Monday, May 25, 2009

Return of the Star Wars Covers

May 4th (i.e. "May the Fourth be with you...") passed by without any fanfare and at least one reader wondered what happened to my annual Star Wars covers post. In fact, they had even marked it in their calendar to check Fong Songs that day (how flattering!) and I sure let them down like The Phantom Menace. Fortunately for me, there is a less punny date that I can and will celebrate as Star Wars Day and that's today, May 25th, the 32nd anniversary of the release of Star Wars. Apparently the appropriate gift for one's 32nd anniversary (who knew there was such a thing?) is "conveyances", meaning transportation.

While I thought I'd be out of worthy covers by this point, I did manage to scrounge up a few gems. Happy Star Wars Day!

Maynard Ferguson - Star Wars
This funky disco instrumental cover by the late legendary Canadian trumpet player and bandleader Maynard Ferguson is fitting since he was actually born on the other Star Wars Day: May 4th, 1928.

Lightspeed Champion - Star Wars Medley
A live medley by UK indie artist Lightspeed Champion, who's no stranger to covers having released several free "official bootlegs" including a cover album of Green Day's Nimrod, which I can't track down for the life of me (hint, hint). He also does a nice acoustic take on The Strokes' Heart in a Cage on ShootThePlayer.com.

The Swingle Singers - Star Wars
The Swingle Singers are a famous a cappella group whose original incarnation dates back to 1962. I remember my piano teacher telling me about them years ago since a lot of their albums are vocal interpretations of classical pieces. This comes from their 1997 album Screen Tested, which features their distinct covers of orchestral film scores.

Ron Carter - The Asteroid Field
The Asteroid Field is my favourite piece of Star Wars music, in fact possibly even my favourite composition of any film soundtrack. This jazz cover is from Ron Carter's Empire Jazz, though I find it overly long at just over 9 minutes and pretty much unrecognizable from the original after the first minute. I do have to admit it has a brilliant album cover (as seen at the top of the post).

Epica - The Imperial March
A throbbing cover by Dutch metal band Epica from their new live album The Classical Conspiracy, which also contains unlikely "symphonic metal" medleys of Danny Elfman's Spider-Man score and Klaus Badelt & Hans Zimmer's scores to the Pirates of the Carribean series.

Kuricorder - The Imperial March
From a 2005 Japanese compilation of Star Wars covers Ukulele Force (yes, ukulele based covers!), this is an irresistibly cute rendition of Darth Vader's theme that reminds me of Peter & The Wolf or some sort of Zelda forest march.

James Hill - Mos Eisley Spaceport
Better known as Cantina Band, this cover is also from Ukulele Force. Though almost all the performers on the album are Japanese, this contribution is from Canadian ukulele virtuoso James Hill and it previously appeared on his 2003 release On the Other Hand. After poking around his website and listening to many MP3 samples, I was forced to order a couple of his CDs that I'm eagerly awaiting in my mailbox. Super Mario and Inspector Gadget are a couple of the covers interspersed between his originals-- and they all sound great! I wish he had been on my radar earlier since he just had a CD release show and ukulele workshop a few weeks ago here in Vancouver! And since I am a budding ukulele player...

Riverboat's Jazz Band - Cantina Band
Here's a fantastic New Orleans jazz cover via France by Riverboat's Jazz Band.

Swingtips - Cantina Band
Another Cantina Band cover from Arizona swing band the Swingtips.

The Solids - Ewok Celebration
This is an amusing acoustic cover of the Ewok celebration song from Return of the Jedi by The Solids who may best be known for the theme to the sitcom How I Met our Mother.

Erich Korngold - Kings Row
Now this may be old news in Star Wars circles, but I was quite surprised to come across this bit of musical controversy while looking for covers. This is the main theme from the 1942 film Kings Gold scored by Erich Korngold, which is a clear inspiration for the main Star Wars theme, the first eight notes being pretty much the same. I've seen lawsuits based on weaker similarities than this. A portion of this track seems to have also "inspired" John Williams' Superman theme. My ears were shocked when they heard this.

Speaking of Korngold and inspiration, earlier this year Fong Songs fave Danny Michel (who I'm going to see in concert later this week) collaborated with the Art of Time Ensemble for the 2nd time with their Source & Inspiration series. In 2007, Danny composed two new songs based on the work of Franz Schubert and this year's spotlight was on Korngold. The whole concert which also features Martin Tielli and John Southworth is available for streaming on CBC Radio 2's Concerts on Demand.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Smooth

Like many words in the English language, the more one stares at the word "smooth", the less it seems like an actual word. Try saying it over and over as if it rhymed with "tooth". It'll lose all meaning and you'll chuckle at its absurdity. Or maybe it's just time to stop blogging and go to bed. Anyway, here's a cool find from Myspace. While browsing for some virtually non-existent Jamiroquai covers, I stumbled on Mr. & Mrs. Smooth, a bossa nova jazz duo clearly taking a cue from their French compatriots Nouvelle Vague.

