In 2014, Weird Al Yankovic appeared on Kumail Nanjiani and Jonah Ray’s long-running comedy show The Meltdown to perform “Dare to Be Stupid” with a string quartet (a precursor to his current orchestra tour, perhaps?). Ray, best known for his role in the Mystery Science Theater 3000 revival, introduced him simply: “It means a lot to us that he’s on the show.”
Anais Mitchell & The Staves – Strong Enough (Sheryl Crow cover)
For a few years now, long-running French video company La Blogothèque has been filming a series they call “One to One” at Bon Iver’s various European festivals. They blindfold one audience member and bring them into a private room for a concert for one. Bon Iver did one, and Damien Rice’s is a must-watch. Personally, that experience sounds more awkward than enjoyable – especially with all the cameras in your face – so I’d rather just watch someone else’s personal concert on video. This one is a gem, feature The Staves with Anais Mitchell delivering a gorgeously-harmonized Sheryl Crow cover.
Full Albums features covers of every track off a classic album. Got an idea for a future pick? Leave a note in the comments!
Devo released their brilliantly-titled debut album Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo! forty years ago today. Though later albums would yield bigger hits (we’re still a few years from “Whip It”), their debut remains their most iconic record. Blending their poppiest hooks with their artiest quirks, it works wonderfully as a statement of purpose.
As Mark Mothersbaugh and Gerald Casale told me when I wrote about their “Satisfaction” cover for my book (you can still read an excerpt of that chapter at The New Yorker), even completing the album became a monumental pain. Having Brian Eno produce your debut record would seem a coup, but sessions quickly became fractious. Devo wanted to record the album with zero studio experimentation. They’d honed the songs over several years of concerts and rehearsals, and saw no reason to change them. Eno did not go for that approach, sneaking into the studio with his pal David Bowie after the band left and adding new instruments at least once. The next morning, Devo caught on and wiped them. Devo’s instincts have rarely led them astray, but boy I’d be curious to hear what Bowie was trying to add to the tracks.
Ocean’s, the girl/buddy heist film starring Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett, Anne Hathaway, Mindy Kaling, Sarah Paulson, Rihanna, Helena Bonham Carter, and Awkwafina was spawned from the George Clooney – and before that, Frank Sinatra – series’ of similar name. The film opened on Nancy Sinatra’s birthday (June 8) with her iconic, Lee Hazelwood-penned 1966 #1 hit “These Boots Are Made for Walkin’” featured predominantly in the trailer and the soundtrack. Both trailer and soundtrack include the original and an even more up-tempo cover version by electronic artist Nick West.
When I interviewed “Weird Al” Yankovic about the polka covers medleys he does on every album, there were two he described as noble failures: “Hot Rocks Polka” (1989) and “Bohemian Polka” (1993). In both, he deviated from his traditional mashing up of a dozen different genres for a single-artist focus: the Rolling Stones and Queen (in their case one song, “Bohemian Rhapsody”).
“As much as I like going with the tried-and-true, after a while you want to see if something else is going to work,” he said in my book. “Both those polkas were sort of experiments. And both worked okay. But in general, I found that people tended to like the full-on random medleys better. Like the Stones thing was a nice tribute, but there wasn’t as much of a surprise going from song to song. It was like ‘Oh, and here’s another Stones song.’ And I think a big part of the humor in the medleys is the random, jarring juxtaposition of one song to the next, done polka-style. I thought ‘Well, I tried that, now let’s go back to what works.’”
Let’s be blunt: No one needs novelty songs.
Loosely defined as “a satirical or comedic parody of popular music,” most people instinctively leave the room – or the house – at the first whiff.
Or do they? What, then, explains the enduring popularity of Dr. Demento, querulous-voiced prankster and legitimate, if puzzling, cultural icon? A rock ’n roll writer, label A&R man, and sometime roadie, he began broadcasting a rock and oldies show at Pasadena station KPPC in 1970. He quickly found that the novelty songs he slipped in – notably Nervous Norvus’ “Transfusion,” a truly demented tale about reckless driving, and a precursor to the Cramps’ psychobilly – were what his listeners really wanted to hear.
Now 76, Dr. Demento – a.k.a. Barret Eugene Hansen – ceased terrestrial radio broadcast in 2010, though his program persists online. And now we’re treated to Dr. Demento Covered in Punk, by some counts his 15th official album release. If you’re already hooked on the good doctor’s offbeat charms, you’re likely not in need of encouragement to purchase this collection of supposedly “punk” covers (more on that later) interspersed with the Doctor’s commentary. But can we rightfully recommend this 2+ hour compilation to the rest of the record-buying public? The answer, surprisingly, is: “Yes!” Sort of.