Friday, August 29, 2008

Someday I'd like to go to Chapel Hill

Ben Folds dropped by The Suburbs, hinting at plans for "Chapel Hill on Sept 18th that I'm told we have to wait a few more days to announce. There will be those who shit. I know I will. Very excited but I gotta hold it in a few more days."

Could it be a one-off reunion everyone's favourite fraudulent quintet, Ben Folds Five at their old stomping grounds??? Makes sense. Darren Jessee and his band Hotel Lights just put out a new album with an unreleased BFF song on it. Ben's just one state over in Nashville, Darren Jessee's based (I think) in Chapel Hill, and Robert Sledge is still active there... in fact Lucky, a new band with Squirrel Nut Zippers' Katharine Whalen and Will Dawson, are playing a gig with the Robert Sledge Band in Chapel Hill on September 13th. I still can't believe two of my favourite bands both come from Chapel Hill (BFF and SNZ).

Ben Folds Five - Song for the Dumped (Sessions at West 54th)

If true, that's really bittersweet because I definitely would not be able to go, but still it's wicked if this comes to fruition. Somebody send a camera crew!

By the way, one time Squirrel Nut Zipper honorary member Andrew Bird is in town this weekend for The Stanley Park Exhibition with the New Pornographers. Ugh, can't go but that would've been pretty awesome. Thankfully I've seen both acts before. Anyway, hope they do it again next year.

Andrew Bird - Jesus Gonna Make My Dyin' Bed [traditional]
From his appearance last month at the Calgary Folk Fest, recorded by the fine folks at CBC Radio 2. Blind Willie Johnson first recorded Jesus Gonna Make My Dyin' Bed in the late 1920's from a traditional gospel tune, Bob Dylan recorded it as In My Time of Dyin' on his 1962 self-titled debut, and so did Led Zeppelin on 1975's Physical Grafitti, their longest studio track and one of my faves. I'm guessing Andrew Bird's version reaches way back to its traditional roots because it is not remotely recognizable from any version of the song I've heard. Sounds great though!

Yo Vanilla, kick it one time, boyyeeeeee.

We're fans of synchronicity here at Fong Songs. Following that most recent post tenuously tying together the Large Hadron Collider, Ben Folds, and Vanilla Ice, LHC rap producer Will Barras passed along his own Vanilla Ice mash-up that he did last year. Word to your mother.

Mr. Walkie Talkie vs. Vanilla Ice - Be My Boogie Woogie Ice Ice Baby
I've been informed that Vanilla's lyrical wizardry was laid over Mr. Walkie Talkie's Be My Boogie Woogie Baby, the theme to an 80's kids show in the UK called Kick Start. Yikes!

Next, someone more talented than me has to combine Vanilla Ice, Hot Chocolate, and Strawberry Alarm Clock for some Neapolitan mash-up goodness. I've already got a title: You Sexy Incense Baby.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Ben Folds, Vanilla Ice, and the End of the World as We Know It

Alpinekat - The Large Hadron Rap
A couple weeks ago, a friend passed along a link to this awesome rap about the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) built under the France-Switzerland border by CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Research). The world's largest particle accelerator has been under construction for over 10 years with a cost in the billions of dollars. It's designed to accelerate protons at energies of 7 trillion electron volts along a 27km underground circular tunnel in order to produce high speed particle collisions, the results of which will produce new unseen particles including (possibly) the Higgs boson which is uh... um... ok, I don't really know. This catchy rap puts it all in layman's terms and it's still sails quite a bit over my head, but it definitely helped me understand the hows and whys of the LHC a little more.

Stunning hi-res images of the LHC and its components can be seen at The Big Picture, a Boston Globe photo blog that should be a mandatory subscription for any RSS feed reader. Also check out their pics of the Olympics opening ceremony, recent volcanic activity, Tour de France '08, a stunning royal funeral procession in Bali, and wildfires in California. They're like the Planet Earth of photojournalism.

The Large Hadron Rap was written and performed by Kate McAlpine (AKA Alpinekat), a science writer who works at CERN. Her MSU site has the full lyrics and an mp3 of the isolated vocals for potential remixers. The beats were provided by Will Barras, who Kate describes as her "Ben Folds 'producer with computers'"... a Rockin' the Suburbs reference if there was any doubt as to Ben's appeal within the nerd community. Speaking of Ben and whiter-than-white rapping, I stumbled upon this oddity on eMusic last week:

Former Fat Boys - Ice Ice Baby (Ben Folds Remix) ["originally" by Vanilla Ice]
It's a cover of Ice Ice Baby rapped over a looped sample of Ben Folds Five's Brick. Of course, the original rap used an unauthorized sample of Queen & David Bowie's Under Pressure, settled out of court by the copyright holders. It took years of vigorous mental training, but I can now listen to Under Pressure without a even a moment's thought of Vanilla Ice.

Ben Kweller - BK Baby [originally by Vanilla Ice]
Ben Kweller, one-third of The Bens alongside Ben Folds and Ben Lee, also covered Ice Ice Baby with this awesome acoustic take, one of my favourite all-time covers. This is literally my 5th most played song in iTunes.

Vanilla Ice - Play That Funky Music
This is from the same album as Ice Ice Baby, which I'm sad to admit I did own on cassette. I was 7 when To the Extreme came out...I surely didn't buy it, I don't remember asking for it, but I had it nonetheless. Vanilla Ice ripped off another artist with more unauthorized sampling of Wild Cherry's Play That Funky Music, which led to a lawsuit and $500,000 in damages. Tsk, tsk, Vanilla!

Majosha - Play That Funky Music [originally by Wild Cherry]
Pre-Ben Folds Five, Ben Folds played bass in a band called Majosha who released one EP and one album before breaking up in the late 80's. Some of the tracks such as Video, Emaline, and Kalamazoo would later be re-recorded by Ben Folds Five or solo Ben.