Mr. & Mrs. Smooth - Just Can't Get Enough [originally by Depeche Mode]
Nouvelle Vague - Just Can't Get Enough [originally by Depeche Mode]
These are very nearly the same cover song, though I do have to side with the Smooth version. I suppose there is the distinct possibility that "Mrs. Smooth" and the mono-named Eloisa who sings on Nouvelle Vague's rendition are one and the same, but I can't glean much info from Mr. & Mrs. Smooth's myspace and Nouvelle Vague's is similarly vague, heh heh. Nouvelle Vague has a new album coming out in June with a few ironic twists: the bossa nova aesthetic has been torpedoed in favour of a country/bluegrass vibe (what??) and the album includes some interpretations featuring the original artists including Depeche Mode's Martin Gore. Wacky!

Mr. & Mrs. Smooth - Love Foolosophy [originally by Jamiroquai]
Though Jamiroquai covers are few and far between, I was excited to find Mr. & Mrs. Smooth covering one of my faves, Love Foolosophy.

Head on over to Mr. and Mrs. Smooth's myspace site to hear their renditions of Deee-Lite's Groove is in the Heart and Bobby Hebb's oft-covered Sunny.

Speaking of foreign myspace covers, a reader recently alerted me to Mexican cover act Tropikal Forever who do a "unique" version of Smells Like Teen Spirit and more.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Gonzapirational

I got lazy and tweeted rather than blogged about this yesterday, but if you read this in time check out Canadian artist Gonzales and his attempt to set a new Guinness World Record for longest concert by a solo artist. He's probably most known for collaborating with Feist on Let it Die and The Reminder. Broadcasting live from Paris, he's currently 22.5 hours into his epic 27 hour gig. I've been tuning in and out periodically from yesterday evening, the middle of the night, this morning, to now and it's incredible he's been playing the ENTIRE TIME. I think he's allowed a 15 minute break every 3 hours, but other than that he's just been playing piano like a madman. Lots of covers!

Gonzales' World's Longest Concert

[EDIT: haha, he's been playing the last few songs blindfolded and they just unveiled a portrait someone had painted of him while he played!]

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Viva Las Vegas!

Well, for reasons only partially out of my control I am headed back to Vegas for the second time in less than 18 months... this time as Best Man to my best friend's bachelor party. Wish me luck!

Dread Zeppelin - Viva Las Vegas [originally performed by Elvis Presley]

Monday, May 04, 2009

Canadian Cover Content #12: Fifty-Four Forty or Fight!

A week or so ago, I randomly happened across free concerts by BC rockers 54·40 on two consecutive days. First they were playing a free street concert in celebration of the re-opening of Cambie Street, which has been majorly disrupted for over 3 years as the SkyTrain was extended underneath the street to the airport in anticipation of next year's Olympics. The next day I went skiing up at Whistler and I guess they were playing a free show up there too. I have no idea how well they're known outside Canada, but they've been a staple of Canadian rock for well over 20 years with songs like One Day in Your Life, She La, Since When, and their biggest hit Ocean Pearl. One American band that was influenced by them was none other than rock punchline ("cheaper than a blank tape!") Hootie & The Blowfish who scored a major hit with a rote rendition of 54·40's I Go Blind. After watching 54·40 perform their own song live, I had semi-obscure originals on the brain (a fascination that naturally goes hand in hand with my cover song obsession)... with a Canadian spin, of course:

First, here's 54·40's Neil Osborne talking with Danny Michel and Emm Gryner on last year's Under the Covers. Amusing and honest answers about the impact of the Hootie cover. [link removed]

54·40 - I Go Blind
Hootie & The Blowfish - I Go Blind [originally by 54·40]
Perhaps I completely blocked out my high school social studies class, but I didn't realize it until recently that 54·40 takes their name from the 54°40′ N parallel, the border between BC and Alaska, which factored into a territorial dispute between the British and Americans in the first half of the 19th century. In overly simple terms, there was a strong public outcry urging US president James Polk to defend their claim of the entire Oregon territory up to 54°40′ N, hence the slogan "Fifty-four Forty or Fight!" Less excitingly, Hootie and Blowfish got their name from two friends, one that looked like an owl and one with chubby cheeks.

Original Caste - One Tin Soldier [written by Dennis Lambert and Brian Potter]
Me First & The Gimme Gimmes - One Tin Soldier [originally performed by Original Caste]
Listen children to a story that was written long ago... This anti-war song (valleyfolk vs. mountain men) brings back fuzzy memories from elementary school where this song was a staple of music class and I think was sung annually by the grade 6 kids in concert. Ah, how I don't miss recorders and glockenspiels. Apparently this wasn't unique to our school as I recently talked to a friend who also sang this at their school every year around Remembrance Day. Was this a local thing or all across Canada? I just found out a couple weeks ago that One Tin Soldier was first recorded by Original Caste, a folk group from Calgary, which may explain a proximity influence on classrooms throughout Alberta. It was later a hit for the American band Coven in the early 70s. Me First & The Gimme Gimmes do their usual thing... not that there's anything wrong with that-- in fact, I love it!

