Friday, September 10, 2010

The Show Must Not Go On

I don't know if this ever came up at all over the course of this entire blog, but yes, this creepy head, used frequently as an avatar, is a self-portrait bust created in my only university art class. We were supposed to pair up and sculpt a classmate, but I suppose no one wanted to keep a disembodied head of someone else so we all ended up doing our own bust using a series of photos. Anyhoo...

I hope you all had fun with the Fong Songs 101 Cover Countdown. I want to give a huge thanks to Todd G who paid me the ultimate compliment by actually playing my Top 10 covers with commentary on his show The Shuffle, which airs on WFIT-FM, an NPR affiliate based out of Melbourne, Florida. It was very special for me, not to mention flattering, to listen to that and know that there are/were readers all over the globe taking note of my little ol' blog. With the above link, you can download hour 2 of the September 4th broadcast and listen to the portion embarrassingly devoted to me and Fong Songs. It was completely surreal to listen to myself being quoted with words I just haphazardly typed out at the last minute! Thanks again Todd!

...and very big thank you to all you readers out there! I started off writing for an audience of one (me) and ended off with hundreds of visitors a day. While some of those may have been robots and one-timers, I appreciate that I had a healthy number of regular readers, people I didn't even know repeatedly coming back for more... it still kinda boggles my mind and leaves me humbled.


Just over a year ago, one of my favourite all-time bands Harvey Danger played their last ever show, which I was privileged to attend. The last song they ever played was, in fact, a completely new song. In another sense, it was indeed the last song they wrote. Now over a year later, they've finally mastered and released this last ever recording, fittingly titled The Show Must Not Go On. It is available on their site for FREE. In another generous gesture, they've also made available for a free download their Dead Sea Scrolls compilation that was only available at those final shows. In addition to collecting various rarities and demos, it includes their covers of Save It For Later (The English Beat), Maneater (Hall & Oates), and a live recording of Louisiana, 1927 (Randy Newman). Go get it!


Now in a random confluence of favourite band news, The Dresden Dolls (i.e. Amanda Palmer and Brian Viglione) are back on tour after a two-year hiatus in celebration of the band's 10th Anniversary!

OCT 31
10th Bandiversary Halloween Show
Irving Plaza
New York, NY
with Very Special Guests!

NOV 12
A special gulf oil spill relief-benefit for BTNEP, an organazation that is working to preserve, protect, and restore the Barataria and Terrebonne estuaries of Louisiana.
New Orleans, LA
with Jason Webley

NOV 13
Atlanta, GA
The Buckhead Theatre
with Lille

NOV 14
Lexington, KY
Buster's Billiards & Backroom
with Chico Fellini

NOV 16
St. Louis, MO
The Pageant
with Sleepy Kitty
**coincidentally the last I have seen and heard of Sleepy Kitty was when they opened the final shows for Harvey Danger. Of course, Sleepy Kitty's Evan Sult was Harvey Danger's original drummer.

NOV 17
Chicago, IL
The Vic Theatre
with Mucca Pazza

NOV 19
Dallas, TX
Granada Theatre
with Girl in a Coma

NOV 20
Houston, TX
with Girl in a Coma

NOV 21
Austin, TX
La Zona Rosa
with Girl in a Coma

Tickets for some shows are already on sale while the rest will be available to purchase soon... keep an eye on their facebook page for updates. Wish I could go!


I'll leave you all with one last cover...

The Blind Boys of Alabama - The Last Time [EDIT: originally by The Rolling Stones Traditional]
Well, this could be the last time
This could be the last time
Maybe the last time
I don't know

My indefinite hiatus starts now!

Friday, September 03, 2010

Fong Songs 101 All-Time Covers: TOP 10

Just joining us?
I'm counting down 101 of my all-time favourite covers before packing this blog away in the attic.
Read my countdown preamble here.

Top 10
Here we go!