Ben Folds Five - Amelia Bright (live)
One of my favourite Ben Folds Five songs was actually never released on any of their albums, fortuitously saved from obscurity by a wonderful bootlegger at a 2000 concert in Scranton, Pennsylvania (insert your own Office reference here). I like to think that a studio recorded version exists, locked up in the Sony vault to be released someday... now I finally get my wish. Kind of. Darren Jessee, former drummer of Ben Folds Five and co-writer of a few songs including their break-out hit Brick, fronts his own band Hotel Lights whose self-titled debut came out in 2006. One week ago their follow-up Firecracker People was released, which includes a newly recorded Amelia Bright. Can't wait to hear it!

Back to science news for a minute... The Large Hadron Collider is scheduled to start up September 10th to do its thing. So in just about 2 weeks, the world may cease to exist... just kidding, probably. I like this headline from Science Daily: If The Large Hadron Collider Produced A Microscopic Black Hole, It Probably Wouldn't Matter.

"It's Krusteriffic, Johnny Unitas. But is my upper lip supposed to bleed like this?"

The microscopic black holes that might possibly be produced would, if they appear at all, only exist for a nano-nano-nanosecond, so says some Important Physicist. Yes, very re-assuring. Coincidentally, this Friday is the 11th anniversary of the Judgment Day that didn't happen. Let's hope the LHC doesn't become self-aware and destroy humanity.

Great Big Sea - It's the End of the World As We Know (And I Feel Fine) [originally by REM]

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Hello Darkness, My Old Friend

Leonard Cohen - The Sound of Silence [originally by Simon & Garfunkel]
A couple weeks ago I mentioned this unique spoken-word performance from a tribute to Paul Simon concert at the 2006 Montréal International Jazz Festival. Definitely worth it to hear the classic song distilled into poetry and hauntingly read by the legendary Cohen.

Elvis Costello - Peace Like a River [originally by Paul Simon]
Elvis Costello & Allen Toussaint - American Tune [originally by Paul Simon]
Also from the same tribute concert. Boyhowdy's got a couple more covers of American Tune in his latest post.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

boss boss boss boss boss boss boss boss

Neil Gaiman's off in China for 4 weeks, but his helper elf is still making updates... and I just couldn't help but notice that the title of the latest blog post is definitely a Moxy Früvous reference. Score!

"Clark Kent reached the highest height with the help of Perry White"
Moxy Früvous - I Love My Boss
An ode to bosses from the album known as B. One day while listening to an instrumental version of Brazil, my mind automatically filled in the lyrics "...he chased me three blocks with a gun." And that's when I came to the sudden realization that I Love My Boss, which I had listened to for years, is a take-off on Brazil. Not a cover mind you, just a slight variation.

The Arcade Fire - Brazil [originally by Ary Barroso]
One of my favourite versions of the standard from 1939, originally known as Aquarela do Brasil (Watercolor of Brazil).

By the way, make sure you catch the last two featurettes on Coraline.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

What's This? Christmas in September?

September is gearing up to be an early Christmas for me with the release of Ben Folds' new album, Amanda Palmer's debut solo album (produced by Ben Folds), Neil Gaiman's new The Graveyard Book, and the Gaiman/Palmer photo book. Yes, all my favourite artists randomly got together and had babies. Now there's another release to add to that list: Nightmare Revisited.

Last year I got all excited when I found out Rodrigo y Gabriela had been tapped by Danny Elfman to record a cover of Oogie Boogie's Song for a special edition of the Nightmare Before Christmas soundtrack. According to their official website at the time, "RyG to appear along side the Killers and Marilyn Manson on Nightmare Before Christmas Soundtrack reissue. Danny Elfman asked Rod and Gab to record Mr Oogie Boogie for a special edition release of the soundtrack." After months of nothing and no other source for this info, I chalked it up to another empty promise like when they told us at the Edmonton Folk Festival that they'd be back in October as part of their Canadian tour (didn't happen then nor the 2 years since). Well, now comes the official announcement and tracklist that is exciting and disappointing at the same time:

Nightmare Revisited (release date: September 30)
1. DeVotchKa - Overture
2. Danny Elfman - Opening
3. Marilyn Manson - This Is Halloween
4. All American Rejects - Jack's Lament
5. Amiina - Doctor Finkelstein/In The Forest
6. Flyleaf - What's This?
7. The Polyphonic Spree - Town Meeting Song (!!)
8. The Vitamin String Quartet - Jack and Sally Montage
9. Sparklehorse - Jack's Obsession
10. Korn - Kidnap The Sandy Claws
11. Rise Against - Making Christmas
12. Yoshida Brothers - Nabbed
13. Amy Lee - Sally's Song
14. RJD2 - Christmas Eve Montage
15. Plain White Ts - Poor Jack
16. Datarock - To The Rescue
17. Shiny Toy Guns - Finale/Reprise
18. Danny Elfman - Closing
19. The Album Leaf - End Title
20. Rodrigo y Gabriela - Oogie Boogie’s Song

Looks like The Killers were a premature announcement as they're nowhere to be seen, but The Polyphonic Spree are an exciting addition. We'll at last get to hear Rodrigo y Gabriela's take on Oogie Boogie's Song, an unlikely but intriguing choice for the Mexican folk-metal guitarists. My eyes roll at the inclusion of Korn, Rise Against, and All American Rejects but I invite them to prove me wrong like Fall Out Boy's surprisingly great cover of What's This?.

Rodrigo y Gabriela - Diablo Rojo
If you're not familiar with them, definitely seek them out. I saw them live 2 years ago in a truncated 30 minute performance and it is still a highlight concert for me.

