Thursday, November 27, 2008

The Best Cover Band You've Never Heard Of

I'm often prone to hyperbole, but these guys are probably my favourite cover discovery of the year. I know you've never heard of them because otherwise you would have told me about them already, eh? Somehow I came across this Russian group while looking for a cover of the Dire Straits' Money for Nothing and stumbled upon a treasure trove of brilliant cover songs ranging from Elvis to Bowie to Zeppelin.

Ladies and gentlemen, presenting the PoZitive Orchestra!

The self-described idea behind the PoZitive Orchestra is combining the classic string quartet sound with Latin guitar rhythms and "vocal hooliganism". Though most of their official site's Russian translation makes only slightly more sense than reading the back of a Chinese bootlegged DVD, this part was surprisingly clear:

"The result is a something that hardly falls under the definition of «a cover version», rather, it might be called: «resaykl version», and the team «PoZitive Orchestra» respectively: «resaykl group»."

Even though the key word "resaykl" didn't make it through the translator, try to pronouncing it phonetically and a lightbulb will go on in your head.... recycle, or something close to that. They consider themselves as recyclers rather than coverers, which is about the same semantically as Tim Burton's re-imaginings instead of remakes, but I understand the desire to escape the trappings of a "cover band" label. A "cover band" implies some sort of bar band or tribute act (of which there are countless) playing rote recreations of another's work, whereas these guys are definitely one of a kind. To each and every cover, the PoZitive Orchestra bring original guitar and string arrangements that consistently defy expectation combined with heavily accented lead vocals that occasionally veer into Elvis territory. They're so fun to listen to that I'm a fan of the cover songs I've never even heard of. Nine of these covers are freely available directly from their site and I came across three more in my google travels. A veritable covers feast! They have no CD that I know of, but the minute they do I'll be all over it.

Shine on You Crazy Diamond [originally by Pink Floyd]
This cover is absolutely brilliant, my favourite of the bunch. Reinvents this as a tango and makes it work, still capturing the bittersweet feelings of regret that permeate the original. Two-thirds of the way through it takes an unexpected yet somehow natural turn, transforming into something completely different. A must listen!

Money For Nothing [originally by Dire Straits]

The Girl From Ipanema [originally by Antonio Carlos Jobim]

Fragile [originally by Sting]

All Shook Up [originally by Elvis Presley]

Black Dog [originally by Led Zeppelin]
Is it my imagination or does he sing "one-legged woman ain't got no soul"? Not many bands would throw some Hava Nagila into a Zeppelin cover.

Venus [originally by The Shocking Blue]

How Insensitive [originally by Antonio Carlos Jobim]

The Man Who Sold the World [originally by David Bowie]

Corcovado [originally by Antonio Carlos Jobim]

I Concentrate on You [originally by Cole Porter]

Help! [originally by The Beatles]
Covering the Beatles is generally a recipe for disaster, but they've manage to produce one of those rare Beatles covers worth repeat listens. Love the string section shout-out to Cream near the end too.

If Google Translate is up to snuff, all band photos used here are by Michael Strizhevskim.

Happy Thanksgiving to our friends in the US. Hope everyone has a fun and safe weekend. Up here it's business as usual, since we celebrated our Thanksgiving more than a month ago. Wikipedia has some interesting laptop reading about the hows and whys of our staggered holidays.

Monday, November 24, 2008

He's gonna kick some ass with his own pipe wrench

Pitchfork reports that New Pornographer A.C. Newman will be providing a cover of A-Ha's Take On Me for a Starbucks CD compilation to be released (likely) around Valentine's Day. Nice! He also submitted another cover of the Go-Betweens' Love Goes On!, though the coffee DJs only took the one. Newman's sophomore solo release Get Guilty will be released in January.

By freak coincidence last week while at a used CD shop, I discovered and snapped up a 2005 incarnation of this Valentine's covers compilation, Sweetheart. Perhaps because I don't go to Starbucks often, let alone buy music from there, I was completely oblivious to this series, in which their "favorite artists sing their favorite love songs". I was further pleasantly shocked when I flipped the CD over and saw Rufus Wainwright, M. Ward, Calexico, Gary Jules, Madeleine Peyroux, Dean Wareham & Britta Phillips, and more contributing exclusive love song covers. An earlier compilation was released in 2004 with covers from the likes of Aimee Mann, Sarah Harmer, Nick Lowe, and Kathleen Edwards.

Neko Case - Buckets of Rain [originally by Bob Dylan]
And wouldn't you know, this Dylan cover was contributed to Sweetheart 2005 by fellow New Pornographer Neko Case.

Can't wait to find out what other covers and artists show up on this '09 compilation. Come February, I suppose I'll just have to stop by a Starbucks for a new CD... how peculiar.

If you were confuzzled by today's post title, then you haven't seen this.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Big Bowl of Suck

So another day, another bombshell. My filehosting account was deleted yesterday, though I guess they were nice enough to refund the remaining credit on the account. Will to blog slipping .... slipping...slipping away. Just kidding. I guess that's the end of direct links here (nice while it lasted I hope) and it's back to Mediafire or something. Spare time has been drastically diminished by a new job, so expect the post count to slow down, but I'll still be here plugging away.

