Monday, March 03, 2008

Queen Bitches & Mr. Brightsides

David Bowie's Queen Bitch, from his classic 1971 album Hunky Dory, experienced a revival of sorts when it was featured in the trailer for Wes Anderson's The Life Aquatic in 2004, which is admittedly when I first heard and fell in love with the song. I've definitely noticed a heightened exposure to the song in the past couple years, whether it's heard as pre-show music before a concert, an influx of covers, or its inclusion in last year's Rock Band as a downloadable track. Not since ELO's Mr. Blue Sky can I think of a 1970's "lost classic" heavily re-immersed into pop culture consciousness via advertising.


Surely we've all been at parties where The Killers' Mr. Brightside comes on and some snarky individual says "Oh, they totally ripped off Queen Bitch", where said individual was born 12 years after Hunky Dory was even released. I've been at one of those parties and sadly that person was me. There's a tradition of me pooh-poohing modern rock radio hits. When Franz Ferdinand's Take Me Out came out, I was all "Oh, this totally rips off Zeppelin's Trampled Underfoot" and when Gorillaz' Feel Good Inc. came out, I was all "U2's Staring at the Sun. Rip-off." Don't get me wrong, I do still like all of these songs intentionally derivative or not. I've since matured (read: stopped caring) when I hear vaguely similar songs. Lyrically, thematically, and rhythmically there are very strong similarities between Mr. Brightside and Queen Bitch, even though the music itself it quite different. Listen to each song and their covers repeatedly and you'll start confusing lyrics. When I first started hearing about the Killers, I seem to recall David Bowie being cited as an influence or that the band was a glam rock throwback. They've even covered Moonage Daydream in concert, so I don't think it's any stretch to say Mr. Brightside is an homage or tip of the hat to Queen Bitch, which itself is Bowie's homage to The Velvet Underground. The distinct riff that drives Queen Bitch is ripped off of Eddie Cochran's Three Steps to Heaven anyway, so everyone's off the hook! As I like to say in these sorts of situations, Led Zeppelin ripped off everyone and we're all the better for it.

I usually don't like the carpet bomb approach to posting lots of covers of the same song, but I make exceptions for David Bowie.

QUEEN BITCH BY DAVID BOWIE:

David Bowie (BBC Sessions) - Queen Bitch

David Bowie with Lou Reed - Queen Bitch
From David Bowie's 50th birthday bash.

The Arcade Fire with David Bowie - Queen Bitch (live)
At the beginning of this bootleg from a Arcade Fire show in Central Park, frontman Win Butler says "This is a David Bowie song" and the familiar strums of Queen Bitch begin. Right at that point (I've seen video of this), David Bowie himself struts on from off-stage to sing lead vocals and the crowd goes justifiably nuts. It's really too bad the quality is so poor on this almost-cover. If you can get past the piercing shrieks, you can hear what just might be the only string arrangement of this song. Guess you had to be there.

Seu Jorge - Queen Bitch
The soundtrack to The Life Aquatic is full of Bowie songs and covers, the latter performed brilliantly in Portuguese by singer/actor Seu Jorge who was also in the film as part of Steve Zissou's crew. While five of his covers were featured on the soundtrack, a separate album The Life Aquatic Sessions had 13 covers (different recordings of the previous tracks) and the wonderful original song Team Zissou. The iTunes version also has a bonus Space Oddity cover. Seu Jorge did all the translations himself and this site has some of the songs translated back to English. The results are little surprising. For example, Five Years is completely rewritten to relate to Steve Zissou's life. Life on Mars? has been re-interpreted as well with intriguing lyrics. Very cool stuff. Seu Jorge, decked out in a tuque and tux, has a mesmerizing performance of Queen Bitch over the end credits of the movie.

Green River - Queen Bitch
R. Mutt - Queen Bitch

The Tragically Hip - Queen Bitch (live in London)
Why The Hip, considered Canadian rock legends, never hit it big down south is a little baffling.

The Gourds - Queen Bitch
This alt-country band also does a cover of Ziggy Stardust, though they're probably best known for their cover of Snoop Dogg's Gin & Juice.

Eater - Queen Bitch
Capsize 7 - Queen Bitch

Birdbrain - Queen Bitch
Of all these covers, Birdbrain is the band that overhauls the original the most. Not surprisingly, it's probably the most successful one.

Penis Flytrap - Queen Bitch
Elf Power - Queen Bitch (live)

Zkippy Stardust - Queen Bitch (live)
Whenever I post Bowie covers, I inevitably add some Zkippy Stardust, a Italian Bowie tribute band who had an entire live concert available for download at one point. "Tribute band" generally has a pejorative connotation attached to it, but these guys sound great and the recording quality is excellent.

