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Friday, 25 February 2011

Resplendent Remakes by Rebecca Sellitti

Here it is, the second post from my favourite guest writer, Becks from all the way across the pond in Washington DC. If you're on Twitter then you should catch up with her at @waltandperry too. She's a massive music fan and we seem to be uncannily in synch, because the two pieces she's given me put on the blog so far have been about two of my favourite musical subjects, covers and movie soundtracks. I love her cover picks below - especially the Iron & Wine and Guns N' Roses ones, which have both been favourites of mine for long time. Check out her first post here. Keep 'em coming Becks...

Resplendent Remakes: My Favorite Cover Songs

It seems every other month Hollywood is releasing a remake of a classic film, and nine out of ten times the reworked versions fall far short of the original. Anyone remember Planet of the Apes featuring Mr. Marky Mark? Yikes! But Hollywood will continue to refashion films, because it is so much easier than writing a new screenplay. Just as the film industry has a penchant for reworking scripts, the music industry has an inclination to rework songs. Songs that have been made-over are often referred to as covers. I was hoping to find the history behind the reason we refer to remakes as covers, but found nothing reputable. (I’ll NEVER trust Wikipedia.)

Anyhow, most of the time covers are tolerable at best. Quite often they make us nostalgic for the original, and angry at the individual who dares tamper with a classic (*cough*American Pie*cough*cough*Madonna*). It’s hard to do a good cover. For a cover to be really excellent it cannot be too similar to the original tune. Otherwise there is absolutely no point in rereleasing the same song that your parents played on their 8-tracks. A truly great cover should keep the basic sound of the original, but add its own unique style and flair. I’ve generously taken precious time out of my impossibly busy schedule to compile a list of my all time favorite cover tunes. Enjoy! (Or don’t.)

1. I Will by Alison Krauss
Blue grass phenom Krauss took a big risk with this release. I Will was originally recorded by The Beatles, arguably one of the greatest bands in history, and many individuals view their music as sacred, and the altering of the slightest piece of it a form of sacrilege.
But, Alison Krauss chose to take on the challenge and managed to produce a version of I Will that I believe is superior to the original.
There is no overly ornate production in this version. Just a banjo, steel guitar, and the mellifluous voice of Alison. Without all the extras, the listener is really able to appreciate the beauty of the melody. In addition, Krauss’s angelic voice adds an air of sweetness and innocence to the tune that transforms this song into somewhat of a lullaby. Absolutely one of my favorite performances of all time.

Fun Fact: This song was featured on the album Now That I’ve Found You: A Collection that consisted of covers of other classic tunes like Bad Company’s Atlanta and Now That I’ve Found You by The Foundations. Definitely worth checking out.

2. Such Great Heights by Iron and Wine
Such Great Heights was originally performed by the indie pop band The Postal Service. Their recording was great and had a sick electronic sound. However, I believe it was Mr. Sam Beam of Iron & Wine who really breathed life into the song. The lyrics to Such Great Heights are so powerful and heartfelt, yet are barely audible in The Postal Service recording.
By opting to do an acoustic version of the song, with only a few simple harmonies thrown in, listeners are allowed to actually hear and fully appreciate the deeper meaning of painfully romantic lyrics like “the freckles in our eyes are mirror images and when we kiss they’re perfectly aligned”. To steal a phrase from tweenyboppers, totally swoonworthy.
In addition, Beam has this amazingly soft and unadorned cadence to his voice that allows him to emote the lyrics in a way that adds to the depth of the words. (Okay, so I’m half in love with the fellow). If listening to this cover doesn’t make your heart flutter, you are probably made of stone.

Fun Fact: Sam Beam’s recording of this song was released for the first time on the B-side of Postal Service’s Such Great Heights single.