In lieu of a real post today, I'll just rehash some recent covers-related news:

  • Cover compilation Guilt by Association, Volume 2 is now out digitally. Artists include My Brightest Diamond, Kaki King, Matt Pond PA, and of course Mr. Max Vernon. Honestly I've never heard of nearly half the song picks, so I must be totally out of the loop. Not to mention, I consider Need You Tonight, In the Air Tonight, heck even We Didn't Start the Fire as legitimately normal pleasure songs. Just not feeling the guilt! So that's available now on iTunes, which includes a bonus iTunes track of The Bloodsugars performing Lady in Red. Physical disc hits stores in February. Speaking of Max Vernon, he's got a couple new songs on his YouTube page. Good stuff.

  • Marianne Faithfull has assembled an eclectic group of musicians (Jarvis Cocker, Rufus Wainwright, Cat Power, Nick Cave, Keith Richards, Sean Lennon, and more) for two discs of eclectic cover choices (Neko Case, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Randy Newman, Dolly Parton, Morrissey, and more). Check the full tracklist at Pitchfork. Release date is January, though apparently it's on iTunes in Europe.

  • Elvis Costello's Spectacle is gearing up to be a must-see show. It'll be shown on the Sundance Channel in the US, but fortunately for us Canuck viewers, CTV will be airing it concurrently with the American airdates starting with December 3rd's debut episode whose special guest is (strangely enough) the show's executive producer Elton John. Costello reportedly covers Elton John's Border Song (one of my faves). The show will feature performances and conversations with a wide array of guests including The Police, Lou Reed, Bill Clinton (!), Herbie Hancock, Julian Schnabel (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly), Rufus Wainwright, and many more. I'll be setting my imaginary PVR for the February 11th episode featuring She & Him, Jenny Lewis, and Jakob Dylan. Nice!

  • Recently Okkervil River talked to MTV in a "singing interview". One segment was all about cover songs, bizarrely to the tune of The New Pornographers' Challengers. Another one of these US only things, but I managed to watch a snippet of it through some overly complicated proxy thing. The constant re-buffering gave me such a headache I had to stop it. Funny thing about this singing interview gimmick is I did not digest a single word they were saying, which I suppose speaks very poorly of my music listening abilities. I couldn't help but hum or sing in my head the real lyrics. Also, CONSTANT RE-BUFFERING! Get a real video player, grrr. By the way, what do you call re-lyricized songs if it's not meant to be funny like a parody? Can't think of any off the top of my head, but I know I have a handful of such songs.

  • Jam band Umphrey's McGee played a Halloween show in San Fran that featured some covers and live mash-ups including an inspired combo of the White Stripes' Seven Nation Army, Pink Floyd's Money, and Zepp's How Many More Times. 7NA vocals over the How Many More Times riff is pretty awesome. Other unlikely pairings: Michael Jackson vs. Pink Floyd, AC/DC vs. Black Sabbath, Pantera vs. Metallica vs. Gorillaz, and Daft Punk vs. The Doors. The whole bootleg is up on the Live Music Archive here.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Five Days of Bond Covers: Day 005 (RE-POST)

OK, so I received my second DMCA takedown notice in the past month. For this particular post of all posts. Why? Beats me. There was only one song posted and the mp3 link is now removed, though check below since it is freely available from the artist's own website. If Fong Songs suddenly disappears overnight, well, I guess you'll know why. By the way, Cover Lay Down is back up and running at his new site. While that's all fine and dandy, I'm afraid I don't have the time or inclination to pull up my roots and move to a new platform. I simply don't have the disposable income to pour into what is essentially my hobby on public display. When I started this blog, my thinking was I don't mind putting all these unpaid hours into it as long as I didn't start incurring personal expenses. I've already broken that rule, paying for an annual account and the countless CDs I buy on a regular basis, but I'm not prepared to go much beyond that in paying for hosting services, domain names, and such. I've always resisted putting ads or accepting donations and that's not about to change now. In short, I'm going to stay put like a curmudgeonly old man, re-posting just the words of "infringing" posts and carrying on until Google smothers me in my sleep with a pillow.

The final day of Bond covers week, which means Quantum of Solace is out today! Quite honestly, I doubt I'll catch it this weekend since my tolerance for big crowds is steadily declining, but I'm über-pumped to see it when I get the chance.

Casino Royale (2006)

Flat Foot - You Know My Name [originally by Chris Cornell]
To my knowledge, this is the only cover of the last Bond theme from Casino Royale (excluding the exact copycat cash-in covers) and it's a good one. This comes from a Swedish rockabilly trio Flat Foot who basically have a good chunk of their album Cold Case including this cover available for download from their website.

Quantum of Solace (2008)

I'll be keeping an eye out for any cover of the new theme, again excluding the exact copycat cash-in covers which sadly already exist on iTunes (avoid like plague).

Haven't fulfilled your Bond covers fix? Head on over to Versions Galore for an overdose of Goldfinger covers with more to come in a 3-day Bond cover marathon.

And today's my last post over at BreakThru Radio. Big thanks to the folks there who invited me to be a part of Anatomy of a Blogger even though hearing myself self-consciously blather was definitely cringeworthy. Anyway it was fun, though remind me not to try that again when I pull an "event" week. Today's BTR post features some covers of Andrew Lloyd Webber including one from Bond diva Shirley Bassey.

James Bond Covers Will Return

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Five Days of Bond Covers: Day 004

Today we work our way through the Timothy Dalton and Pierce Brosnan Bond films. If my sources are correct, tonight there'll also be a Bond theme cover story on Coverville, so I'm excited to hear what Brian has dug up. By the way, my guest appearance on Breakthru Radio's Anatomy of a Blogger is now available as of today. I haven't listened to it yet (I'm a little embarrassed to do so), but if you go to the main page, you can select the show on the left-hand side to listen or even download it using the button above that. There's too much going on here with Bond week, but next week I want to go through my submitted playlist, which at quick glance substantially differs from what they played. Could be a rights thing (even though I selected from their approved lists), but I guess they're not big on cover songs at BTR!