===================================

MR BRIGHTSIDE BY THE KILLERS:

The Killers - Mr. Brightside (Jacques Lu Cont's Thin White Duke Mix)
Here's another Bowie connection: a Mr. Brightside remix by high profile musician/producer Stuart Price AKA Jacques Lu Cont AKA the Thin White Duke. Of course, the Thin White Duke was originally one of the personas adopted by David Bowie for the album Station to Station. Stuart Price's wikipedia entry is an interesting read for someone so prominent that I've only vaguely heard of. Did you know he's won two grammies in the category of Best Remixed Recording, Non-Classical? Didn't even know that was a category.

Paul Anka - Mr. Brightside
During my adventures in film studies, I repeatedly saw the 1962 NFB documentary Lonely Boy, which follows Paul Anka's transformation into a teen idol. In fact, I once wrote an essay analyzing the film and blabbing about the contrast between American/Canadian ideals. Um, no, I don't really miss writing essays. It's quite astounding that 46 years later he's revived his career, pulling a Pat Boone, with TWO albums of big band swing covers of unlikely pop/rock songs.

McFly - Mr. Brightside
This British band performs so many covers, there's an entire subsection in their wiki entry listing their covers.

PlayRadioPlay - Mr. Brightside
A one-man electronic band from Texas.

This Unique Museum - Mr. Brightside
This Unique Museum is UK artist Ben Fitton whose self-described indie lo-fi rock is applied to four covers of the Killers on his EP, Installment One: A Killer, A Murder, A Mystery…. Installment Two: Charms & Grace features covers of Interpol.

Amy MacDonald - Mr. Brightside
This live cover by Scottish singer/songwriter Amy MacDonald is from the Dermot O'Leary show just over a week ago.

9 comments:

Alex said...

Found this looking for a karaoke version of "Queen Bitch"; any help would be appreciated. Even the "Rock Band" version might work if I could get it in mp3/4/etc/. Thanks!

Fongolia said...

I have lots of covers of Queen Bitch but no karaoke version I'm afraid...

Anonymous said...

There's a "Thin White Duke Mix" of Mr. Brightside, if we needed any more proof.

Cary said...

OMG! While I was watching my "Best of Bowie" DVD, I noticed some similarities between Bowie's "Queen Bitch" and the Killer's "Mr. Brightside"! First of all, both songs appear at first glance to be about a girl they knew being with another guy. In Mr. Brightside, they say over and over "and she's calling a cab" and in Queen Bitch, he says "and I'm phoning a cab." Also, in Mr. Brightside, they say "And my stomach is sick" and in Queen Bitch he says, "Cause my stomach feels small." In Mr. Brightside, the portion right before the chorus sounds VERY close to the portion before the chorus in Queen Bitch! Okay, so maybe a lot of the lyrics seem like coincidences, but I've had an obsession with both of these songs at one point (With Brightside being first) and everytime I hear those lines in Queen Bitch I immediately associate them with Mr. Brightside! Coincidence or not?

French Fancy said...

I'm new to the Killers music (sad old me) but I was just listening to Mr Brightside on Youtube and I thought 'jeez, this is just Queen Bitch, they've ripped off Bowie'. So I googled, as one does, and found your blog. Glad it's not just me then - it sounds like everyone knew way before me.

Andrew Russell said...

i'm really surprised that this is one of the only relevant google results when searching "mr brightside queen bitch." i thought there would be much more shit linking the two. i'm almost certain the killers were tributing on purpose, what with the "cab, stomach" thing and the subject matter of course. also the "and she's, and i'm" repetition. in six beats. "and i'm beat beat beat beat." maybe it was a subconscious ripoff! like they went to write a song about a girl being with another guy and came up with something which reminded them of that situation, which unbeknownst to them they had linked up mentally with this bowie song! the lines about cabs and stomachs and the beat pattern came naturally and sounded great upon execution and nobody noticed a thing.

Anonymous said...

I thoroughly enjoyed your post about Queen Bitch. I happen to have been born 8 years before Hunky Dory came out and own it on vinyl, cassette and CD. It's probably my favourite Bowie album. I have a trivia question that perhaps you can answer. Besides The Life Aquatic and The Damned United, what other films feature this song? I know there are a few others. Just can't think of them. Maybe you know. Cheers!

Fongolia said...

Hi there, glad you enjoyed the post! I did some quick research and found the following films incorporated Queen Bitch on their soundtracks:

The Heartbreak Kid (2007)
Run, Fatboy, Run (2007)
What We Do is Secret (2007)
Milk (2008)

Life Aquatic (2004) and The Damned United (2009) pretty much serve as bookends to the peak in the song's revival in pop culture!

Ernie G said...

Surprised nobody's mentioned the riff similarities between Queen Bitch and Eddie Cochran's Three Steps To Heaven. More than accidental it seems.