Flip Kowlier, Gabriel Rios, & Michael Franti - What's This? [originally by Danny Elfman from The Nightmare Before Christmas]
Outside of the covers from these official releases, Nightmare Before Christmas covers are pretty scarce. Here's a fun cover recorded for a Belgian radio station if I remember correctly.

Other related stop-motion news:

  • Henry Selick, who directed The Nightmare Before Christmas, is hard at work on his stop motion adaptation of Neil Gaiman's Coraline. All this week, IGN has been hosting a new behind the scenes featurette each day about the production of Coraline. I didn't realize the voice cast includes JoCo's buddy John Hodgman (i.e. "I'm a PC") and Ian McShane (Swearingen on Deadwood). There should still be more featurettes before the week is out. The film is due February 2009.

  • Wes Anderson's stop motion adaptation of Roald Dahl's The Fantastic Mr. Fox is chugging along. Originally a collaboration with Henry Selick who produced some animated scenes in The Life Aquatic, Selick actually left the film to direct Coraline. Though not due until November 2009, this is the most eclectic team I've seen assembled for ostensibly a children's film since Spike Jonze and Dave Eggers teamed up for Where the Wild Things Are (things aren't sadly not boding well for that film though...). The Fantastic Mr. Fox is scripted by Wes Anderson and Noah Baumbach (The Squid & The Whale); featuring the voices of George Clooney (Mr. Fox), Cate Blanchett (Mrs. Fox), Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray (of course), Anjelica Huston, and Meryl Streep; with new songs and score written by Pulp's Jarvis Cocker. Cocker recently revealed that one track is finished and it's a "slightly hillbilly-sounding song" for what it's worth. It'll be a long wait for this one.

  • Monday, August 11, 2008

    Three Years o' Fong Songs

    We've reached a very special milestone here at Fong Songs. This is my 300th post, but more importantly today is the Three Year Anniversary of this blog's existence.

    "Three-- Oh three-- it's a magic number. Oh yes it is, it's the magic number."

    It's hard to believe that I've been at this for 3 years and it's been a blast. Initially blogging along for a readership of one (me), not a lot has really changed in my approach even as the visitor count very slowly grew, not that I'm immune to occasionally "chasing" readers in an effort to recapture conspicuous spikes in traffic.

    Now that I really think about it, the Fong Songs experiment pre-dates the blog itself, initially started as a beta gmail account (since abandoned) with a shared password so that my friends and I (mostly me) could "post" unique or favourite songs with a little story to go with it. Eventually everyone lost interest as it was a pretty unwieldy process for sharing songs. In Summer 2005, I moved to Vancouver for 2 months to take a part-time course in 2D animation. Armed with my first post-switch Mac, I discovered a few things that summer that eventually led to the creation of Fong Songs as we now know it. Following a link on The Covers Project, I found myself completely drawn into the wonderful world of Coverville, a magical land where covers reigned supreme. I had never even heard of podcasting before and here was Brian Ibbott with already more than 100 shows under his belt. That's when I first got an inkling that I wasn't the only one obsessed with covers. Hours were spent crawling through the Coverville archives with delirious ears. I also stumbled upon Liza's Copy, Right? (dearly missed) and the concept of MP3 blogs in general. Oh, what I had been missing out on! I started wondering what it would take to start my own blog (answer: not much), since I was already notorious for usurping control of the music selections on car rides. Someone distinctly noted that there was an absurdly high ratio of cover songs to originals on my iPod, which had never really occurred to me. My first two posts very tellingly concerned the White Stripes, as Jack & Meg inevitably come up more often than any other subject. I noted in that first post that my covers collection was pushing 1200 and now that number is closer to 8400. There are songs I've been "meaning to post" for years now and still haven't gotten around to them. If and when this blog goes belly up, it certainly won't be for lack of material.

    Since this began, the cover blog corner of the blogsphere has blossomed into what I like to refer to as a covers community. Cover Freak, Coverin' the Mouse, Cover Lay Down, Cover Me, Blowin' Your Cover, and probably more have all sprouted up in the last couple years. Having these cover colleagues has lead to some mutual guest posts, which I had never imagined when I started off, not to mention being invited to partake in a Cover Blog Roundtable on an episode of Coverville. Victory! So what does the future have in store for Fong Songs? From the get-go, my slapdash tagline has been "cover songs, my fav bands, and whatever the hell I feel like" and that pretty much sums up everything I write about. Mostly cover songs with the leeway to venture off into fanatical ravings about my favourite bands and I look to continue that tradition. Boyhowdy once wrote that I have an "incredible ability to compile cross-genre coverlists the likes of which [he's] never seen" in regards to my penchant for thematically linked cover songs and just a couple days ago, reader Tarty made the comment that "reading your blog is often like doing a paint-by-numbers project but on a time/space continuum". Those two quotes both warm my little ego and describe Fong Songs better than I can put it myself.

    On to the covers!

    The first time I heard of Three is a Magic Number was when my sister came back from a Captain Tractor show and raved about a new addition to the live show, "an awesome sing-along song about the 3 times table". Sure enough I was treated to this song at the next show I attended. The local Edmonton band, who we've seen innumerable times over the years, had recently gained a new member keyboard/accordionist Jason Kodie. this was the one song where he would take over lead vocal duties and teach the audience a basic math lesson. Admittedly Schoolhouse Rock! is a bit before my time, but I was aware of it mainly through that spot-on parody of I'm Just a Bill on The Simpsons. Soon after "discovering" Three is a Magic Number, I found the wonderful tribute album Schoolhouse Rock! Rocks at the library, a full album of Schoolhouse Rock! covers including Blind Melon's take on that very song.