10. Ben Kweller - BK Baby [originally Ice Ice Baby by Vanilla Ice]
Stop, collaborate and listen to this cover, a brilliant guitar-based sing-a-long version of the Vanilla Ice "classic" white boy rap.

9. Baba Yaga - Back in the USSR [originally by The Beatles]
Here it is, my favourite all-time Beatles cover. Baba Yaga is a band made up of an Irish singer/guitarist, a handful of Hungarian rock musicians, and four Russian folk singers. Together they play a potpourri of songs that combine English lyrics and traditional Russian folk songs, which might make the idea of a Back in the USSR cover seem a little too clever, but it's simply irresistible. This particular cover is all a cappella and kicks off with a bewitching Russian chant that makes me want to sing along every time and perhaps take up Russian.

8. The Philosopher Kings - Dinah (Live) [originally by Harry Akst, Sam M. Lewis, & Joe Young]
Tucked away at the end of The Philosopher Kings' second album Famous, Rich and Beautiful was an almost random jazz cover of the standard Dinah written in 1925. It stood out dramatically from the rest of the album of pop/soul music, but the loose and seemingly spontaneous instrumental track wonderfully showcased the band's diverse influences and their underrated musical chops. I loved it when I first heard it and actually chose the song in grade 10 for CALM (Career & Life Management) class when we were asked to do a short presentation about ourselves with a mini bio, a "fun fact" about ourselves, and a song we liked. It still makes me cringe thinking about that day standing at the front of the class of future dropouts gritting my teeth through the entire song which was met by a massive wave of indifference. Heathens. Anyway, I got to see The Philosopher Kings play at the Winspear Centre in Edmonton and it turns out they actually kick off the live show with a blistering rendition of the song (which I didn't even recognize at first) as a sort of band warm-up before singer Gerald Eaton even comes out on stage. Fortunately, this positively electric version of Dinah was captured on their live One Night Stand album.

7. Moxy Früvous - Psycho Killer [originally by Talking Heads]
Admittedly, when I heard this years ago I did not know it was a cover song. Yep, back in the days before I meticulously researched song origins and when the only Talking Heads song I knew was Burning Down the House.... OK, now I only know TWO Talking Heads songs, another credential-shattering hole in my musical education. Regardless, I hope you'll agree this spirited live cover from my heroes Moxy Früvous is a keeper!

6. PoZitive Orchestra - Shine On You Crazy Diamond [originally by Pink Floyd]
Back in 2008 when I first stumbled upon the PoZitive Orchestra, I declared with typical hyperbole that they were "The Best Cover Band You've Never Heard Of" and "my favourite cover discovery of the year". Now they are simply my favourite cover band, period. Most bands that devotes themselves to playing all covers actually have a hard time sustaining my attention for more than a couple songs at a time, but I can listen to the PoZitive Orchestra on endless repeat. Their distinct brand of bossa string quartet arrangements are always inventive and delivered with gusto. What blows my mind is that I think their entire recorded output is only 19 songs, most of which can be downloaded for free from their website. It also kills me that there are a couple youtube clips of the band playing live in Russia, one playing for an unenthusiastic crowd of what seems like less than 10 people and another playing at some sort of aloof dinner reception. In my mind, these guys should be rock stars.

5. OK Go & Bonerama - Rock 'N' Roll Suicide [originally by David Bowie]
I previously wrote this about this cover collaboration and I'm too lazy to attempt to put it better myself:
"The cover follows the same slow build progression of the original, gradually adding elements one by one. The original acoustic guitar intro is replaced by twinkling piano, Bonerama takes the barely-there horns of the original to bombastic new heights, and OK Go singer Damien Kulash does a phenomenal job expressively building up to the show-stopping howl of "YOU'RE NOT ALONE!" The vocals remind me a little of Paul McCartney's go-for-broke vocals on Oh! Darling, one of my fave Beatles songs that wikipedia surprisingly mentions was influenced by New Orleans rhythm and blues... coincidence?"
4. Bobby Darin - Lazy River [originally by Hoagy Carmichael]
Even before actually hearing this cover, I have a strange memory of borrowing a Bobby Darin compilation from the library and reading the liner notes which had an essay that more or less declared this as a two-and-a-half minute masterpiece. Whoever wrote that was absolutely right. Bobby Darin completely owns this song. The first version of this song I'd ever heard was actually by Rickie Lee Jones, which I had tracked down since Ben Folds randomly provided guest back-up vocals (not piano!).