The Living Daylights (1987)

Ten Masked Men - The Living Daylights [originally by A-Ha]
This cover is amusing, though I can't honestly recommend it. The Ten Masked Men are a death metal band that specialize in cover songs and their albums are all named after Star Wars movies in order (i.e. 2000's Return of The Ten Masked Men and 2003's The PhanTen Masked Menace). Each of their albums also contains at least one Bond cover! So I like the band in theory, but the Cookie Monster vocals give me such a headache it's hard to sit through a full song. Their new album is supposed to be due this year containing a cover of Thunderball.

Licence to Kill (1989)

Count Basic - Licence to Kill [originally by Gladys Knight]
The second and last Timothy Dalton film, this one featured Benicio Del Toro in an early role as a main henchman to the villain Sanchez played by Robert Davi. In an AV Club feature earlier this week, Davi compares Licence to Kill to Casino Royale in that both were attempts to make the franchise grittier, but it was a little ahead of its time. Although Dalton was supposed to do the next one, the series got tied up in a legal fight that led to the six year break between Bond films. The Licence to Kill theme is admittedly a guilty pleasure. It makes liberal use of the Goldfinger motif to great effect, though the back-up vocals nearly kill it. I was surprised to find this pretty awesome cover by Count Basic, who make it a little more groovy and modern sounding, though I guess the chorus is inherently cheesy. Got a licence to kill and you know I'm going straight for your heart!

Goldeneye (1995)

Wise Guys - Goldeneye [originally performed by Tina Turner]
It's always been one of my favourite bits of trivia (yes, I have faves) that Bono and the Edge wrote this Bond theme while the other half of U2, Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen, Jr. reworked the Mission: Impossible theme for the 1996 film. I've always enjoyed Tina Turner's performance, but can you imagine what a version sung by Bono would have sounded like? Poke around YouTube and you can hear the demo... which surprisingly isn't all that exciting, though hardcore U2 fans are quick to point out it's actually MacPhisto singing. This is a pretty good a cappella cover by German a cappella group Wise Guys from their album, Live.

Goldeneye 007 (1997)

Entertainment System - Goldeneye 007 - Frigate
This isn't from the film series, but I couldn't NOT include this. I can't believe it myself, but this a cover from the Nintendo 64 Bond game Goldeneye, which still might be one of the best movie-to-game adaptations ever. Very fond memories of 4-player multiplayer and very frustrating memories of replaying various levels over and over again on the hardest setting trying to beat time challenges, which unlocked various cheat modes such as invincibility. This particular track is from the level Frigate and I can still remember the original theme too. Most of the game's soundtrack was made up of variations on the main Bond theme including a muzak version as you wait in an elevator. Frigate incorporated a little bit of Goldfinger too as you snuck around a boat trying to plant a bug on a helicopter and possibly rescuing hostages (memories are a little vague here). I don't know the exact details about who did what, but the credited composers on Goldeneye 64 were Grant Kirkhope, Graeme Norgate, and Robin Beanland. Entertainment System is one of a surprising number of video game cover bands, though I think they may only do Nintendo tracks hence their name. They've got three albums to their name, which are all available on iTunes and one's on Amie Street.

Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)

Uwe Kröger - Tomorrow Never Dies [originally by Sheryl Crow]
Fans haven't been too kind to having Sheryl Crow sing the film's theme. I have no problem with the song, though I agree with the many who think k.d. Lang's Surrender (which played over the end credits) would have made a better main theme. We go back to Germany for another Bond cover, this one by German Broadway star Uwe Kröger, who's appeared in roles like Javert in Les Misérables and the lead role in The Phantom of the Opera. This comes from his album From Broadway to Hollywood, which features film and broadway covers including a pretty good rendition of From Russia With Love.

The World is Not Enough (1999)

Jackie Moore - The World is Not Enough [originally performed by Garbage]
I'm surprised that opinion isn't very high of this Bond theme, which I've noticed bears a strong similarity to The Carpenters' hit Superstar (itself a cover song... fodder for a future post). I know the world was clamoring for a dance remix of this theme, so here it is.

Die Another Day (2002)

Mister Bond - Die Another Day [originally performed by Madonna]
OK, so this is the Bond theme I just can't stomach in any way, except as a cover. From its inane repetitions of line Die Another Day to the wince-inducing whispers of "Sigmund Freud... analyze this, analyze this this this..." It just makes my eyes roll as much as the movie did: Korean guy turning into white British guy (eye roll), Madonna "acting" (eye roll), Halle Berry "acting" (eye roll), invisible car (eye roll), CGI para-surfing Bond (eye roll)... I mean the Bond series doesn't exactly have a history of plausibility, but that one was so over the top it ventured into Batman & Robin territory, thus necessitating a reboot. Roger Moore hilariously summed it up perfectly in a recent article:

"I thought it just went too far – and that’s from me, the first Bond in space! Invisible cars and dodgy CGI footage? Please! They gave the public what they wanted, though maybe they too realised there was only so far they could push it before Bond became a caricature of himself, and the funeral directors were called in."