    Schoolhouse Rock - Three is a Magic Number
    Here's the original, written and performed by Bob Dorough who composed the majority of the Schoolhouse Rock! tunes. This was actually the very first song ever recorded for Schoolhouse Rock!.

    Bob Dorough - Three is a Magic Number
    Bob Dorough revisits the classic song in this awesome live cover. In light of the fact that the crowd seems to be filled with some kids that "are bigger than the regular kids", he takes the song all the way up to 3 times 20, which makes the counting backwards part a lot trickier than you'd expect.

    Blind Melon - Three is a Magic Number

    The Jellydots - Three is a Magic Number
    I love this rock cover from The Jellydots, a kids band started by music teacher Doug Snyder.

    Elizabeth Mitchell - Three is a Magic Number
    Embrace - Three is a Magic Number (live)
    Wilco - Three is a Magic Number (live)
    Jeff Buckley - Three is a Magic Number

    Jack Johnson - The 3 R's
    From the Curious George soundtrack, Jack Johnson expands on the original multiplication theme and teaches a lesson about The 3 R's: Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle. It's funny, I remember a childhood jingle that included a 4th R: Recover. What ever happened to that?

    De La Soul - Three is a Magic Number
    A riff on Three is a Magic Number from hip hop group De La Soul's 1989 debut album, 3 Feet High and Rising. Recently, they're probably most well known for collaborating with the Gorillaz on the Grammy-winning Feel Good, Inc. This track also samples the drums from Led Zeppelin's The Crunge.

    Sunday, August 10, 2008

    Another Borderline

    Earlier this week, a CD arrived, BC musician Kevin Kane's 2001 cover album Timmy Loved Judas Priest. I first heard of it on that CBC Radio 3 podcast about Canadian covers a couple weeks back. The whole thing's available on iTunes, but I just couldn't bring myself to buy a purely digital copy of the album if I could help it. The original release was limited to a pressing of 500 hand-stamped, numbered, and signed CDs, so I leapt at the opportunity to grab it off eBay. The album consists of 10 stripped down acoustic covers with Neko Case and Veda Hille providing guest vocals on two tracks.

    Our Lips Are Sealed (featuring Neko Case) [originally by The Go-Gos]
    Borderline [originally by Madonna]
    Confidential [originally by the Modernettes]
    Motoraway [originally by Guided by Voices]
    Neon Lights [originally by Kraftwerk]
    Golden Brown [originally by The Stranglers]
    Ashes to Ashes (feat. Veda Hille) [originally by David Bowie]
    Here [originally by Pavement]
    Two Sisters [originally by The Kinks]
    God Only Knows [originally by the Beach Boys]

    Get it here on iTunes or patiently wait on eBay.

    Saturday, August 09, 2008

    You're Not the Only Cuddly Toy Cover

    Aimee Mann's notable cover of Harry Nilsson's One from the Magnolia soundtrack distinctly kicks off with a voice uttering "OK, Mr. Mix." This snippet actually comes from the beginning of another Harry Nilsson song, Cuddly Toy. Every now and then I'll be reminded of Nilsson's genius, inevitably when I discover a song that I love was originally written by him. This began with the Magnolia soundtrack and Aimee Mann's cover of One, also famously covered by Three Dog Night. Later on another Paul Thomas Anderson film scored by Jon Brion, Punch-Drunk Love, the wonderful song He Needs Me is used, which was originally from Robert Altman's 1980 Popeye film and sung by Shelley Duvall who plays Olive Oyl. As it turns out, Harry Nilsson wrote all the original songs for that film.

    This trend reached a peak when Harvey Danger singer Sean Nelson started to work on his Nelson Sings Nilsson album of Nilsson cover songs, which ultimately has never been released in the 2 years since it's been completed, though I've been assured it'll come out "someday". There have been some great-sounding demos and tracks on myspace, which led me to check out all the Harry Nilsson albums from the library.

    This latest instance came while listening to Toronto indie band The Bicycles' 2006 debut album The Good, The Bad and the Cuddly, which I bought recently. This is when I first heard Cuddly Toy and I really shouldn't have been shocked to find out the only cover from the album was written by Harry Nilsson. Despite its jaunty sound, I've read conflicting stories that it's about either a promiscuous girl or a victim of gang-rape(!).

    Harry Nilsson - Cuddly Toy [Demo]
    This demo was recorded in March 1967 as Nilsson auditioned material for The Monkees. Before the song starts, he says "I don't really have a title... I guess you can call it the Cuddly Toy Song, why not?" I got this from For the Love of Harry, an incredibly comprehensive blog archive of Harry Nilsson material.

    The Monkees - Cuddly Toy [originally by Harry Nilsson]
    The Monkees did end up choosing to cover Cuddly Toy for their 1967 album Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd., an early break for Nilsson who at the time was still held a job at a bank. The Monkees would also later cover Nilsson's Daddy's Song for their 1968 film Head.

    Harry Nilsson - Cuddly Toy
    Nilsson's own album recording of the song was also released in 1967 on Pandemonium Shadow Show.

    The Bicycles - Cuddly Toy [originally by Harry Nilsson]
    Here's the cuddly cover that inspired this post. More info on The Bicycles, their debut album, and hilarious DVD board game(!) can be found here.

    Ben Gibbard & Nada Surf - Cuddly Toy (live) [orginally by Harry Nilsson]
    A live cover from the Death Cab for Cutie frontman and Nada Surf taken from a benefit concert for Rogue Wave's drummer, Pat Spurgeon, in 2006.

