Friday, May 09, 2008

Hooked on Classical

Just over a week ago I went to see Danny Michel twice at The Railway Club, a small club in downtown Vancouver that used to be exclusively for railway workers in the 1930's. One of the songs Danny played from his new album is called Motorcade, about "a couple in Guatemala who get robbed". What's interesting about this particular track is that it was inspired by, as stated in the liner notes, "the slow movement of Schubert's Second Piano Trio". Remember last week I mentioned The Art of Time Ensemble? Well, last year Danny was one of several artists commissioned to write and perform original songs inspired by the Schubert piece. The other artists were Sarah Slean, Andy Maize (The Skydiggers), Martin Tielli (The Rheostatics), and John Southworth. The whole show used to be online at CBC, but now seems to have been taken down unfortunately. The album version of Motorcade features special guest Mike Garson on piano. Garson was David Bowie's piano guy, appearing on Aladdin Sane and onwards, so clearly this was a thrill for Danny who, of course, did a whole album of Bowie covers.

Danny Michel - Motorcade

Danny Michel - Young Americans [originally by David Bowie]
OK, I know I just posted this a couple weeks ago, but it is one of my all-time favourite covers and I'm really gunning for it to make the 2008 Coverville Countdown. And you know who played piano on the original? That's right, Mike Garson. Plus, on Danny's site I just noticed for the first time a quote from David Bowie regarding the Danny's Young Americans cover:
"he's a great little mover. never seen anyone move quite like that. are his arms double jointed? the maracas are a beautiful thing, out of nowhere they come and the backup voices are really moving and intimate. this is a good, good cover.
There you go... "a good, good cover" so says the Man himself.

This reminded me that I meant to do a whole post of classical covers a while back... A topic suggested but not ultimately used for the Coverville Round Table discussion was whether classical music can be considered cover songs. Clearly for many pieces written a few hundred years ago, there is no "original" recording, but would recordings of the same piece by, say, the London Philharmonic Orchestra, the Boston Symphony Orchestra, or the Czech National Symphony Orchestra all be covers? My gut instinct is "no", though part of me also thinks "why not?". In this case, I feel as if the genre almost has to be changed or something dramatically different has to occur to count as a legitimate cover. Classical music lives in its own distinct world where the term cover version doesn't really make sense for the same reason that there are movie remakes, yet the umpteenth performance Shakespeare production is hardly considered a remake. Or am I wrong?

Dolce de Musica - Aria Sulla Quarta Corda [originally by J.S. Bach]
The funny thing about a lot of the famous classical pieces is that even though you might not recognize the title (or the composer for that matter), there is a good chance you'll recognize the song simply based on usage in film, commercials, and television. This one, for example, is popularly known as "Air on the G String", yet I really can't pinpoint one specific instance where I'd know it from. This version starts off as a fairly normal piano/string arrangement, then D.d.M unexpectedly throws in a reggae twist. It changes gears a couple times to a swing beat and even a marching beat while never seeming haphazard. I picked up this CD while I was in China, admittedly only because there were some Disney covers on there, but I quickly became a fan of this Bach cover.

Bond - Carmina [originally by Carl Orff]
Opera Babes - O Fortuna [originally by Carl Orff]
These are two versions of the same piece O Fortuna from German composer Carl Orff, who in the mid-1930's set music to Carmina Burana, a medieval collection of poetry. This song has been used so often in pop culture it's basically a cliché for Epic Gothic Showdown. Both groups attempt to bridge the classical/pop music divide, though Bond was actually banned from the UK Classical charts. Their version is a bit more radical with a heavy dance beat and distinct overuse of orchestral hits.

Toy Dolls - Toccata in D Minor [originally by J.S. Bach]
Toy Dolls - Eine Kleine Nacht Musik [originally by Mozart]
Two classical covers by British punk rock band the Toy Dolls. It sounds like they're just goofing off in the studio on Eine Kleine Nacht Musik, but it quickly turns into an acoustic guitar jam reminiscent of Dueling Banjos. That's two posts in a row with Toy Dolls covers, though I've never posted their great punk cover of The Devil Went Down to Georgia. They also do an awesome cover of Any Dream Will Do from Joseph & The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.

Kenny Ball & His Jazzmen - Rondo [originally by Mozart]
A dixieland jazz cover of Mozart's Piano Sonata #11, better known as the Turkish Rondo. For me, this will be permanently associated with the computer game Lemmings.

Angélique Kidjo - Lonlon (Ravel's Bolero) [originally by... Ravel]
The last track on Angélique Kidjo's Grammy award-winning Djin Djin is a cover of Ravel's Bolero sung not-quite a cappella (there's some sparse instrumentation in there).

Dakesh York - Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata [originally by Beethoven]
From an album of remixed classical songs called Masterworks Reworked: Remixes for a New Generation.

Dev Large for Devastator Enterprises - Fantasia [Dirty Raw Bobo James Mix] [originally by Mussorgsky]
From a Japanese album Disney Breaks & Beats, this is a remix of Modest Mussorgsky's Night on Bald Mountain. Of course, this is from a particularly memorable sequence of Walt Disney's Fantasia where a Satan-like demon (named Chernabog, so I'm told) awakes on Bald Mountain and summons all the ghosts, goblins, demons, and other such creatures to party all night on the mountaintop. I think one of Walt Disney's goals was to bring a greater appreciation of classical music to younger generations and you know what, I think it may have worked at least a little bit. Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, The Nutcracker Suite, The Sorcerer's Apprentice, The Rite of Spring... I'm sure my first exposure to these classical pieces was through Fantasia, though my mom tells a popular story of her looking over and seeing my dad, my sister, and I with our heads back and mouths open, sleeping in the theatre. Subconsciously though, I absorbed all these songs.

Be sure to also check out this old WFMU post which features a whole album of surf rock covers of classical numbers by Japanese band Takeshi Terauchi & The Bunnys.


Anonymous said...

If I had the mp3, I would send it department: Get ahold of the Madness album "One Step Beyond" for their ska take on Swan Lake.

- Darius

ProdigyBoy said...

CBC Radio 2 link to the Schubert concert might have been taken down but the audio is still there to be streamed.

Change the 01 to select different tracks.

Fongolia said...

Darius - Thanks, I'll have to check that out.

ProdigyBoy - You're awesome. Thanks for the heads up! I just checked... Danny's songs are #13 Untitled (i.e. Motorcade minus the chorus) and #14 Rye Whiskey & Wine.

Anonymous said...

Great post!

javejavor said...

Thanks for the track. I really enjoy the "Dulce de Musica" take on the Air on a G string, the fun punk of the Toy Dolls as well as Dakesh York´s remix. Good stuff!!

Kurtis said...

Have you heard Brian Setzer Orchestra's Wolfgang's Big Night Out? It's a whole album of classical song in their big band/rockabilly style.

It's really good.

Fongolia said...

Thanks for the heads up, Kurtis. I hadn't heard of it, though I am a fan of a bunch of Brian Setzer covers. Definitely will have to check it out.