When an 81-year old man complains about dodgy CGI, take heed. Definitely read the rest of that article written by Moore as he talks about each of the Bond actors (except Dalton's portrayal, which he purposely avoided!). He just penned an autobiography, My Word is My Bond, which I think I'll have to tack on to my reading queue. This cover is from an album called Mister Bond: A Jazzy Cocktail of Ice Cold Themes, which seems so generic it practically screams its awfulness, but this very well may be the best collection of Bond cover songs. I really could have just filled up today's post with tracks from this album, particularly since it's one of the few that focuses in mainly on the modern day Bond themes from the Dalton and Brosnan films, but I chose this one since it's pretty much the only Die Another Day cover I know, plus it's actually palatable to me unlike the original. As the album title suggests, most covers are of the lounge variety, but the Tomorrow Never Dies has a nice bossa nova vibe and there's a swinging cover of Goldeneye. Definitely seek this one out if you're a Bond fan. iTunes has got it.

Today's post on BreakThru Radio is covers of TV themes. I've included covers of the themes from Scrubs, Mash, Frasier, and Inspector Gadget.

James Bond Covers Will Return... tomorrow!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

RIP: Mitch Mitchell

The Jimi Hendrix Experience - Fire

Five Days of Bond Covers: Day 003

Moore covers today, ho ho ho.

**UPDATED... Oops, posted without the song links, then the internet went down for an hour. Great.

The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)

8mm - Nobody Does It Better [originally performed by Carly Simon]
Nice, atmospheric cover by LA band 8mm who recast this Bond theme as a duet between real life husband-and-wife band members, Sean and Juliette Beavan. This was the first Bond theme (besides Dr. No, of course) that did not match the film's title. While recognized widely outside of a Bond context, there's always that line about "the spy who loved me" to set anyone straight. It's arguably one of the best Bond themes, but unfortunately the themes take a sharp decline over the next few films.

Moonraker (1979)

The Film Score Orchestra - Moonraker [originally performed by Shirley Bassey]
Initially I wasn't much of a fan of this theme, but it's kind of grown on me. It's the third and last theme that Shirley Bassey performed after Goldfinger and Diamonds Are Forever. This disco cover is credited to the Film Score Orchestra, but the real performer may never be known. The exact song appears in iTunes under at least 5 different generic band names such as the Studio Sound Ensemble, Starlite Singers, Royale James Bond Collection, and Knightsbridge. I've gotta admit it's semi-decent for some quick studio cash-in.

For Your Eyes Only (1981)

Edenbridge - For Your Eyes Only [originally performed by Sheena Easton]
Here's a theme hampered by some really cheesy production and it ranks pretty low on my scale of Bond themes, though I will listen to it on the odd occasion without coercion. Austrian metal band Edenbridge adds a little edge to the original... well, as much edge as one could possibly add to this song (i.e. not much).

Octopussy (1983)

Pulp - All Time High [originally performed by Rita Coolidge]
Another one of the few themes that doesn't reference the film's title. I guess no one wanted to sing about Octopussy. Pulp actually turn this into a pretty good, if not great cover. This comes from the 1997 Bond cover album Shaken and Stirred: The David Arnold Project, which also features covers by Aimee Mann, Chrissie Hynde, and Iggy Pop. I had always assumed this album came about from David Arnold's work as the modern day composer of the Bond series, but the album was actually instrumental to Arnold getting his first real Bond gig based on a personal recommendation by John Barry to the series' producers. He's scored every Bond film since Tomorrow Never Dies and co-wrote several of the main theme songs. I think a Shaken and Stirred sequel album is long overdue!

A View to a Kill (1985)

Gob - A View to a Kill [originally by Duran Duran]
I had a couple cover choices for this one, but just had to go with this fast punk cover and it may not exactly be everyone's cup of tea. After a normal opening 20 seconds, suddenly it becomes a frenetic race to perform the rest of song within the next minute or so. If you can make any sense of it, it is strangely faithful in a way... just crazy sped up. Makes me laugh anyway. The band's from BC too, so bonus points for that.

Don't forget I'm cross-posting over at BreakThru Radio all this week. In today's post I'm try to spread some maple fever south of the 49th parallel with a handful of Canuck-centric cover songs. I've got Pascale Picard covering Pink Floyd, Captain Tractor covering The Clash (an all-time fave cover), Sam Roberts covering Paul Simon, and Merry Clayton covering Neil Young (a must-have). Oops, it looks like BTR can't handle any accent aigu...

James Bond Covers Will Return... tomorrow!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Five Days of Bond Covers: Day 002

Sorry for the delay folks... we continue Bond week with today's post that features four films, three Bonds. Between 1969 and 1973, moviegoers saw three different faces of James Bond: George Lazenby, "the one-off" Australian Bond; Sean Connery, who was coaxed back for one more go (money!); and Roger Moore, who would go on to star as Bond for the next 12 years and 7 films.

On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969)

Erik Borelius - On Her Majesty's Secret Service [originally by John Barry]
For George Lazenby's first and only outing as 007, John Barry composed this punchy orchestral theme. The previous three films featured title tracks performed by Shirley Bassey, Tom Jones, and Nancy Sinatra, but Barry thought it would be difficult to incorporate the unwieldy title On Her Majesty's Secret Service into any lyrics. I found this great acoustic instrumental cover by Swedish guitarist Erik Borelius from his album Movies on a String, which is available on CD Baby and Amie Street. The album also contains The Godfather, Rambo, Cabaret, and many more movie-themed covers.