The Temptations - War [written by Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong]
D.O.A. - War [originally performed by The Temptations]
War! What is it good for? Absolutely nothin'! The most famous version was performed by Edwin Starr, though I was a little stunned to learn it was first recorded and released by The Temptations. Apparently the original version was withheld as a single because the label didn't want to invite any potential controversy for The Temptations regarding the anti-Vietnam War anthem, so it was re-recorded by labelmate Edwin Starr, for whom it went to #1 on the US Billboard charts. Seminal Vancouver punk band D.O.A. recorded this cover for their 1982 release War on 45.

The Eleventh Hour - Lady Marmalade [written by Bob Crewe & Kenny Nolan]
Don Gillis - Lady Marmalade [originally performed by The Eleventh Hour]
Voulez-vous coucher avec moi ce soir? Growing up with mandatory French classes (our second official language), I doubt most Canadian kids need any help deciphering the chorus to Lady Marmalade, which was a hit for Labelle and was later revived in 2001 when Christina Aguilera, Lil' Kim, Mya, and Pink covered it for the Moulin Rouge soundtrack. However, the very first recording was by the Eleventh Hour, a downtempo funk version which is quite different when compared to later incarnations. The other cover is from Canadian composer/arranger Don Gillis, which I snagged from the It Came From Canada, an amazing site for ultra obscure Canadian acts. There are some cover song nuggets like this one if you dig around, but be prepared to lose yourself for a while. It should be noted that Don Gillis was also the musical director for Fraggle Rock and even had a Fraggle named after him! You should also check out Funky16Corners for an all-French cover by Qu├ębec-based New Yorker Nanette Workman, who once sang back-up for the Rolling Stones.

Otis Rush - Keep On Lovin' Me Baby
Colin James - Keep On Lovin' Me Baby [originally by Otis Rush]
Canadian blues rocker Colin James gets plenty of regular play on our rock radio stations with Keep On Lovin' Me Baby from his 1990 album Sudden Stop, but I just found out a few months ago it is actually a cover of blues guitarist Otis Rush. A little band called Led Zeppelin also covered the Otis Rush song I Can't Quit You Baby on their self-titled debut.

Indio - Hard Sun
Eddie Vedder - Hard Sun [originally by Indio]
Jon Krakauer 's non-fiction bestseller Into the Wild that later became the award-winning film of the same name tells the story of young Christopher McCandless who gave away his life savings to charity, hitchhiked across the US, then headed into the Alaskan wilderness to live off the land. Hunters later found his body in an abandoned bus where he starved to death, possibly after ingesting a poisonous plant. Sean Penn, who wrote and directed the film, had personally called Krakauer when the book originally came out, but waited 10 years to get permission from the McCandless family before embarking on production. He hand-picked Eddie Vedder to write the soundtrack, which featured a cover song Hard Sun with Corin Tucker of Sleater-Kinney on back-up vocals. Hard Sun was originally by Ontario singer-songwriter Gordon Peterson (AKA Indio) from his one and only album 1989's Big Harvest, which happened to feature Joni Mitchell on backing vocals. Here's an interesting article from last year about Peterson who retreated into a life of anonymity, whereabouts unknown...

Friday, May 01, 2009

Some Random Friday links

The usual combo of busyness and laziness has prevented me from posting this week, though I've got a zinger batch of originals (famously covered) coming soon. For now, some links:

  • Ugh, Seven Nation Army cover #62: the Oak Ridge Boys' new album will feature yet another cover of Seven Nation Army. I'm all for White Stripes covers, but let's see some variation in song choices.

  • i (heart) music recently posted mp3s of a gig by The Lost Fingers from the CBC archives. In addition to their gypsy jazz takes on pop hits like Careless Whisper and Billie Jean, the set ends with a straight up cover of Belleville Rendez-Vous from The Triplets of Belleville. Nice! I'm looking forward to their show here in June as part of the Vancouver Jazz Festival.

  • Free Wilco cover of Woody Guthrie, donations encouraged.

  • The Ditty Bops have a new 6-song EP out, Songs for Steve.

  • Ben Folds' University A Capella cover album out now.

  • Covers of a different sort: comic book covers redrawn by other artists (discovered via Alex Robinson's blog)

  • As you probably know, Wolverine comes out today. Though I'm not terribly pumped about it, I do love that the character hails from Alberta and (if I remember correctly) his dad was a mountie or something. Should be good for some homegrown pride.