3. Ben Jelen - Wicked Little Town [originally from Hedwig & The Angry Inch]
2. The Bens - Wicked Little Town (Tommy Gnosis Version) [originally from Hedwig & The Angry Inch]
The fact that slots #2 and #3 out of 101 songs are occupied by two versions of the same song (different lyrics) should indicate how much I love this song from the musical Hedwig & The Angry Inch composed by Stephen Trask. Four Bens, two Wicked Little Towns. Scottish artist Ben Jelen beautifully performs Wicked Little Town (the Hedwig version) and the formidable trio of Ben Kweller, Ben Lee, and Ben Folds do Wicked Little Town (the Tommy Gnosis version). The latter comes from the Hedwig tribute album Wig in a Box, which contained at least three other brilliant covers that I had to struggle to keep off this list.

1. Danny Michel - Young Americans [originally by David Bowie]
Surprise, surprise. This has come up multiple times in past posts as my favourite cover song of all-time. In fact, it's my most played song in iTunes, cover or not. I discovered Danny Michel, who became one of my favourite artists, via his album of Bowie covers Loving the Alien. It was this cover in particular that made me sit up and realize I needed to find out more about his original music. That is an unmistakable quality of a great cover: the "I need to hear more from this person" factor. I got to see Danny live for the first time in 2006 and he's somehow even more amazing live. I've seen him at least five times since and will again in just a couple weeks! David Bowie himself had this to say about Danny's cover of Young Americans:
"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.

So there you have it, my 101 all-time favourite covers circa 2010! Any thoughts? Feel free to share your top three in the comments. I've got one last post up my sleeve for next week since there will be some blogworthy news from one of my favourite bands that will fittingly tie in with my blog goodbye. TTFN, ta ta for now!

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Fong Songs 101 All-Time Covers: #15 to 11

Just joining us?
I'm counting down 101 of my all-time favourite covers before packing this blog away in the attic.
Read my countdown preamble here.

Oddly enough, the logo and goofy tagline has never changed since day one! My awesome friends made this shirt for my birthday one year. If I remember correctly, the blog had not even reached its first anniversary.

From the get-go I've been inclined, if not unofficially mandated, to provide a Canadian bias to my blog coverage. As a Canadian blogger, I'm more than happy to draw attention to and trumpet homegrown talent (Danny Michel!) while apologizing for others (Nickelback). Canadian Content (AKA CanCon) is a unavoidable part of the Canadian radio and television landscape, requiring minimum percentages of Canadian produced content to air. Sometimes we grumble about it (i.e. lots of Loverboy airplay), but when done right it can be used to celebrate unheralded talent and hey, that's sort of what music blogging is all about, eh? I even started an irregularly updated and eventually abandoned feature called Canadian Cover Content to discuss cover songs of and/or by Canadian artists. Here are five of my favourite CanConCovers.

15. Captain Tractor - London Calling [originally by The Clash]
Hometown Edmonton boys Captain Tractor were great songwriters and impeccable musicians that were vastly underrated, except perhaps locally. Their 1999 album Celebrity Traffic Jam marks the first and only time my name shows up in an album's liner notes, which I think just happened for pre-ordering the disc (it was also my birthday present!).

