Monday, February 23, 2009

A Night at the Grovers

The Oscar pools are over and the little gold men have been doled out, so now it's time to roll out the blue carpet and hand out the little furry blue monsters! As a belated tie-in to the Academy Awards, I've made up some arbitrary Oscar-themed categories of cover songs for you, the Academy of Fong Songs Readers, to vote on by secret ballot. Write-ins are welcome, but please no ballot stuffing, this isn't the NHL All-Star Game. Note: if Google Reader is any indication, voting won't work from the RSS feed, so drop by for a real visit! Grover-winners will be announced at the end the week along with some more tunes for your consideration. On with the show!

This category is for artists who have won an Academy Award for Best Original Song as opposed to an acting award, so no Sinatra or Cher.

Bob Dylan - This Old Man [Traditional]
I forgot Dylan won an Oscar for the song Things Have Changed from 2000's Wonder Boys. This rendition of This Old Man sounds exactly as you might imagine if you were told beforehand that Bob Dylan was covering a children's nursery rhyme, complete with harmonica and his trademark vocals. Theoretically it could also sound like this.

Melissa Etheridge - Born to Run [originally by Bruce Springsteen]
I don't really understand at all the snub of The Boss for his title song for The Wrestler when there were only three nominated songs, two of which were from Slumdog Millionaire. Did you know 1945 Oscars had fourteen nominees in this category?? Now that's pretty absurd, but I don't get how THREE songs from TWO movies is reflective of "Best Original Song" for all of 2008. Melissa Etheridge, winner in '06 for I Need to Wake Up from An Inconvenient Truth, covered Springsteen at the 2001's Concert for New York City. Hopefully next year Bruce will get a Best Live-Action Short Film nomination for this.

Jorge Drexler - High & Dry [originally by Radiohead]
Jorge Drexler's Al Otro Lado del Río from The Motorcycle Diaries won for Best Original Song at the 2004 Oscars, though he was replaced during the song performance portion of the ceremony by the more "audience-friendly" Carlos Santana and Antonio Banderas. Instead Drexler sang a bit of his song a cappella during his acceptance speech.


The number of Disney song winners is staggering, so I excluded them completely from this category. Perhaps unfairly, but I'm arbitrarily setting the rules-- like the real Academy!

Dorothy Ashby - The Windmills of Your Mind [originally by performed by Noel Harrison]
Winner in 1968 for The Thomas Crown Affair, this stunning cover by jazz harpist Dorothy Ashby is one of my favourites. From the 1969 album Dorothy's Harp, this could've come out next week and still sound hip and current.

Nick Cave - Let It Be [originally by The Beatles]
Did you know The Beatles won an Oscar? I sure didn't, but they did for Best Original Song Score in 1970 for Let It Be (the film). "Original Song Score" is distinct from "Original Score" and "Original Song" and appears to have been completely phased out as a category in the mid-80s. Someone will have to explain the intricacies of that to me. Anyway this cover is from the all-Beatles cover soundtrack for I Am Sam, of course the film in which Sean Penn "went full retard and went home empty handed" at the 2002 Oscars. But he took one home last night, so take that Robert Downey Jr. in blackface!

Manic Street Preachers - Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head [originally by performed by B.J. Thomas]
Hal David and Burt Bacharach won the Best Song Oscar for writing this memorable ditty from Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid.

The Dan Band - Flashdance/Fame [originally performed by Irene Cara]
We got a combo here with two Oscar winning songs performed by The Dan Band, known for their profanity-is-funny covers from Old School, Starsky & Hutch, and a live album.

Sammy Davis, Jr. - Theme from Shaft [originally by Isaac Hayes]
I'm a sucker for the In Memory montage of every Oscars telecast. This year offered an different, yet respectful twist with Queen Latifah paying tribute in song in a more celebratory than mournful manner, though it was severely undermined by ill-advised cuts to wide shots of the stage with the miniscule unreadable text rendering several luminaries unidentifiable. Among those remembered was Isaac Hayes who passed away last year within a day or so of Bernie Mac with whom he co-starred in the film Soul Men that was released a couple months later. I love that Sammy Davis Jr. covered this iconic theme, which took home the Oscar for Best Original Song in 1971.


A little CanCon for you since it'd be nearly impossible to play this game with the Genie Awards. Go ahead, you can look that up on Wikipedia.

Molly Johnson - Streets of Philadelphia [originally by Bruce Springsteen]
This is from Molly's 2006 album Messin' Around, which also has an interpretation of Prince's Tangerine. Springsteen wrote this for the 1992 film Philadelphia. Unbeknownst to me, he was competing against Neil Young's Philadelphia also written for the film.

Michael Bublé - Call Me Irresponsible [originally by performed by Jackie Gleason]
Written by Sammy Cahn & Jimmy Van Heusen, this was famously covered by Frank Sinatra, who I suspect Bublé is channeling here from his 2007 album, also called Call Me Irresponsible.

