Question of semantics for you: if an artist joins in on a cover of his own song, is it still a cover? While at South by Southwest, The Afghan Whigs went into a rocking cover of Usher‘s Climax and the man himself joined in about half way through the song.
In the past few years much ink has been spilt discussing “mashups,” the process of remixing two or more songs together. The weirder the combination, the more impressive the feat. DJs like Girl Talk lead the charge, but due to differing keys and tempos the pairings sometimes sound forced. Mashup covers, on the other hand, have more freedom. Here are ten odd couples and unchained medleys that, defying all probably, kind of work.
Touching Earth Made of Steel – Party in the Spirit World (Miley Cyrus / Daniel Johnston)
Yes, that’s “Party in the U.S.A.” paired with “Spirit World,” from the latest CokeMachineGlow covers mix. Dear Mr. Johnston: I’m sure they didn’t mean it. [Buy]
Keller Williams – My Sisters and Brothers / Boob Job (Charles Johnson / David Wilcox)
There’s something wonderfully irreverent about pairing a hopeful gospel song with a song called “Boob Job.” Jerry Garcia covered the first a few times, but died before he could have a go at the second. [Buy]
Saint Bernadette – Owner Things (Yes / Howard Jones)
“Owner of a Lonely Heart” + “Things Can Only Get Better” = an inspired duo. Though I’m not sure Jones deserves the honor — a few years ago he translated his hit to “Simlish” for The Sims 2. Embarrassing. [Buy]
Kenny Mellman – The Gambler / Poker Face (Kenny Rogers / Lady Gaga)
The man behind the Our Hit Parade pop cover series decided that lyrical theme is enough to tie two songs together. How right he was. [Buy]
Jacqui Naylor – Summertime / Whipping Post (George Gershwin / The Allman Brothers)
Jazz vocalist Naylor is known for her “acoustic smashes,” putting the lyrics to one song atop the melody of a second. Here she sings “Summertime” while the band plays “Whipping Post.” Sneak peek: Look for another even less likely pairing next week. [Buy]
The Afghan Whigs – My World Is Empty Without You / Nuthin’ But a ‘G’ Thang (The Supremes / Dr. Dre)
In this live jam from 1994, the quartet tosses in the lyrics to Dr. Dre’s first single so soulfully you might not notice anything amiss. Check out more at our recent Dre feature. [Buy]
The Spinto Band – Give Me Just a Little More Time / The Sweet Escape / The Boys Are Back in Town (Chairmen of the Board / Gwen Stefani / Thin Lizzy)
This song eschews the normal approach of moving from one song to the next, instead splicing some Gwen and Lizzy into the Detroit soul. It took me a couple listens to figure out where “The Sweet Escape” appeared. [Buy]
Paddy Casey with the Dublin Gospel Choir – Grandma’s Hands / No Diggity (Bill Withers / Blackstreet)
What seems a truly bizarre combination is actually an homage to the original “No Diggity,” which contained a “Grandma’s Hands” sample. This cover pushes that fun bit of trivia to the extreme. If someone covered Girl Talk this way each song would become a thirty-minute ordeal. [Buy]
Tenacious D – More Than a Feeling / Just What I Needed / Dream On (Boston / The Cars / Aerosmith)
The best part of this Boston-band medley that the D performed in 2001 is that three times they build to an epic chorus, then switch songs just before it arrives. Hilariously unsatisfying. [Buy]
Allred – Cover Medley (Various Artists)
Ok, here we go: Tonic, “If You Could Only See” — Howie Day, “Secret” — Guster, “Demons” — Better Than Ezra, “Desperately Wanting” — Michelle Branch, “All You Wanted” — Avril Lavigne, “Complicated” — Eagle Eye Cherry, “Save Tonight” — Boys Like Girls, “Hero/Heroine” — Colbie Caillat, “Bubbly” — Fergie, “Big Girls Don’t Cry” — Rihanna, “Umbrella” — The Eagles, “Hotel California” — Panic! At the Disco, “Nine in the Afternoon” — Leona Lewis, “Bleeding Love” — Chris Brown, “With You” — OneRepublic, “Apologize” — Uncle Kracker, “Drift Away.” 17 songs, 7 minutes. Whew! [Buy]
Bonus: The Bloodhound Gang’s mashup of Wu Tang Clan and Weezer just feels right.
The original theme for this post was Motown, but I was more interested in the sound than who was officially on the Motown label, so to avoid controversy…girl groups, whatever label they were on. In great song lists, these often get overlooked as being to simple or syrupy, but these are high-quality (if not to lyrically stimulating) songs. The production on the originals, often courtesy of Phil Spector, was superb, but these covers stand on their own without all that orchestrated sound.
We Are Scientists – Be My Baby (The Ronettes)
Some fuzzy distortion that rocks out the original but, in the end, stays just faithful enough.
Grizzly Bear – He Hit Me (It Felt Like a Kiss) (The Crystals)
This one’s been making the blog rounds for the last year or so, but it lives up the the hype. One of the most disturbing girl group songs, Grizzly Bear’s slow and languid performance brings out the uncomfortable domestic abuse of the lyrics. Creepy.
The Afghan Whigs – Come See About Me (The Supremes)
Indie-rock freakout on this live recording from the Cincinnati quartet, starting slow and ending in frenetic drum facemelt.
Smith – Baby It’s You (The Shirelles)
A big hit in its own right, the Death Proof soundtrack revived this soul gem with organ trills and a singer who jumps from loud to soft and back smoothly and keeps the song lively.
Ruby Rats – Heatwave (Martha and the Vandellas)
Organ-drenched cover from the 60’s by the ultra-obscure Ruby Rats. Couldn’t find much information on them online, except nothing they’ve done has ever been issued on CD, so excuse the fuzziness of this vinyl transfer.
Bob Dylan and George Harrison – Da Doo Ron Ron (The Crystals)
From a jam session in ’69, neither one really knows the words, or realizes that this recording will ever leak into the bootleg world. So it’s loose and fun, enjoyable to listen to if not stunning.
Paris Bennett – My Boyfriend’s Back (The Angels)
I can’t believe I’m putting a song by an American Idol contestant up here, but it’s a nice reworking that replaces the handclaps with computerized beats. What the song would sound like if it were a new release today…which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Also funny “street” lyric changes about how “it’s me that he’s reppin’ / So you better be steppin’.”
Jane Olivor – He’s So Fine (The Chifons)
A slowed-down operatic version, with some Spanish guitar and smooth sax. The novelty feel quickly disappears as you forget the bounce of the original and the song works just as well this way too.
Twisted Sister – Leader of the Pack (The Shangri-Las)
Amazing how the transsexual hair-metal crew can use their sound to give pretty much the same feel as the original. Dee Snyder hits basically the same notes as the original singer, but the backing vocals are what keep it interesting in a Summer Loving vein.
Broadzilla – Love Child (The Supremes)
All-female punk rock like a more aggressive Blondie, the angry nasal whine over the distortion gives a very different feel over the original. Certainly suits the lyrics, which are very less warm and fuzzy than Diana Ross and co. would have you believe.