    Friday, August 08, 2008


    Today the Olympics kick off in Beijing at 8:08:08pm on 08/08/08. You can bet it's Chinese wedding day central as well since 8's are lucky in Chinese culture-- the more the better. I myself am flying back to Edmonton today to attend a family wedding, not so coincidentally missing the wedding of a friend too. I imagine lots of Chinese will also be buying lottery tickets today, though they just missed the Wednesday 6/49 jackpot of $45 million dollars, the 2nd largest jackpot in Canadian lottery history to be split by the staff of a car dealership in Ontario and an as yet unclaimed winner in Québec. So what's the deal with eights? In Cantonese, the word for eight sounds similar to the word for "prosperity" or "fortune". And we're a superstitious bunch who'll favour addresses, phone numbers, license plates, or whatever with as many 8's as possible. It'll be another 80 years before we get a date this awesome.

    On the flipside, 4 is a very unlucky number since it sounds like word for "death". Now think about how there's no 13th floor in most high-rises, right? Well when I was in Hong Kong, the elevator for the 50+ story apartment we were staying in was "missing" floors 4, 14, 24, 34, 44, not to mention the 7th floor (also unlucky). And that's somewhat conservative because some buildings outright jump from the 39th floor to the 50th, skipping all the 40's.

    Two songs that have permanent Olympic associations for me are Annie Lennox's Walking on Broken Glass and Paul Simon's You Can Call Me Al. Whenever I hear either of them I'm instantly transported to opening ceremonies, flag bearers, and torch lighting though it took me forever to figure out why. I asked my friend, a Paul Simon buff, if You Can Call Me Al was ever used as an Olympic theme song and the answer was assuredly no. Google wasn't much help either. I finally figured it out earlier this week when I heard David Foster's theme written for the 1988 Calgary Olympic games, Winter Games.

    I hadn't quite yet turned 5-years old when my mum drove my sister and I three hours south from Edmonton to take in the atmosphere of the Olympics in Calgary. The significance of this was completely lost on me and I have nearly no memory of the trip, though the David Foster theme song must have been imprinted in my head. Until this week, I hadn't heard that song in 20 years, yet echoes of the song have bounced around in my head for years, latching on to the similar sounding Walking on Broken Glass and You Can Call Me Al.

    Am I crazy? Listen to these:
    David Foster - Winter Games (1988)
    Paul Simon - You Can Call Me Al (1986)
    Annie Lennox - Walking on Broken Glass (1992)

    Sam Roberts - You Can Call Me Al [originally by Paul Simon]
    Music store A&B Sound, home of once legendary Boxing Day sales, is on the verge of completely shutting down in the face of the competition from Future Shop & Best Buy. Founded in downtown Vancouver, the chain expanded outward and through Western Canada including two stores in Edmonton, which is how I was familiar with the chain. I bought my first Sony walkman there for $15 at one of those Boxing Day sales. In fact now that I think about it, our family's first ever DVD player came from an A&B Sound Customer Appreciation Sale too (first DVD ever: Ronin). In general, A&B Sound always had the best deals on music and the stores would always be packed. The big chains seem to have these almost fake sales, but you could always count on big deals at A&B Sound. A couple weeks ago, nearly every CD/DVD in the downtown Vancouver location was 50% off for a sale of "indefinite length", a close-out sale by any other name. Sigh. While we scoured the CDs, my friend found this Paul Simon tribute album I had never heard of. Blandly titled Tribute to Paul Simon, this was actually recorded at a tribute concert at the 2006 Montréal International Jazz Festival when Paul Simon played there that year. Featuring mostly Canadian artists such as Jim Cuddy of Blue Rodeo, Colin James, and Sam Roberts, Elvis Costello was also there to perform a couple Simon covers. Leonard Cohen even performs an unlikely spoken-word tribute/half-cover of The Sound of Silence... I'll definitely have to post that later.

    Noah & The Whale - You Can Call Me Al [originally by Paul Simon]
    A unique cover performed live on BBC's Dermot O' Leary show by English band Noah & The Whale. And in case you're wondering like I was, it's no coincidence the band's name sounds like a combination of film The Squid & The Whale and its director Noah Baumbach.

    I'm Amazed

    A few days ago, Jeff Lin & Sean Nelson of Harvey Danger played an intimate acoustic set at the Largo Little Room in Los Angeles. The capacity is only 60 people (jealous!) and the set was stripped down piano (Jeff) and vocal (Sean) takes on the Harvey Danger catalogue plus some choice covers: Old Man On The Farm (Randy Newman), Hollywood Hopeful (Loudon Wainwright III), and Maybe I'm Amazed (Paul McCartney & The Wings).

    Here's an awesome video for Maybe I'm Amazed with major kudos to taper innerturmoil and Sean & Jeff for allowing it.

    When it's time for the guitar solo, this ragamuffin runs in from off-stage with an acoustic guitar to perform the solo. JON BRION. Yes, my mind was officially blown.

    Thursday, August 07, 2008

    Way Too Cool To Be Forgotten

    Here's a link to a fantastic video interview with cartoonist Alex Robinson:
    Ifanboy - Episode 80 - Alex Robinson

    Much more than just a promo bit for his newly released Too Cool To Be Forgotten, it's an in-depth discussion of his previous work and working techniques, told in an affable & irreverent manner. As an unabashed fan of all Alex Robinson's books, this was a real treat. Check out his official site.

    Too Cool To Be Forgotten arrived in the ol' mailbag last week. I tentatively set it aside as not to spoil it right away (after all, this has been in the works for 1 or 2 years), but of course that didn't last long and an hour later I sat in bed and devoured it. At 125 pages, it's a quick read compared to the Box Office Poison opus or Tricked, but it's the perfect length to tell this story, a sort of cross between Back to the Future and Freaks & Geeks. You can always count me in for time travel stories. 40-year-old Andy Wicks is trying fruitlessly to kick his smoking habit and as a last-ditch effort undergoes hypnosis, which somehow transports him back to 1985 and his high school years. Robinson has a wonderful way with characterizations and storytelling, accompanying his always impeccable artwork. I always have high expectations going into Robinson's next book and he never disappoints. Definitely go pick it up (only $10 on Amazon!).

