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I'm counting down 101 of my all-time favourite covers before packing this blog away in the attic.
Read my countdown preamble here.
A Set of Standards
Standards are tricky since these are the ones that have been done a zillion times, but then again, no one generally cares how zany and original you get with it. The songs have stood the test of time and have been performed so often, most people have probably never even heard the "original", if such a recording even exists. In fact, we may have only ever heard most standards through cover versions! These are few of my favourite versions of my favourite standards.
35. The Arcade Fire - Brazil [originally by Ary Barroso]
I love the wonderfully sinister strings in this brooding rendition from recent chart-toppers The Arcade Fire. Fittingly, Brazil director Terry Gilliam filmed their recent live show at Madison Square for an online broadcast with the potential for future collaborations. Got my floor tix to see them with guests Calexico at the end of September here in Vancity. Should be a good one!
34. Katharine Whalen's Jazz Squad - After You've Gone [originally by Turner Layton & Henry Creamer]
Katharine Whalen's Jazz Squad is my favourite album of jazz standards, which might not be saying much considering I can't think of another that I listen to with any regularity. In any case, I love the soothing, Billie Holiday-esque vocals from Katharine Whalen of the Squirrel Nut Zippers backed by an ace band that included a couple fellow Zippers. The disc was recorded during a dark period for the Squirrel Nut Zippers with band acrimony, legal troubles, and a split on the horizon, but you wouldn't guess it from the jaunty and light-hearted renditions of tunes like Deed I Do, My Baby Just Cares For Me, and Sugar. Though perhaps the gloomy and regretful Yesterdays (also great!) serves as more than a tribute to Billie Holiday.
33. Sammy Davis Jr. - The Lady is a Tramp (Live) [originally by Rodgers & Hart]
I'm guessing Sammy Davis Jr. must have sung this song hundreds of times with numerous recordings, but it's this particular version that has stuck with me, perhaps because it was simply the first I heard. It's from a compilation called Live From Las Vegas that I borrowed once from the library. It included cuts from Tom Jones, Louis Prima, and Nat King Cole, but where in Vegas and which year, I have no clue. I love how this starts... with some sort of gaffe that makes Sammy restart the song with a faux stern warning to the flutist (I think). He vocally races back to where he left off with a laugh and soon the full band kicks in with a bang. The rest of the song is just killer. Every time I hear this version it makes me wish I could've seen his show live.
The Rolling Stones
32. Choro Azul - Paint It Black [originally by The Rolling Stones]
From the Japanese compilation A Tribute to the Rolling Stones comes this reinvention of Paint It Black as a Brazilian samba with Nina Simone-like vocals.
31. Ruth Copeland - Gimme Shelter [originally by The Rolling Stones]
This is an epic tour-de-force of funk with British folk/blues singer Ruth Copeland backed by George Clinton and members of Parliament. I'm going to just reprint what I previously wrote about this cover once upon a time:
"Eschewing the trademark rhythm guitar opening, it starts off with just the drums, before the main chords are dramatically pounded out on a piano. Then, enter the fuzz. Warbling, wah wah, fuzzy guitars featuring a blistering Jimi-like lead by Parliament's Eddie Hazel. And Ruth Copeland's soulful wails of War! Children! Rape! Murder! cement this as the winning cover. Halfway through, the drums crawl to a stop, replaced by a slow organ with whispered vocals of the chorus, which swell to a chaotic climax as the band bursts back in and "love's just a kiss away" is repeatedly chanted like it's the end of the world."Yes, that was my favourite Gimme Shelter cover for a long time, but it was eventually eclipsed by the next cover...
30. Merry Clayton - Gimme Shelter [originally by The Rolling Stones]
Everyone's heard Merry Clayton's blistering vocals opposite Mick on The Rolling Stones' original Gimme Shelter, but she doesn't get nearly the recognition she deserves. A year after the original, Clayton released her own solo version, which starts off similarly before the awesome awesome horn section comes in (and you know I love the horns). She actually recorded the original version of The Shoop Shoop Song, remarkably when she was just fifteen years old. Covers-wise, Clayton also does an incredible Bridge Over Troubled Water and a stunning version of Neil Young's Southern Man. Oddly enough, she sang back up both Neil's self-titled debut AND Lynyrd Skynyrd's Sweet Home Alabama. She was born with an incredible voice and it's a wonder she never became a superstar, but luckily I'm not the only one rooting for her comeback... Aeroplane, a Belgian/Italian DJ duo that is now simply an Italian solo act after an amicable split, tracked down Merry Clayton to provide her still wicked vocals on a track called I Don't Feel. The debut album We Can't Fly is due in September.
29. RLM & Katsuhiko Sakamoto & Ikuko Harada - 19th Nervous Breakdown [originally by The Rolling Stones]
This jazz trio + flute cover comes from that same Japanese Stones tribute as Choro Azul's Paint It Black. With a near incomprehensible accent, the lead singer here sounds like he learned the song phonetically (perhaps with the wrong lyrics sheet to boot) but bonus points for unabashed enthusiasm!
Taking a break this weekend to visit the Island. The Fong Songs 101 countdown will continue on Monday with (count 'em) 1, 2, 3, 4 numbered-themed covers.