Elizabeth Shepherd Trio - Beauty & The Beast [originally by Alan Menken & Howard Ashman]
Elizabeth Shepherd is up for Best Vocal Jazz Album at next month's Juno Awards, which are here in Vancouver this year. I had to send my friend to Japan to get this cover song, which comes from the compilation album Modal Jazz Loves Disney. This is like when George Clooney, Arnold Schwarzenegger, or some big star goes to Japan to film/shoot advertisements that no one over here will see, which is unfortunate since it's a great cover of the Disney modern classic.

Holly Cole - Baby, It's Cold Outside [originally by Frank Loesser]
I didn't realize this song came from a film, but it won for 1949's Neptune's Daughter, which included two performances of the duet by the combos of Ricardo Montalbán(!) with Esther Williams and Red Skelton with Betty Garrett. Apparently multi-Oscar nominee Sigourney Weaver performed this song with buster Poindexter on an old episode of SNL.


It's really too bad Kevin Costner didn't record a cover of this song, leaving this a two-horse race. I would be astounded if anyone came up with a legit write-in vote for this.

Kevin Kline - La Mer [originally by Charles Trenet]
Kevin Kline, Oscar winner for A Fish Called Wanda, actually goes back to cover the original French version of Beyond the Sea, originally titled La Mer. Songwriter Jack Lawrence penned new English lyrics for the tune that are unrelated to the original lyrics beyond the reference to the sea (la mer).

Kevin Spacey - Beyond the Sea [as made famous by Bobby Darin]
Kevin Spacey won Oscars for The Usual Suspects, had a string of solid roles through the mid-90s, then capped it off with another win for American Beauty. Then he seemingly took a cue from Cuba Gooding Jr. and hasn't really done anything all that worthwhile since. Perhaps Men Who Stare at Goats will be a return to form (no joke). For his pet project biopic of idol Bobby Darin, Spacey produced a whole album of covers and even went on a mini-tour.


Like the Gordon E. Sawyer Award and the Irving G. Thalberg Award, this category is an honour of dubious merit bestowed on a particularly wretched cover song of my choosing performed by an Oscar winner. This isn't the William A. Shatner Award since he's unfortunately Oscarless and I find even his worst covers amusing and fascinating ("MISTER TAMBOURINE MMMAAAAaaaAAAAAAAAN!").

This year's inaugural award goes to its namesake, Joe Pesci singing in character as Vincent LaGuardia Gambini from My Cousin Vinny. It's from a frightening 1998 album of originals that includes such winners as Take Your Love and Shove It, Yo Cousin Vinny, and Wise Guy. This karaoke arrangement of the Louis Armstrong classic is not completely atrocious, but exceedingly unnecessary.

Joe Pesci - What a Wonderful World [originally by Louis Armstrong]


For this category, I deemed Oscar winners who were primarily musical artists ineligible to be nominated. I also excluded cover songs that were performed for a musical adapted for film. So as you might imagine, the shortlist for this award is rather short especially when the remaining covers must be deemed Grover-worthy. Try to ignore the famous names and keep your ears open. Here are the nominees:

Gwyneth Paltrow - Bette Davis Eyes [originally by Jackie DeShannon]
Modeled on the 80's Kim Carnes version, the mother of Apple covered this for the film Duets, which she starred in and was directed by her dad Bruce. The movie received mediocre to outright awful reviews, though I've always been a little curious to check it out because of its eclectic cast which includes Huey Lewis (as Gwyneth's dad I think?), Maria Bello, Andre Braugher, and Paul Giametti as competitors at a national karaoke championship, plus it's got a soundtrack of cover songs. Paltrow won the Best Actress Oscar for 1998's Shakespeare in Love.

Clint Eastwood - Ac-cent-tchu-ate The Positive [originally by Harold Arlen & Johnny Mercer]
Speaking of snubs, didn't Gran Torino get nominated for anything? Mind you, I heard it wasn't Clint's best, but I know it was nominated for (and winning) some accolades earlier in the awards season and I would've liked to see Jamie Cullum perform at the Oscars. He co-wrote and performed with Clint Eastwood the title theme to Gran Torino, their second collaboration after the theme to Grace is Gone. Clint covered this song for his 1997 film Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, which also featured a jazz cover by Kevin Spacey probably before anyone realized he was a closet crooner. Eastwood has multiple nominations and two Best Picture and Director Oscars under his belt, and even an Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award. Bonus Oscar connection: Ac-cent-tchu-ate The Positive was one of the 13 runner-ups in the 1945 Best Original Song Oscar competition.

Billy Bob Thornton & The Boxmasters - The Kids Are Alright [originally by The Who]
It may be hard to believe, but this ain't half-bad. This is from the second all-covers disc from The Boxmasters self-titled debut of last year, though Billy Bob has released several albums earlier. He's been nominated twice for acting Oscars, though his win is actually for writing Sling Blade. I just saw an earlier (and paunchier) Billy Bob in Tombstone a couple months ago and he was a hoot.

Finally, for your viewing entertainment: Grover's starring role in last year's hit monster flick, Groverfield.

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