    Don't just take it from me, here's the book's blurb from Brian K. Vaughan, who wrote the brilliant Y: The Last Man and became a writer (now co-producer) of Lost in the last couple seasons:
    "This is Alex Robinson's best book, and one of the rare comics not written by Stan Lee to perfectly capture the tragedy and triumph of being a teenager. Totally recommended."

    Perhaps because I just finished watching it on DVD last week, but as I mentioned earlier it reminds me of Freaks & Geeks, which is an easy comparison considering both are set in high school in the 80's. Andy would fall on the "geeks" side of the equation. Anyway, here are a couple hilarious covers from Mr. Rosso, the McKinley High guidance counselor.

    Mr. Rosso - I'm Eighteen [originally by Alice Cooper]
    This is from a hilarious scene when Mr. Rosso brings the "freaks" into his office and tries to show them that he (and Mr. Alice Cooper) understand what they're going through. Stars of this weekend's Pineapple Express, Seth Rogen and James Franco are among the freaks alongside Jason Segel, Linda Cardellini, and Busy Phillips. All around great cast on that show, which sadly only lasted one season.

    Mr. Rosso & Feedback - Up on Cripple Creek [originally by The Band]
    The freaks get fake IDs to get into an 18+ gig only to find out Mr. Rosso is the band's lead singer. With the continued popularity and success of the Apatow gang (Judd Apatow produced the show), I wonder if he would ever revisit a serialized TV series after the cruel cancellations of both Freaks & Geeks and Undeclared. Incidentally, both shows are "too cool to be forgotten".

    Wednesday, August 06, 2008

    L'il Björk sings Álfur Út Úr Hól

    Björk - Álfur Út Úr Hól [originally Fool on the Hill by the Beatles]

    Well, ain't that adorable. From Björk's 1977 self-titled debut album, recorded when she was 11.

    Do you know the way to Shell Beach?

    I'm patiently awaiting the arrival of the Dark City Director's Cut DVD in the mail. The 1998 sci-fi noir film directed by Alex Proyas received a much-needed special edition treatment that was released last week. The most anticipated special feature is the director's cut itself (11 minutes longer than the theatrical cut), which removes the opening voiceover narration (echoes of the Blade Runner), adds additional scenes, and other subtle changes. I read that some of the visual "tuning" effects are actually toned down, which is somewhat curious. One purely cosmetic change I'm hoping for is the removal of a blatant safety cable when John Murdoch is hanging off the side of a building. I'm not usually one to notice these sort of IMDb goofs, but I distinctly remember seeing that huge black cable in the theatre and it bugs me endlessly.

    The original DVD release had an atrocious, ill-conceived Find Shell Beach interactive "game" that had the lamest payoff imaginable, a cheesy "animated" re-enactment of the film's finale (notice all these quotation marks I'm using). Another dubious special feature on that release: Neil Gaiman on Dark City, basically a glorified blurb. The new DVD contains two retrospective featurettes of substantial length and three audio commentaries from Alex Proyas, co-screenwriters David Goyer (Batman Begins) and Lem Dobbs, and Roger Ebert.

    When Dark City originally came out, our local newspaper's entertainment section had a full-page splash with a 4-star review from Roger Ebert. This prompted me to see the film, which I hadn't even heard of prior to that day, one of the earliest times I remember actually being swayed to see a movie solely on its review. Since then, Ebert has become one of my "trusted reviewers", someone who is mostly right, sometimes wrong, but always writes a compelling review one way or the other (uh, one notoriously insane exception: Garfield: A Tail of Two Kitties). The AV Club also falls in this category and most recently, I've added the entertaining Filmspotting podcast to it. It certainly says something positive about film criticism in the Windy City that Filmspotting, the AV Club, and Ebert are all based in Chicago.

    From the get-go, Ebert was a major champion of the Dark City, eventually adding it to his pantheon Great Movies and including it as part of his annual Overlooked Film Festival in 2000. At the Conference on World Affairs in Boulder, Colorado, Ebert annually hosts an event (these last 2 years excepted due to his prolonged illness) called Cinema Interruptus, in which a film is dissected nearly frame-by-frame for 8 hours over the course of 4 days. Dark City was put through this extensive analysis one year and this informs Ebert's great commentary contained on the original Dark City DVD release. There are conflicting reports as to whether the new DVD release contains a completely new Ebert commentary (obviously recorded before his illness) or if it's a carry-over. At the very least, he seems to have expanded on the original commentary for the new footage.

    All this and I haven't even really mentioned much about the film itself. If you haven't seen it, honestly I think it's best to go in cold turkey knowing as little about the plot as possible, like the protagonist John Murdoch (Rufus Sewell) who awakes in a bathtub with no memory and a dead body in the other room. That's all you need to know, though there is that somewhat painful introductory voiceover from Dr. Schreber (wonderfully played by Kiefer Sutherland) to kick off the film, which I'm excited to see excised in the new cut.

    Jennifer Connelly plays John's wife, Emma, a lounge singer who's strikingly introduced singing the song Sway, which in the theatrical cut was actually sung by Anita Kelsey. One of the changes in the Director's Cut is restoring Connelly's original vocals, for better or worse we'll soon find out. Yes, all this preamble about Dark City was just to post some Sway covers... and this was supposed to be a small post.

    Anita Kelsey - Sway [originally popularized by Dean Martin]
    This version was my initial introduction to the song, as usual finding out it was a cover much later. Originally Sway was a 1953 mambo song ¿Quién será? by Pablo Beltrán Ruiz before Norman Gimbel wrote English lyrics and it became a hit for Dean Martin.