The Puppini Sisters - We Have All the Time in the World [originally performed by Louis Armstrong]
A secondary theme to OHMSS that served as the love theme for Bond and his eventual wife Tracy, this is one of a handful of Bond themes that found a life completely disassociated from the Bond series. Apparently it wasn't even a hit the first time out, but a 1994 Guinness ad prompted its re-release to the UK charts. This cover is by Andrews Sisters revivalists the Puppini Sisters from last year's The Rise and Fall of Ruby Woo, which featured other 30s & 40s-style reworkings of contemporary songs. I barely remember seeing this movie, but the song's title figures tragically into the punch-in-the-gut ending.

Diamonds Are Forever (1971)

Project: Pimento - Diamonds Are Forever [originally performed by Shirley Bassey]
After Lazenby announced he wouldn't be returning as Bond (before OHMSS was even released), the producers were determined to get Connery back and money was no object. With a $2 million paycheck and financial backing for 2 non-Bond films, Connery returned for one more go, excluding 1983's Never Say Never Again (we don't talk about that one). This is a wonderful cover by the self-proclaimed "world's only theremin lounge band". Check out Project: Pimento's official site for some more mp3s including a cover of You Only Live Twice. Both their CDs are available on CD Baby.

Live and Let Die (1973)

Butch Walker - Live & Let Die [originally by Paul McCartney & Wings]
John Barry took a temporary hiatus from scoring the Bond series with George Martin filling in for Live and Let Die. Martin had previously produced Bassey's Goldfinger in 1964 in between his Beatles duties, so I guess it shouldn't really be a surprise then that Paul McCartney was brought in to do the film's theme song, a orchestral rock number unlike any previous theme. This faithful cover is by rocker Butch Walker from his 2005 EP Cover Me Badd. I've been a casual fan since his days as lead member of Marvelous 3 who broke up in 2001. Butch has been busy since then as a solo artist, producer, and songwriter. He has a multitude of pop producing/songwriting credits including Avril Lavigne, The Donnas, Pink, Hot Hot Heat, Katy Perry, and even Japanese duo Puffy AmiYumi (whose 2006 album Splurge had a Marvelous 3 cover song!). By complete coincidence, I was checking Amie Street earlier and learned Butch Walker has a new solo album Sycamore Meadows released today! Back to Live and Let Die... I just have to mention that this film has the most ridiculous villain death in the entire series (you know what I'm talking about).

**EDIT: I meant to mention that a new Live and Let Die cover by Duffy (hand-picked by McCartney himself!) will be arriving on the new WarChild cover compilation early in the new year.

The Man With the Golden Gun (1974)

Emiliana Torrini - The Man With the Golden Gun [originally by Lulu]
Apparently considered one of the worst themes in the series, I've always kinda liked it, but then again I only outright hate one Bond song... we'll get to that later. The lyrics are also amusing since they're about as subtle as Pussy Galore. This cover is by Icelandic singer Emiliana Torrini, who I recognize from some of her other covers like White Rabbit and The Sound of Silence. This film starred Christopher Lee as the title man with the golden gun, Scaramanga, who is also the man with the superfluous third nipple (utilized by Bond to impersonate him). Trivia buffs should know that Christopher Lee is a cousin of Bond creator and author Ian Fleming.

Don't forget I'm cross-posting over at BreakThru Radio all this week. Today's post is simply rehashing some Max Vernon for readers over there, but I've got some great covers lined-up over the next few days. Don't worry, I'll be reminding you every day...

James Bond Covers Will Return... tomorrow!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Five Days of Bond Covers: Day 001

This Friday marks the North American release of Quantum of Solace so we're celebrating here at Fong Songs with a solid work week of James Bond covers, from Dr. No through Casino Royale. It's also a special week at Fong Songs for another reason: I was chosen as "Blogger of the Week" for BreakThru Radio, a New York-based online radio station. So what exactly does this mean? It means all this week I'm double-shifting with posts over there too, starting with today's post on (you guessed it) covers of the James Bond theme. This gig will culminate with a Thursday appearance on the show Anatomy of a Blogger featuring some interview questions I've yet to record and a playlist hand-picked by yours truly, which as you might imagine will be heavy on the covers and CanCon. Very exciting, but I must be as loopy as that car stunt from Man With the Golden Gun (great stunt, unfortunate slide-whistle effect) to think I can post every day this week on two different sites.

In grade 7, a friend gave me a Best of James Bond CD for my birthday, which is how I became intimately familiar with all the Bond theme songs before I had even seen many of the films themselves. My earliest memory of any Bond film had to do with a sniper and a cello case... clearly The Living Daylights, though it would be several more years before I knew who James Bond was. One day my dad brought home a VHS boxset of the first three Bond films and that's basically where I got my start, eventually working my way through the entire series via the library and seeing the Brosnan era films in the theatres. TBS used to have a thing called 30 Days of Bond with a solid month showing Bond movies every night and that's something I've always wanted to replicate on a smaller scale... with cover songs, of course. So here we go!

Dr. No (1962)

Being the first in the series, the idea of the title theme song had yet to establish itself, but it introduced the world to Monty Norman's James Bond Theme forever more. There's somewhat of a controversy over who actually wrote the Bond theme, but here's where you should definitely head over to that BTR post to read more about that and find covers by Parodi & Fair, Bond, and Fanfare Ciocărlia.

From Russia With Love (1963)

Kenny Ball & His Jazzmen - From Russia With Love [originally performed by Matt Monro]
It's been a long while since I saw this one, but I remember it being one of my faves. Even Connery himself considers it the best of the series. The opening credits actually feature an instrumental version of From Russia With Love with Matt Monro's vocal version over the end credits. This sweet dixieland jazz cover is by British jazz band Kenny Ball & His Jazzmen.