14. The Bicycles - Cuddly Toy [originally by Harry Nilsson]
Toronto indie-rock band The Bicycles specialized in wonderful originals inspired by the bubblegum pop of yesteryear, but their debut The Good, The Bad and the Cuddly also featured this cover that was originally written by Nilsson for The Monkees. I did not realize until just now that five of the songs on that album including this one were recorded with Robert Sledge (of Ben Folds Five) in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

13. Tok Tok Tok - The Weight [originally by The Band]
The Weight has been covered umpteen times and most artists don't really mess with it, but this groovy genre-bustin' cover by "acoustic soul" band Tok Tok Tok will leave you tapping your toes all day long.

12. Danny Michel - Gloomy Sunday [originally by Rezső Seress]
Gloomy Sunday is the so-called "Hungarian suicide song" that, according to urban legend, was banned from radio play after leading to a series of suicides. The lyrics tell of the author's recently deceased love ("little white flowers will never awaken you") and his desire to join her ("my heart and I have decided to end it all"). For the English version, most famously performed by Billie Holiday, a vaguely happy ending was tacked on to the otherwise depressing lyrics, revealing it was all a bad dream. More likely a marketing ploy than any real suicide epidemic, the legend was further enhanced by the fact that the original composer Rezső Seress did in fact commit suicide. I never did get around to writing and posting my planned "Gloomy Sunday in Canada" feature with CanConCovers of this song, but it was all an elaborate ruse to post this cover by Danny Michel anyway. Mind you, a remix by Winnipeg electronic artist Venetian Snares titled Öngyilkos Vasárnap is definitely worth seeking out.

11. Serena Ryder - It Doesn't Matter Anymore [originally by Paul Anka; recorded by Buddy Holly]
This piano/organ/vocal cover by Ontario singer Serena Ryder comes from If Your Memory Serves You Well, her cover album of songs penned by Canadian songwriters, in this case Paul Anka. It's a dramatic change from the upbeat original as performed by Buddy Holly in 1958 and is probably more indebted to Linda Ronstadt's country rendition from 1975.

Fong Songs 101 countdown concludes tomorrow with the coveted Top 10!

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Fong Songs 101 All-Time Covers: #19 to 16

Just joining us?
I'm counting down 101 of my all-time favourite covers before packing this blog away in the attic.
Read my countdown preamble here.

19. Ben Folds - Songs of Love [originally by The Divine Comedy]
As you all probably know, I'm a sucker for all things Ben Folds does. My only problem was choosing from a ton of covers both solo and with Ben Folds Five, but I decided to go with this unheralded cover from Ben's Sunny 16 EP. A different mix also appears on the Supersunnyspeedgraphic compilation disc.

18. Bob Seger - Love the One You're With [originally by Stephen Stills]
I've never been entirely clear on the intended meaning of this song. On one hand, it can be viewed as advice to get over your recent heartbreak and "love the one you're with". It can also sounds like it's celebrating adultery: if you're on the road, party on. I don't really know what a "rose in a fisted glove" has to do with either interpretation. From Bob Seger's Smokin' O.P.'s album of almost all covers, this really is a smokin' version.

17. Ella Fitzgerald - Sunshine of Your Love [originally by Cream]
This is me and my weakness for horn sections again. The big band takes the familiar riff and give it some brassy oomph. Ella's magnificent wails complete the song's transformation from psychedelic rock to a real swinger.

16. The Living End - Tainted Love [originally by Gloria Jones]
Tainted Love is probably more known for Soft Cell's 80s reinvention than Gloria Jones' soul original, but by far my favourite all-time version is from Aussie rockers The Living End. Chris Cheney's guitar solo is absolutely killer. This is one of several examples of when a particular cover song inspired me to delve deeper into an artist's catalogue. The Living End eventually became one of my favourite bands.

Tomorrow the Fong Songs 101 countdown continues with some good ol' Canadian Content. We're almost at the Top 10!

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Fong Songs 101 All-Time Covers: #24 to 20

Just joining us?
I'm counting down 101 of my all-time favourite covers before packing this blog away in the attic.
Read my countdown preamble here.

