternative rock sideman Scott McCaughey is perhaps best known for his contributions to R.E.M. and The Minus 5, his band with R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck. In November 2017, McCaughey had a serious stroke that, in his words, left him without “my ability to talk, sing, make music.” He used Beatles and Neil Young songs to help recover his music-making skills. Now he’s released some of the Neil Young recordings, under the nom de rock Scott the Hoople.
McCaughey performed and recorded 13 Neil Young deep cuts, on an album he’s calling NEIL (Vol. 1) (leaving the door open for a sequel). Pearl Jam lead guitarist Mike McCready guests on seven of the tracks, but otherwise, this is completely McCaughey. The songs range from early Buffalo Springfield tracks like “Nowadays Clancy Can’t Even Sing” to deep cuts from Young’s ’70s peak to ’90s songs about reuniting Buffalo Springfield. It’s a interesting selection which feels really personal.
“The Trooper” is one of Iron Maiden‘s most iconic songs; in America, it was one of only three Top 40 singles in the band’s history. The song pairs the classic Maiden gallop with one of the band’s most memorable riffs and vivid lyrics about The Charge of the Light Brigade.
Alter Bridge lead singer Myles Kennedy grew up listening to Maiden and covered “The Trooper” for SiriusXM. In the discussion before his performance, he says he’s going for a “Johnny Cash” vibe. Not sure how Johnny Cash would handle a Bruce Dickinson vocal, but Kennedy acquits himself impressively.
The song is stripped of everything save Kennedy’s commanding voice and his acoustic rhythm guitar playing. There’s no twin lead guitars and there’s no trademark galloping bass – just Kennedy. It’s a compelling performance showing off not just Kennedy’s voice but his ability to capture the song’s rhythm with just an acoustic guitar.
“You Can’t Put Your Arms Around a Memory” is probably Johnny Thunders most well known solo track. The New York Dolls’ guitarist had one of the most successful solo careers of any of the Dolls, and possibly the most influential. Duff McKagan of Guns ‘n’ Roses covered this track for the Gunners’ The Spaghetti Incident and it’s also been covered most recently by Billie Joe Armstrong and Giant Sand, among others. Though a ballad, the original recording is typical Thunders, with a sloppy rock sound and a sing- or shout-along chorus. The latest cover, by Kris Gruen, is considerably softer and more ballady.
“Lovesong” is The Cure’s biggest American hit and, as a result, so it’s possibly their most iconic song to casual fans. (It was a comparably minor hit in The Cure’s home country, so Brits might be a little surprised to hear this.) The song is typical Cure: an iconic bassline but otherwise pretty minimal accompaniment in the verses with a lush orchestral sound in the verses. It’s one of Robert Smith’s most emotionally direct and upbeat songs, which likely goes a ways to explaining its popularity.
A.A. Williams is a trained pianist and cellist who was off to a promising start to her professional career, with a buzzed-about EP in 2019, before the pandemic derailed everything. She’s still been able to release her debut album this year, and has been spending her pandemic time recording covers, like many musicians. We covered her “Songs in Isolation” series back in April.
In Williams’ hands, “Lovesong” is transformed into a mournful, longing plaint. Williams has slowed the song to a crawl and has replaced The Cure’s elaborate instrumentation with her solitary piano (removing many of the hooks as a result). Whereas Smith is singing a pledge to his soon-to-be wife for their wedding, Williams’ version of the lyrics is for all of us who have been separated from a loved one due to this terrible pandemic.
“Fly Away”, the fourth single from Lenny Kravitz‘s fifth album, was one of his biggest hits, and the biggest since “Are You Gonna Go My Way”. Arguably the two most iconic parts of the song are the song’s simple riff and what sounds like a slap bass. But both of these are completely absent in the new semi- acoustic cover by roots outfit Larkin Poe.