Goldfinger (1964)

Shirley Bassey - Goldfinger [Propellerheads mix]
Arguably the most recognizable of all Bond themes, this was the first of three Bond themes sung by Shirley Bassey, setting the gold standard of all Bond themes to come. Bassey actually recorded an album of Bond covers called Bassey Sings Bond, a brilliant idea that unfortunately was marred by god-awful arrangements by what sounds like a one-man synthesizer orchestra. In fact, it's virtually unlistenable and apparently Bassey took legal action withdrawing the recordings from store shelves. I'm already cheating here by including a remix rather than a cover, but I couldn't find a Goldfinger cover I really like, not to mention I absolutely love this Propellerheads remix from the Shirley Bassey remix album, Diamonds Are Forever. Propellerheads are also responsible for a monster 9+ minute remix of On Her Majesty's Secret Service and they later teamed up with Shirley Bassey on the single History Repeating (great track, by the way).

Thunderball (1965)

Kingpins - Thunderball [originally performed by Tom Jones]
This ska cover is one of my favourite Bond covers, yet sadly I know very little about it and have some doubts as to whether this has been labeled with the correct artist. Yes, there's a Montréal ska band called the Kingpins, though from what I can tell they don't sound like this and their official discography makes no mention of it. It's possible but highly unlikely there was a different ska band by the same name. iTunes and eMusic aren't any help. I hate posting covers of unknown origin, but this cover is just too good to go unheard. Let me know if you can shed any light on this cover mystery.

**UPDATE: No worries, folks. Thanks to my pal Nick Chuck, we have confirmation that it IS by The Kingpins, a hidden track from their 1999 album Let's Go to Work!

You Only Live Twice (1967)

The Postmarks - You Only Live Twice [originally performed by Nancy Sinatra]
As previously mentioned on Fong Songs, Miami pop band The Postmarks have a cover album By the Numbers coming out tomorrow! The album features twelve covers of numbers-related songs including this Bond cover, which was previously released for free on eMusic. Can't wait for tomorrow because the final cover on the album is none other than the Pinball Number Count.

James Bond Covers Will Return... tomorrow!

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Watching the World Wake Up From History

Mirror Ball Associates - Right Here, Right Now [originally by Jesus Jones]
I think today's going to be a good day.

Monday, November 03, 2008

A Conversation with Max Vernon

I am very excited and proud about this next post. A week or two ago I started exchanging e-mails with New York-based musician Max Vernon who had very kindly agreed to do an interview, the first time I've ever done one of these for Fong Songs. Max first garnered my attention earlier this summer with their piano/electro/doo-wop cover of Katy Perry's I Kissed a Girl and I quickly became a fan as I explored their original music on mySpace, a unique blend of jazz, classical, vaudeville, and pop.

Whether it's on Max's mySpace blog, YouTube channel, other interviews I've read, or our e-mail exchanges, I always get the sense that at any given moment we're getting Max Vernon unfiltered. That's to say, they speaks from the heart and often isn't afraid of saying things that may even be embarrassing to theirself. As you'll discover in this interview, there's a lot more to Max Vernon than just a nice voice and a pretty face... ha ha, I forgot to ask them about it, but they did once enter an online modeling contest for fun.

Fong Songs: What were some of your earliest music experiences as a child and has being a musician been a long term goal?

Max Vernon: The first time I remember actually playing my own music was when I was five or six, and I would play Heart and Soul for hours on a cheap casio keyboard. I was really proud that I managed to figure out the melody on my own. I started taking piano lessons shortly after that, but my musical ear (I can play what I hear almost perfectly, but I can't sight read to save my life) turned into a crutch that prevented me from ever really dedicating myself to music theory- thus ending my potential career as a concert pianist haha.

I also remember driving with my Dad around Long Island listening to the radio- I'm not sure how old I was, but probably around ten or eleven- and Fleetwood Mac's Rhiannon came on the radio. My dad told me the song was about a Welch witch, and at the time I think I was going through some kind of poseur wiccan phase, so I was immediately taken with the song. It sounds ridiculous and fairly trite, but when Stevie Nicks hit that one really satisfying note in Rhiannon (the one she was always too coked out to hit when performing live) it was like a moment of clarity, and I knew I wanted music to be a major part of my life. Fleetwood Mac, Queen, and Mama's and the Papa's are the first CDs I remember owning...well those and TLC/Savage Garden.

Although I always loved music, and have studied piano and singing since I was six or seven, I never really saw it as a viable career path. I was really focused on my academics and was on a path to living a life that would have made me really unhappy in the long run- namely, getting a business degree. But, luckily I had a revelation around ninth grade that all of that was a big waste of time for me, and that I had to focus instead on my art. However, when I say art, I mean my visual art- which is where most people told me I had the most talent. Visual art was my main focus in high school, I was known as the artist in my grade, and a lot of people (including myself) assumed I would either go to a school like Cooper Union or RISD.

But then I started writing songs my senior year of high school and started to realize that that was a more effective, more immediate way of connecting with people- which is what I always wanted to do through my art in the first place. A really shitty art class I took at NYU during my first semester crystalized the idea in my head that emotionally I had somewhat moved past visual art and into music.