Led Zeppelin
When covering Zeppelin, it's best to stray far from the original since any carbon copy cover just comes off as pathetic and wanky, particularly if you're a guitarist attempting to imitate Jimmy Page. Seriously, why bother?

24. Goldbug - Whole Lotta Love [originally by Led Zeppelin]
This bizarro electro dance version actually hit the #3 spot on the UK charts for a few weeks in 1996. I used to think it sampled part of the instrumental break from the Richard Harris rendition of MacArthur Park, but I've since learned it's actually the theme song from the UK cinema advertising company Pearl & Dean. Suspiciously, MacArthur Park and the remarkably similar sounding theme song (known as Asteroid by composer Pete Moore) were both released in 1968... but my whirlwind research cannot determine which came first.

23. Dread Zeppelin - Viva Las Vegas [originally performed by Elvis Presley]
Dread Zeppelin is my favourite reggae Zeppelin tribute band with an Elvis impersonator for a lead singer and hey, it's Robert Plant's too. You wouldn't think there's anything subtle about this band, but they have a way of weaving in Page's riffs into even non-Zeppelin covers that are easy to miss if you're not paying close attention. This Elvis/Custard Pie/Godzilla mash-up is my favourite. As is (sadly) the case with many tribute bands, they've actually been active a lot longer than the band they're paying tribute to. Since 1989 and they're still performing!

22. Rasputina - Rock and Roll [originally by Led Zeppelin]
Rasputina's gothic cello makeover of Rock & Roll. Gothic Cello Makeover, need I say more?

21. Robert Plant & Alison Krauss - Gone Gone Gone (Done Moved On) [originally by The Everly Brothers]
The 2007 Led Zeppelin reunion was somehow both unlikely yet inevitable. Naturally, everyone demanded if not expected a follow-up tour, but guess what? Robert Plant done moved on. His collaboration with Alison Krauss Raising Sand went five for five at last year's Grammys including Album of the Year and his new album Band of Joy due in a couple weeks makes it clear that he's not done making new and exciting music... with an album full of covers!

20. Led Zeppelin - Hello Mary Lou [originally performed by Ricky Nelson]
During their epic live shows, Whole Lotta Love would often be used as a jumping off point for a set of R&B and blues covers. This treat comes from the How the West Was Won live album, culled from two 1972 California gigs, but you gotta wonder what other pristine goodies Jimmy Page has in his recording vault that will never be released.

Tomorrow the Fong Songs 101 countdown continues with some Songs of Love.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Fong Songs 101 All-Time Covers: #28 to 25

Just joining us?
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 Numbers
28. Aimee Mann - One [originally by Harry Nilsson]
The genius of Harry Nilsson has been slowly revealed to me over time via cover songs, the earliest example being Aimee Mann's beautiful cover ofOne from the Magnolia soundtrack, which also incorporates a tidbit of Nilsson's Together. Whether it's been Sean Nelson of Harvey Danger, The Bicycles, or Andrew Bird, I've continued to discover artists I admire covering Harry Nilsson. Once I started to dig a little deeper into his music, I found he did his own fair share of cover songs while also finding some more songs that I recognized which were in fact Nilsson originals, for example He Needs Me from the Popeye soundtrack (via the Punch Drunk Love soundtrack).

27. Gilberto Gil - Three Little Birds [originally by Bob Marley & The Wailers]
Whenever I hear every little thing is gonna be alright in this joyous rendition of the Bob Marley classic, I actually believe it.

26. Moxy Früvous - Love Potion No. 9 Medley [originally performed by The Clovers]
I never got to properly see Moxy Früvous live during their heyday, but by all accounts it was a show not to be missed. Known for their humourous between-song banter, impeccable musicianship, and the occasional improvised song, you could be guaranteed no show was exactly the same. Unless they improbably reunite after their 10 year and counting hiatus, I'm left listening to their Live Noise album and the wonderful collection of live recordings over at the Live Music Archive, which where this fantastic medley comes from. It includes random snippets of the Stereo MCs, Level 42, Alanis Morissette, Bee Gees, and CSNY anchored on both ends by Love Potion No. 9.