    Dean Martin & Julie London - Sway [Remix]
    This surprisingly decent remix is from the generic looking Electro Lounge album of remixes, combining Dean Martin and Julie London's vocals from separate versions of the song.

    Bobby Rydell - Sway [originally popularized by Dean Martin]
    A 1960 hit cover by teen idol Bobby Rydell with an amusing chorus of back-up singers.

    Michael Bublé - Sway [originally popularized by Dean Martin]
    Probably my favourite arrangement of Sway.

    The Puppini Sisters - Sway [originally popularized by Dean Martin]
    From the Andrews Sisters revivalists.

    The Pussycat Dolls - Sway [originally popularized by Dean Martin]
    Likely the last time you'll be hearing the Pussycat Dolls on here... a slick but decent cover.

    Björk Guðmundsdóttir & Tríó Guðmundar Ingólfssonar - Í dansi með þér [originally popularized by Dean Martin]
    This Icelandic jazz cover is an early Björk release from 1990's Gling-Gló, an album of jazz standards that predates her 1993 solo album Debut. I'm not exactly a Björk follower, so I was surprised to learn that her first album, which contains an Icelandic cover of Fool on the Hill, was recorded and released when she was 11 years old in 1977! Now that sounds like a cover to track down.

    Tuesday, August 05, 2008

    Amanda covers Neil Gaiman

    Sigh, I feel goofy constantly re-hashing stuff Neil Gaiman's linking to-- you should already be subscribed to his RSS feed anyway-- but lately I just can't help it, what with all this Amanda Palmer/Neil Gaiman/Ben Folds convergence.

    From Photographer Kyle Cassidy's blog a few days ago:
    "We got finished shooting at about 2:00 a.m. and we're sitting in the kitchen in Neil's apartment and he says something like "blah blah blah I was sitting next to Paris Hilton once blah blah blah the lounge song I wrote blah blah" and we were all like "the lounge song?! so he sang it for us. Three times! because we kept applauding and shouting bravo! It's hysterical and infectious and I can't get it out of my head -- and Amanda's like "Oh I am so covering that!" So you may hear it too. It's funtabulous."

    And she did. Here's Amanda covering Neil Gaiman's I Google You from a show last night in L.A.:

    Audio's about as okay as one can expect from a youtube video, but it may be the only version we ever hear! According to this setlist, at the same show she also covered Cologne, a song from Ben Folds' upcoming Way to Normal [EDIT: turns out she actually lip-synched to Ben's studio recording]. Hmmm, I need that bootleg!

    Last night I dreamt of San Pedro

    For no reason in particular today, my favourite Madonna covers:

    Bitume - La Isla Bonita
    Showoff - Borderline
    Two great punk covers. Their success may actually have to do with a surprising faithfulness to the source material while still rocking out. Curious trivia: according to wikipedia, La Isla Bonita's songwriters Patrick Leonard and Bruce Gaitsch had originally intended the song for Michael Jackson's Bad album.

    Peace Brothers - Frozen
    I love this upbeat complete transformation of the late-90's Madonna hit. You might be hard pressed to recognize it if you didn't know what the cover was in advance. It's sort of like Madonna filtered through Cheap Trick's I Want You to Want Me.

    Montefiori Cocktail - Hung Up
    An instrumental mariachi version, one of those semi-rare covers of a song that itself is based on samples of another song, in this case ABBA's Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!.

    McSleazy - I Hate Music [Madonna vs. The Hives]
    A pretty good mash-up of Madonna's Music and The Hives' Hate to Say I Told You So.

    [EDIT: turns out Madonna's 50th birthday is next week, so lucky timing!]

    Mashed Up Comics

    Neil Gaiman passed along this awesome link on his journal, an iconic scene from Gaiman's Sandman as if re-interpreted by Charles Schulz:

    Charles Schulz's Sandman
    by *DocShaner on deviantART

    Actually it's a young cartoonist Evan Shaner who has several other gems in his gallery including primate versions of your favourite superheroes and a series of hero/secret identity drawings. Love his style! He's got a blog here.

    Other highlights:

    Hank Ketcham's Fantastic Four
    by *DocShaner on deviantART
    Spot-on and inspired.

    The Green Machine
    by *DocShaner on deviantART
    Honestly, just how awesome is this picture? Answer: EXTREMELY.

    Spidiana jones
    by *DocShaner on deviantART
    This seems to be the end result of one of those "deep" conversations you have when you're 11 years old. What if Indy was bitten by a radioactive spider?

    Charles Schulz's Watchmen
    by *DocShaner on deviantART
    Love Snoopy Rorschach!

    Sunday, August 03, 2008

    Amanda counts to 4

    Amanda Palmer & company perform a parody of Feist's 1234... the Sesame Street version! Awesome.

    Friday, August 01, 2008

    Canadian Cover Content #11: Hard Core Logo, Cover Podcasts & Crash Test Dummies

    Some belated Canadian cover happenings...

    On August 14th in Toronto, there's a whole tribute night devoted to Canadian cult rock film Hard Core Logo with a screening of the film, a Q&A with director Bruce McDonald, punk bands covering the fictional band, lots of prizes, and "unannounceable but very special SPECIAL GUESTS". Hmmmm... Joe Dick himself perhaps? Mr. Hugh Dillon is currently enjoying success on Flashpoint, a big hit both in Canada and the US, which is cool because it's clearly filmed in Toronto and Canadianisms have a way of sneaking into the episodes (a Timmy's run anyone?). How surreal would a reunion of the original Hard Core Logo line-up be with Joe Dick, Billy Tallent (Callum Keith Rennie), John Oxenberger, and Pipefitter performing? Uh, technically impossible if you've seen the movie and actually kinda strange considering the 1996 film was about a very reluctant reunion tour, but I'd pay to see that anyway. For Torontonians or hardcore Hard Core Logo fans, details on the Tribute Night are here. Only $12!