FS: I see that all of those artists (minus TLC and Savage Garden) are listed as musical influences on your MySpace. Were those CDs ones you bought yourself or were they given to you as gifts? When I was about 9, I remember discovering Queen when my mom gave a Greatest Hits CD to my dad for Father's Day. A few days later I popped it in the CD player and just sat there on the floor absorbing it. They've been among my all-time favourite bands ever since. Tell me about your favourite Queen song(s).

MV: Those CDs were all given to me as gifts. TLC, Spice Girls, and Savage Garden were the first cds I bought with my own money (don't judge!) Good Old Fashioned Lover Boy, Killer Queen, and Bicycle Race were and are my favorite Queen songs, but Freddy Mercury could have probably sung the dictionary and made it compelling.

FS: I read you're currently at NYU majoring in Music as Social Activism (correct me if I'm wrong). What kind of courses does that entail and has it changed the way you approach your songwriting?

MV: You're right about my major, though lately I've been calling it "The Politics of Performance". There aren't any specific courses at NYU that really delve into this as it is my own major I've created, but that somewhat vague name allows me to justify taking courses in a lot of different subjects across the board. In addition to music business/performance courses, I've been taking a lot of courses that deal with Social politics and community activism.

Some sample courses:
I took one course called "Lyrics on Lockdown" which was primarily concerned with dissecting/critiquing the Prison Industrial Complex, going to Rikers Island every weekend to lead arts workshops with some of the kids at Rikers academy. I took another course called "Aesthetics on Trial", which examined the history of controversies within the art realm (think Leni Reifenstahl, Serra's Tilted Arc, Nabokov's Lolita) and discussed ways to integrate art into the public sphere. Last semester I took a really interesting course on the history of gender and sexuality theory, which also peripherally delved into community organizing, and radical protest movements.

Taking these highly politicized courses has definitely influenced the kind of music I've been writing. I couldn't have written Politburo Technocrats for example without first reading Susan Sontag and learning about how "images anesthetize". It's probably made my music more confrontational, a bit more philosophical/analytical...hopefully not too much more obtuse. For instance, this semester I'm taking a seminar on 1968 with Karen Finley (famous, insane, awesome performance artist, youtube her). For my mid-term I took a poem I wrote when I was still taking the class on the Prison Industrial Complex, rewrote some stanzas to make it relate to the current Wall Street financial crisis, set it to a meter- and created a protest song that updates the kind of music that was being made in 1968 by people like Buffy St. Marie, Laura Nyro, etc.

Haha I just re-read what I wrote...can you tell i'm a college student? well, at least I stopped myself from talking about Michel Foucault.

FS: Besides Politburo Technocrats, Dear Democracy is another clear example where you don't shy away from politics in your music. Both songs seem to be a call for greater political engagement, but at the same time perhaps lamenting the inability to effect change. With the US election just over a week away [tomorrow!], any prophecies for the coming weeks? It may all be over by the time I post this interview, so your predictions may end up laughable or eerily prescient... By the way, our federal election in Canada just took place last week and set a new record for the lowest voter turnout in history. Yikes.

Max Vernon - Politburo Technocrats & Prophesizing Maniacs
Max Vernon - Dear Democracy

MV: Yeah, I definitely think that duality exists in all my songs. I recognize why it's so easy for people to want to disconnect themselves from what's going on around them, especially when it comes to politics. I would say to an extent I have that instinct too, but my music is one of the ways I motivate myself to fight against that. When it comes to the election, at this point I really feel that unless the election is stolen or sabotaged, Barack Obama will be elected. People talk about how it doesn't seem feasible that there could be voter fraud in our country, and yet we all know what happened in 2000, and in 2004 there were many reports on voting machines breaking down in pivotal battleground states. What I think disturbs me most is the recent republican focus on this so called ACORN "scandal", which is in a nutshell (hah) about how ACORN paid some poor kids [to turn] in voter registration cards for make-believe figures Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck (who can't vote without a passport anyway) to make a few bucks. By focusing on this incident, they turn attention away from the fact that many republican groups in battleground states have been advocating for voter roll purging, and in California very REAL voter registration fraud is being committed (see link). I have no idea what the political climate is like in Canada (hopefully the election had a positive outcome?), but voter apathy is an epidemic everywhere.

FS: In the past, you've been told by record execs that your music can't be categorized (i.e. uncommercial), suggesting it's somewhat avant-garde or something, yet I find it very accessible. How would you classify your own music?

MV: I've been told a great deal of many contradictory, almost non-sensical things by record executives. One told me for instance my music was "psycho-sexual, between broadway and billy joel...but very different from that". I mean I have no idea what that means...but that's definitely not a perspective I'm trying to write from. I don't think my music is so avant garde, so much as it is anachronistic. Over the past decade or so, the purpose of music has really changed. Whether the music now is indie easy-listening to play while you brew your morning coffee or it's some pulsating electro band, it's background; it's not something you really have to analyze to enjoy, but rather it provides an escape. In contrast, I think my lyrics, or maybe the way I sing is too confrontational to make for good background music. However, this is something I'm aware of...I know I'm often at risk with my music of being overly analytical or ranting politically or philosophically, so I try to throw pop hooks into my music to give people something to grab onto. I think this might be what you find accessible. I think some of my songs are more ambitious than others- many are pop songs, but some I think aspire to fall more into the category of "Art Song/Ballad" that people like Joni Mitchell and Laura Nyro were writing in the sixties.

FS: You're probably right about the "pop hooks" being a point of accessibility. I think upon first listen it's the music/melody I respond to immediately on a gut level with the message revealing itself on repeated listens. You recently took a trip to LA to record at Westlake Studios, where a little album called Thriller was produced. What were the circumstances leading you to record there and how was that experience?