25. Tennessee Ernie Ford - Sixteen Tons [originally by Merle Travis]
There are three songs that I strongly associate with Art class in grades 11 and 12: Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue, Rosemary Clooney's Mambo Italiano, and Tennessee Ernie Ford's Sixteen Tons. No doubt there were countless other songs being played while we worked away in the studio, but these songs would come up repeatedly and they were hard to ignore.

Tomorrow the Fong Songs 101 countdown will test if the song truly remains the same with some Zeppelin covers.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Fong Songs 101 All-Time Covers: #35 to 29

Just joining us?
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.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Fong Songs 101 All-Time Covers: #42 to 36

Just joining us?
I'm counting down 101 of my all-time favourite covers before packing this blog away in the attic.
Read my countdown preamble here.

Earth, Wind, Fire, Waterloo
42. Sunshiners - Everybody Wants to Rule the World [originally by Tears for Fears]
The Sunshiners hail from Vanuatu, a small island nation in the South Pacific. I just discovered the band about a month ago and their reggae Tears for Fears cover from their self-titled debut album quickly found its way into the regular covers rotation. The rest of the album included fine covers of 80s hits from the likes of David Bowie, Human League, Supertramp, and Fine Young Cannibals. Their second album Welkam Bak Long Vanuatu continued with covers of Dexys Midnight Runners, INXS, Peter Gabriel, Duran Duran, Queen, and more.

41. Jamie Cullum - The Wind Cries Mary [originally by The Jimi Hendrix Experience]
Jimi Hendrix's virtuoso and revolutionary guitar skills are rightfully trumpeted, but it's his great songwriting that perhaps gets the short shrift. The Wind Cries Mary is one of his best and Jamie Cullum gives us a lively jazz piano arrangement in tribute. I waited for years for the opportunity to see Jamie Cullum live and finally got the opportunity earlier this year to stand (within arm's reach!) of Jamie and his piano for an amazing show! It's immediately became one of my top 5 all-time concerts and he also played The Wind Cries Mary for his first encore.

40. Shirley Bassey - Light My Fire [originally by The Doors]
Here Dame Shirley Bassey does a wonderfully melodramatic cover of The Doors' Light My Fire. It's slow and groovy with flourishes of a John Barry-like orchestral arrangement. My favourite part: the climactic "Come on baby light my--" [everything grinds to a halt] "FIIIIIRRRRRRRRRRRREEEEE". Amazing but ineligible for for this list: the Propellerheads remix of her signature Bond song Goldfinger.

39. Nation - Waterloo [originally by ABBA]
This is the second cut from that German ABBA tribute album I mentioned earlier in the list. I've always imagined this cover as the result of The Darkness being commissioned to cover ABBA.

The Weather Outside is Frightful
38. Peace Brothers - Frozen [originally by Madonna]
A complete transformation of Madonna's late 90's hit, this nearly unrecognizable cover reminds me a little of Cheap Trick's I Want You to Want Me. It'll have you singing "do do do do do do do dooo" all day long. This comes from Volume 4 of the Punk Chartbusters series.

37. Zooey Deschanel & Leon Redbone - Baby, It's Cold Outside [originally by Frank Loesser]
I've heard dozens of covers of this classic tune but Zooey Deschanel & Leon Redbone are by far my favourite pairing. From the soundtrack to Elf, this was the first inkling most of us had of Deschanel's musical inclinations. It took a few years, but we finally got Volume 1 (and now Volume 2!) of She & Him, her collaboration with M. Ward. Got my tix to see them live this fall-- can't wait!