    Hard Core Logo - Rock 'n' Roll is Fat and Ugly
    54•40 - Rock 'n' Roll is Fat and Ugly [originally by Hard Core Logo]

    Last week CBC Radio 3's Grant Lawrence devoted an entire podcast to Canadian artists covering Canadian artists. It can be downloaded here in various formats. What's cool is that for several covers he chats with both the coverer and the coveree (as put by Danny Michel & Emm Gryner in a similar themed episode of Under the Covers). We get The Be Good Tanyas covering Geoff Berner, Kathleen Edwards covering Jim Bryson, Cuff the Duke covering the Rheostatics, and much more.
    **UPDATE: Also check out this week's Part II - The Originals of the songs featured last week.

    Speaking of Danny & Emm's Under the Covers, last week's episode was about "Covers You Didn't Know Were Covers". One that greatly surprised me was finding out Kim Carnes' eighties hit Bette Davis Eyes was not the original... it was co-written and recorded in 1974 by Jackie DeShannon. It has a radically different tone-- almost country & western with chorus girls. Sounds like a weird cover, but it's the original! Between this, Tainted Love, and There's Always Something There to Remind Me, how many more 80's one-hit wonders are actually cover songs?? There's no doubt that all covers of Bette Davis Eyes are of Kim Carnes' version. My favourite is an acoustic cover featuring the deep baritone vocals of Crash Test Dummies' frontman Brad Roberts, from his solo live disc Crash Test Dude. A couple years ago I was slow in ordering the Crash Test Dude CD/video combo from Maple Music then it went out of stock forever. I always kinda regretted that, though eventually it ended up on iTunes and eMusic. The album also contains a handful of unlikely covers: La Grange, Da Do Ron Ron, Trident Gum Theme(?), Unbreak My Heart and Baby One More Time.

    Brad Roberts - Bette Davis Eyes [originally by Jackie DeShannon]
    Ever wonder what Brad Roberts is up to these days? He's a guitar/songwriting instructor at the Paul Green School of Rock Music (!), which likely was the inspiration for the film School of Rock and was featured in the documentary Rock School. Incidentally, a School of Rock 2 was announced a couple weeks ago with Jack Black, writer Mike White, and director Richard Linklater all returning.

    Brad Roberts - Superman's Song
    I'm of the mind that one can't technically cover oneself, so here's Brad Roberts revisiting the Crash Test Dummies' first hit, Superman's Song, a plaintive ode to Superman released a year before the big S actually "died".

    Brad Roberts - One of Us [originally released by Joan Osborne]
    Here's something curious I just learned while writing up this post. Direct from the Crash Test Dummies FAQ: "the song's writer, Eric Bazilian, had written the song with Brad Roberts' bass baritone in mind. When the two met, Brad recorded the song just by himself with an acoustic guitar. When news of the song first broke, it was expected to appear on the Armageddon soundtrack. It did not, and so far, the song has only been made available to the public in a leaked MP3 that found its way onto file-sharing networks." Wow, so could this be considered almost the original One of Us...?

    Crash Test Dummies - The Ballad of Peter Pumpkinhead [originally by XTC]
    I remember buying the Dumb and Dumber soundtrack specifically for this song, finding out it was a cover many years later. This is the first Crash Test Dummies single to feature the band's only female member Ellen Reid taking over lead vocal duties from Brad Roberts who sings back-up. The Dummies also recorded another XTC cover All You Pretty Girls for the XTC tribute album A Testimonial Dinner.

    Jaymz Bee & The Royal Jelly Orchestra - Superman's Song (feat. Melleny Melody) [originally by Crash Test Dummies]
    An unlikely lounge cover from Jaymz Bee & the RJO's Cocktail: Shakin' and Stirred album of Canadian covers.

    Weird Al Yankovic - Headline News [parody of Crash Test Dummies' Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm]
    I remember reading an interview years ago with the Crash Test Dummies and they were asked how they felt about Weird Al parodying their song. Of course, they were excited and honoured, going so far as to be Weird Al's back-up band on a MuchMusic Video Awards performance of the parody. The parody makes now dated references to headlines at the time (Tonya Harding, Lorena Bobbitt, and that guy who got caned in Singapore), though Weird Al changes it up in live shows with current headlines. When I caught his show last summer he sung about Britney's shaved head incident and Paris Hilton. The original has the very dubious distinction of being one of Blender's 50 Worst Songs Ever (#31), VH1's 50 Most Awesomely Bad Songs Ever (#15), and called by the Rolling Stone's blog as one of the 20 Most Annoying Songs Ever (#15). Yikes, I don't think it's that bad.

    Covers of a different sort:

    Bacchus and Ariadne [originally by Titian] ;)

    (note: I only made one of these...)

    my fanboy head is exploding

    I'd like to direct your attention to several recent blog entries on the upcoming Neil Gaiman/Amanda Palmer photo book collaboration. Neil was/is hanging out with Amanda in Boston all this week.

    • Amanda talks about it here
    • Neil talks about it here and here (great pictures!)
    • Kyle Cassidy is the photographer on the project and also shot the official album cover for Who Killed Amanda Palmer?. He has multiple blog entries here.
    Between the 3 of them, I think they are trying to outblog each other. Also, judging by some of the photos, Neil may have killed Amanda Palmer.

    Love this American Gothic shot:

    Album and book should be due mid-September. By the way, did you hear Neil's doing a 2-part Batman story to be illustrated by Andy Kubert and due in January? Cool.

    I've got a real covers post going up later today. Stay tuned.