Jul 172020
 

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

Wheatus

From the first moment I heard “Teenage Dirtbag,” upon its release in 2000, it felt like it was everywhere. Hearing it rattle the walls as it emanated from the massive sound system at Virgin Megastore in Times Square (where I was working back then) would always trigger the same two contradictory thoughts: “not again,” followed rapidly by “…I love this “. Tune-wise, it seemed like the hyperactive and insecure younger sibling of  Nada Surf’s 1996 sarcastic classic “Popular,” all catchy, candy-coated and gigantically chorus’d. But lyrically, well, that’s where the sonic kinship ended.

Ricky KassoEven if you didn’t grow up on Long Island in the ’80s, if you are a true-crime aficionado of a certain age (a horrific classification but here we are), you are likely to be familiar with the case of Ricky Kasso, who murdered Gary Lauwers (both 17) in June of 1984. And if you did grow up there like Wheatus’s Brendan B.Brown (and myself), the whole story is firmly and forever embedded in your psyche, especially if you were a kid or teen at the time. It was both tragic and terrifying.

It wasn’t long before the press found a sensationalistic angle to latch onto regarding the crime and the scapegoating began. When Kasso was arrested for the murder, he was famously photographed wearing an AC/DC shirt replete with a bloody logo and a green cartoon devil. And that little detail, coupled with rumors of the crime being part of a satanic sacrifice ritual, provided all the ammunition needed for those in authority–i.e. parents, teachers and police–to go into irrational overdrive. As naively fantastical as sounds, from that point on, if you actively listened to metal, if you wore tees featuring the bands you loved like Iron Maiden or Black Sabbath, you were heretofore regarded as one of the devil’s loyal soldiers. While this mistrust of metalheads was patently ridiculous, an absurd piece of residual damage based on a single news photo, it really happened. And it was this very notion that led Brendan B. Brown to pen “Teenage Dirtbag”.
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Jul 082020
 

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

A Change Is Gonna Come covers

Given that a change of sorts has come {and more is due), what better time to revisit “A Change Is Gonna Come,” one of the greatest songs of hope and aspiration ever. Let’s remind ourselves of its durability through the decades, and listen as it (hopefully) fires up expectations of a better and braver new world.
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Jul 062020
 

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

Ride Wit Me covers

Hot shit! Nelly’s debut album, Country Grammar, turned twenty at the end of June. The album brought Nelly into the spotlight and made the public aware of the hip-hop scene in St. Louis (check out that famous arch on the album cover). Other St. Louis rappers followed, such as Akon (“Smack That”), Chingy (“Right Thurr”), Huey (“Pop, Lock & Drop It” ), and J-Kwon (“Tipsy”).

The album’s third single, “Ride Wit Me,” had the highest US charting of all the songs on the album, reaching number three on the Billboard Hot 100. The song features Nelly’s friend, City Spud, who also produced four songs on the album. City Spud ended up going to jail thanks to an unfortunate choice of person to ride with. Under the circumstances (and mandatory minimum sentencing laws), City Spud was in jail during the ascent of “Ride Wit Me.”

Although we probably won’t be riding with anyone outside our immediate household any time soon, we can dream while listening to these new spins on a 2000 classic (although, sadly, City Spud’s verse is missing from them all). Go ahead and scream “MUST BE THE MONEY” into the void. And for all of you wanting to celebrate another one of Nelly’s masterpieces, “Hot in Herre,” you’ll have to wait two more years for Nellyville to turn twenty. (By the way, Nelly’s iconic bandage on the face on this album’s cover is a reference to his friend, City Spud.)

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Jul 022020
 

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

Van Morrison

Some songs have the capacity to weave a legacy greater than simply a sum of their constituent parts. “Into the Mystic” is one such song. It isn’t necessarily the best song Van Morrison has ever constructed, but somehow it strikes chords heavier than it first seems to hit. Prefacing and pre-empting Morrison’s classic mid period of dreamy treatises on humanity and higher powers, all spiritual quests and transcendentalism, “Into the Mystic” actually appears on 1970’s Moondance, that almost most commercial of his works, the follow-up to the way more cerebral Astral Weeks. But for all the FM-friendliness of many of the songs, go read the lyrics, and Van is as philosophical as he ever has been. “Into the Mystic” proves to be the epitome, a yearning hymn to the seeking of an understanding of the cosmos, within and without the body and world.

The first draft was entitled “Into the Misty”; we can be grateful he took a pen through that, the meaning so less, well, cosmic in that phrase, and so more earthbound. The effect of the song is in no small part down to the superlative musicians then at his command, and the consummate arrangements, with the guitar, keyboards, and sax of John Platania, Jef Labes, and Jack Schroer, respectively, exquisite and never bettered subsequently. Even better than the studio take is that on 1974 live opus It’s Too Late To Stop Now, with the same musicians, and a stellar string section, still a high-water mark for live recordings by anyone.

Mind you, the vocals are pretty damn good too.
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May 262020
 

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

No Expectations covers

Like many selections in the Five Good Covers series, this song could easily support Ten or Fifteen Good Covers. “No Expectations” appeared on the Rolling Stones’ Beggars Banquet album from 1968, so it’s been around a good long time. And it appears to be aging quite well—not all songs do—so we have every expectation that up-and-coming artists will keep it alive in years to come. Continue reading »

May 152020
 

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

John Martyn

You getting a bit weary with the news this year? Getting all a bit dark, isn’t it? If evil is too strong a word for this virus, good it certainly ain’t, with some of the actions of our leaders sometimes also bordering on, let’s say, willful. So it is to John Martyn I turn, with his plea for a little more uplift, a little more enlightenment. A little more love.

John Martyn was a mercurial man, a mass of paradigms. He had the voice and look of an angel at the start of his career, and the recreational habits of the devil. Those lifestyle choices visibly destroyed his body, as over the years he became the embodiment of Dorian Gray’s attic artwork. Yet the voice remained–sure, a tad more blurred around the edges–with the songwriting seeming not to suffer at all. Sounding as though he was never sure if he was a home counties poet or a Glaswegian hardman, Martyn’s onstage persona and accent slipped randomly from the one to the other, belches and sonnets taking turn for attention. Said not to be the nicest of men, not least when afire with alcohol, he left a trajectory of broken relationships and broken faces behind him. His bad habits ultimately killed this 20-stone diabetic amputee, although, with no small irony, his death came at a time where he had finally taken to sobriety. This was no challenge in itself, when journalists, seeking a good story, would sneak him in bottles of hooch, directly against the wishes of his final partner.
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