36. Bobby Darin - Don't Rain On My Parade [originally performed by Barbra Streisand]
At first I didn't realize that this was Barbra Streisand's "signature tune", originally from her role in the film and musical versions of Funnny Girl, only because in my mind Bobby Darin's version just dominates above all else, leaving all other renditions in his wake.

Tomorrow on the Fong Songs 101 countdown, we tackle some standards and cover some stones.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Fong Songs 101 All-Time Covers: #49 to 43

Just joining us?
I'm counting down 101 of my all-time favourite covers before packing this blog away in the attic.
Read my countdown preamble here.

The White Stripes Set
Right from post #1, The White Stripes (and Jack White's musical endeavours in general) have been featured on Fong Songs more than any other single act. Regular readers must be sick of it. They were more or less my favourite band already, but seeing them live on back-to-back nights of their Get Behind Me Satan tour here in Vancouver cemented the deal. My White Stripes fever hit its peak in 2007 when they announced they would be touring every province and territory in Canada. I got to stand an arm's length away from Jack on the other side of his keyboard at a secret show in Edmonton. Then two of my friends and I flew to the Maritimes for the ultimate rock vacation, following Jack & Meg to Moncton, Charlottetown, Halifax, and finally Glace Bay for their epic 10th Anniversary show. It's only fitting a small portion of this list is dedicated to them.

49. Nostalgia 77 - Seven Nation Army (feat. Alice Russell) [originally by The White Stripes]
By far this is the most covered White Stripes song, though most coverers make you wonder they bothered. However, one of the earliest covers remains a clear winner with a heavy bass groove, some horns, and electric vocals from Alice Russell who've I've been fortunate to catch twice live and yes, this was one of the last songs played at each show.

48. Chris Thile - Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground [originally by The White Stripes]
Former Nickel Creek member and mandolin extraordinaire Chris Thile took Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground and completely made it his own with a killer bluegrass arrangement. It's hard to imagine, but I almost associate this more with Thile than the White Stripes at this point. Almost. I know Thile still plays this frequently at live shows with his current outfit Punch Brothers.

47. The White Stripes - I Just Don't Know What To Do With Myself [originally by Burt Bacharach and Hal David]
The White Stripes canon is full of great covers from Jack's anguished update of Dolly Parton's Jolene to the blazing mariachi rock of Conquest as made famous by Patti Page (I've yet to actually track down the original Corky Robbins version). I also love when they dabble in their folk blues roots with Your Southern Can is Mine or Lord, Send Me an Angel. Then there are those handful of Bob Dylan covers they do. Or I could gone a little off the map with their unlikely live performance of Mr. Cellophane from Chicago with Jack seemingly channeling a carnival barker. With so many great covers to choose from, I just didn't know what to do with myself... and the answer revealed itself. A modern classic.

46. David Bowie - White Light/White Heat [originally by The Velvet Underground]
My most played Bowie track is the Lou Reed influenced Queen Bitch and I also love Bowie's covers of The Velvet Underground, so how is it that I've managed to avoid listening to most Lou Reed and/or Velvet Underground music outside of a handful of their most popular songs? It's a terrible oversight that needs to be rectified someday.

45. The Futureheads - Let's Dance [originally by David Bowie]
I was never particularly taken with the original until I got seriously hooked on this cover. It's not all that dramatically different, but to me it revealed something I had initially found lacking in the original and now I actually do love the original. Go figure.

44. David Bowie - I'm Waiting For the Man (Live) [originally by The Velvet Underground]
I've been blown away by this version ever since first hearing it on the Almost Famous soundtrack.

43. The Celibate Rifles - I'm Waiting for the Man [originally by The Velvet Underground]
This frenetic cover was released by Aussie punk band The Celibate Rifles in 1984. I can't find any evidence that supports this, but the drumming and guitar playing in this song are, in my mind, a direct precursor to Supergrass. I'm pretty ignorant when it comes to drumming, but I love this style which seems to cram in as many extra drumbeats as possible, whenever possible.