3. Please Let Me Get What I Want by Muse
The original recording by The Smiths is still superior in my mind. Morrissey can convey a level of loneliness and heartbreak that neither Bellamy nor any other artist can match. It is for that reason, 25 years after its release, that The Smiths acoustic version remains a staple in the collection of every single Twilight-loving emo-teen in the world.
That being said, I rather enjoyed the version Muse recorded. Muse didn’t do anything profound. Just threw in a distorted bass and strummed the root note on the downbeat, like every classic punk song has supplied. But, those small changes altered the whole vibe of the song. I never imagined it possible to create a ‘feel good’ version of such a morose tune, but Muse managed to do just that.
So, because Muse was able to actually transform The Smiths' depressing tune into a song that DIDN'T make me want to slit my wrists, I give them high praise.

Fun Fact: Muse never released this song as a single, but it can be found on the B-side of the single Feeling Good Hyper Music. Apropos of nothing, I’m still mad at Bellamy for shacking up with Kate Hudson. Really makes me question his intelligence.

4. Since I Don’t Have You by Guns N' Roses
I love me some oldies and I love me some Slash, so naturally I love GN'R’s cover of The Skyliners 1958 hit. Featured on their 1994 album The Spaghetti Incident, it’s one of those odd mashups that you wouldn’t think would work, but actually does. Like Tabasco sauce and scrambled eggs.
Though GN'R kept the tempo and chord progressions of the ‘58 hit, they made a few key alterations that kept the listener from forgetting it was now Guns N' Roses singing the song. For example, in the middle of the song, Axl in spoken voice, utters this romantic interlude: “Yeah,we’re f**ked!” Axl always was the consummate badass. With help from Slash’s notorious guitar riffs and Axl’s rasp, GN'R added some sex appeal that was lacking in the original doo wop classic.

Fun Fact: Guns N' Roses are no strangers to remakes. In 1991 they earned a Grammy nomination for their cover of Wings megahit Live & Let Die.

5. Boyz In The Hood by Dynamite Hack
Back in 1987 the rap group N.W.A. burst onto the scene with Boyz’ N Da Hood and forever changed the face of hip hop. The song was real and raw. Easy-E (gimme a sec while I pour some out for my homey), rapped about the hard life of a gangsta. He made frequent references to drinking, weapons, and even domestic violence. KIND of depressing subject matter.
Enter Dynamite Hack: A Texas-based, post-grunge band comprised of white boy prepsters. A set of young men one would never expect to tackle a gangsta rap classic. But, in the year 2000 these Abercrombie-outfitted boys recorded a cover of Boyz In the Hood on the album Superfast that went all the way to #12 on the Billboard Rock charts. Dynamite Hack never attempted to rap the lyrics to Boyz’N Da Hood, or adopt the thug persona that defined N.W.A. Instead, they recorded an all acoustic version of this old school rap anthem. It’s quite hysterical to hear a group of Birkenstock-wearing, Dave Matthews Band lookalikes strumming their guitars and softly singing the lyrics “she said something that I couldn't believe, so I grabbed the stupid bitch by her nappy ass weave”. Eleven years later it still makes me laugh. Another thing I loved about Dynamite Hack’s cover was the fact that the melody at the end of the song echoed the beautiful melody of The Beatles hit Blackbird. In one song they managed to pay homage to both the greatest rappers and greatest rockers of all time.

Fun Fact: Dynamite Hack got their name from a line in the 70’s classic comedy, Caddyshack. BONUS points for these boys!

Even if you disagree with my picks, I hope you will take with you the fact that not all song covers are Jessica Simpson’s Take My Breath Away bad. Before you cast judgment, pick up your headphones and give the artist a chance.

By: Rebecca Sellitti


The Nonpopulist said...

She's got great taste except for the Dynamite Hack choice. I intensely dislike Eazy-e. I'm going to be sure to download the Iron & Wine version of Such Great Heights. Great job!

raven said...

Excellent article! Well-written and great choices! The Iron and Wine cover is phenomenal. Couple more I would personally throw into the mix: G N R's cover of Bob Dylan's "Knockin on Heaven's Door"; Eva Cassidy's cover of "Time after Time"; and Mandy Moore's toned-down and melodic version of "Umbrella." Definitely adding all your choices to my iPhone!

raven said...