Tomorrow on the Fong Songs 101 countdown I'll be talking about the weather forecast and the four elements.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Fong Songs 101 All-Time Covers: #55 to 50

Just joining us?
I'm counting down 101 of my all-time favourite covers before packing this blog away in the attic.
Read my countdown preamble here.

Whoops, yesterday's post was accidentally numbered "#65 to 52", but I jumped the gun and we're just getting to #55 today! Gee, can you tell I'm doing these in the middle of the night?

Alt Rock
55. The Polyphonic Spree - Lithium [originally by Nirvana]
I'm a big fan of The Polyphonic Spree and the ragtag choir/orchestra cult-like thing they've got going on. I'm still kicking myself for the time I skipped out David Bowie's 2004 show in Edmonton because I was worried that he would mostly play his new stuff (stupid assumption) and I was weary of $45 cheap seats (now $90 seems to be a standard "cheap seat" these days). I also couldn't convince anyone else to come with me and was not in the habit of concerting solo (yet). So I was crushed when I read the next day that he indeed played all his classics and The Polyphonic Spree were his opening act! Sadly I don't think Bowie has toured since and The Polyphonic Spree never ever came back to town. That lingering regret has more or less egged on on a lot of my concert-going ever since.

54. Hayseed Dixie - Holiday [originally by Green Day]
After starting their novelty career with a bluegrass tribute to their namesake AC/DC, the band expanded their repertoire to other classic rock anthems, a full album tribute to Kiss, and a handful of surprising cover choices like Outkast, Scissor Sisters, and Franz Ferdinand. This year saw their 8th full-length studio album Killer Grass, which actually followed an album of originals pointedly titled No Covers. My absolute favourite is their cover of Green Day's Holiday, which is geuninely great beyond its novelty value.

53. Gina Jeffreys - Creep [originally by Radiohead]
Gina Jeffreys is an Australian country singer who performed this beautiful acoustic Radiohead cover on Andrew Denton's Musical Challenge, an Aussie radio show that challenged artists to perform covers in a style that differed from their own. Creep has been covered so frequently it's practically a cover cliché, but I can always revisit this cover and not grow tired of it.

The TV Set
52. Lady & Bird - Suicide is Painless [originally by Johnny Mandel and Mike Altman]
Also known as the Theme from M*A*S*H from the film and subsequent TV series, Suicide is Painless was co-written by Robert Altman's son who was a teenager at the time and ultimately earned more from the song royalties than his dad did for directing the movie! There are several covers, with and without lyrics, but I'm particularly fond of this understated, poignant take from Lady & Bird.

51. The Blind Boys of Alabama - Way Down in the Hole [originally by Tom Waits]
This song is synonymous with The Wire, which used the original and four covers as its theme song for each of its five seasons. And is it the so-called greatest show in the history of the medium? After plowing through the whole show over a sleep-deprived month, I have a hard time coming up with worthy counter-examples. This phenomenal blues cover by The Blind Boys of Alabama is probably my favourite of a strong batch of covers that included The Neville Brothers, DoMaJe, and Steve Earle, who also had a small role in the series.

50. Deluxx Folk Implosion - I'm Just a Bill [originally written by Dave Frishberg; performed by Jack Sheldon]
Technically Schoolhouse Rock is before my time, though I'm familiar with many of the tunes via (surprise!) cover songs. It also shouldn't be that surprising that my first exposure to Schoolhouse Rock was through The Simpsons with their parody I'm an Amendment to Be which actually featured the original "Bill", Jack Sheldon. From the great 1996 Schoolhouse Rocks! Rocks tribute album, this irreverent but quirkily faithful cover by Lou Barlow's Deluxx Folk Implosion is absolutely priceless. Based on playcounts, this is my 19th most played cover and 66th most played song overall. So really this should be higher on the list, but like I said the rankings don't really matter until around the top 10.

Halfway there folks! Tomorrow the Fong Songs 101 countdown continues with Bowie! Reed! The White Stripes!