MV: In a nutshell what happened was I was working on some music with someone in new york, but our relationship grew very toxic- he was emotionally abusive to me, and he did many things (that I won't delve into great detail about) that crossed the line of professionalism/legality, including trying to claim writing credits on songs I had copyrighted even prior to going into the studio with him. However, most importantly, he was taking my music in a creative direction I didn't agree with. So, I abandoned the project and went back to California to stay with my mom/lay low, since at the time I was somewhat concerned for my safety. Once I got back to California, my mom saw how upset I was about the whole ordeal, and offered to finance some new recording sessions, since I had no money left by that point. She asked around to see if anyone knew of a studio that had any availability, and incredibly this world class studio ended up falling into my time frame.

The experience was incredible, just 100% different than what I had experienced in New York. The recording technicians were very supportive and complimentary, and they just kind of left me alone to do my own thing. The room had an incredible grand piano with a very rich tone, and I got to sing into vintage Neumann microphone that really brought out the best in my voice. The atmosphere just felt right, which is why I think most of the songs on my demo were one take recordings.

FS: Let's talk cover songs for a bit. One of the Westlake recordings was your great doo-wop/jazz cover of Katy Perry's I Kissed a Girl, which of course is how I was first introduced to your music. I have to admit that I had somehow never even heard of Katy Perry, so I basically listened to your version as if it was an original composition. Like the best cover songs, I was naturally inclined to seek out your other music based on what I heard (and liked) in the cover. Now just recently you posted another phenomenal cover of Ace of Base's All That She Wants. First off, who's that singing back-up vocals and is she the same voice we hear in When Your Body Breaks?

Max Vernon - All That She Wants [originally by Ace of Base]

MV: Thanks for the nice words, I'm glad you like the new cover. The girl singing back up is my friend Caitlin Pasko, who also writes songs under the moniker, Lacrymosa. She's really talented and you should go check out her music too- you can find her in my top whatever on myspace. And yes, she is also the girl singing on when your body breaks.

FS: Both of the covers you've done may be considered "guilty pleasures", perhaps a phrase overused to describe legitimately good songs. I've had to reconsider my stance on Britney Spears' Toxic purely on the basis of some great cover songs. Why did you choose to cover those particular songs? In general, do you have a set idea in mind when approaching a cover song? Lastly, can we expect more covers Max Vernon-style in the future?

MV: Yeah, I agree with what you're saying about the guilty pleasures- You can't get something from nothing. My covers wouldn't have much to go on if the originals didn't have as much going for them. There's this continual argument of high art vs. low art- questioning the validity of pop music, that I think is very unfair to pop artists. I think a brilliant pop song can be as powerful, and much more far-reaching than an "art for art's sake" kind of song. Now, I don't really think I Kissed a Girl or All That She Wants are brilliant pop songs- I would save that distinction for the work of the Beach Boys or the Beatles. However, I'm not interested in covering brilliant pop songs- if the songs were "brilliant" the first time, then any new interpretation is probably going to pale in comparison. I instead look for solid hooks, and kitsch factor when choosing which songs to cover. I like to be able to add a level of musical legitimacy to songs that people might otherwise dismiss, and I like singing vacuous lyrics as if they contain some deep emotional revelation- it's a good acting exercise.

I try not to have any preconceived notions in mind when creating a cover song. Actually with my last two covers, they started out as songs I was trying to write for myself, and then as a joke because I had no lyrics yet, I substituted the lyrics of the more well known songs and then had a eureka kind of moment. I think that's probably why the covers seem a bit unexpected.

In terms of the future, I certainly like reinterpreting songs that I enjoy ("guilty pleasure" or not) and I'm sure I will cover something else down the road, but I think I'm going to cut back for now. I'm not trying to be the next Nouvelle Vague, and I don't want to be pigeonholed as a cover artist. I'm really grateful that through these covers a lot of people have discovered my music that otherwise wouldn't have, but my primary focus is on my original songs.

FS: So what's in store for Max Vernon: a debut CD? Tour? World domination?

MV: I licensed my Katy Perry cover to Engine Room Recordings for their compilation, "Guilt By Association" It's the second volume of the compilation, in which indie artists cover well known pop acts. The last comp had some pretty big names like Devendra [Banhart], Bonnie Prince Billy, Mooney Suzuki, The Concretes, etc. This volume will have My Brightest Diamond (who I love) and some other awesome people. The last comp. got written up in 70+ music publications (rolling stone, spin, pitchfork, etc) so I'm really hoping I'll get some good press which might lead to some kind of record deal or investor. I kind of don't even want a record deal, but I recognize that for me to actually make the kind of debut cd I would want to make, I would need lots of $. So we'll see....

right now i've just been sending out my music to 60+ college radio stations, hoping someone will play it so I can organize some kind of tour. I've never toured and I feel like I need that experience. World domination will have to wait for the moment being hah.

FS: Alright, one last question and I'll let you go. You say you're looking forward to touring someday, but tell me about the Max Vernon Live experience to this point. Also, any final thoughts you'd like to share with our readers?

MV: The live Max Vernon experience at this point is very unscripted. I love performing and the adrenaline and energy it gives me. I think that comes across. I become a very different person when I'm on stage- more outgoing and animated. I'm not going to say that's my true personality, but it's a personality I wish came out more in my day to day life. I hate it when I go to shows and the person performing just looks down the entire time and doesn't try to engage the audience; that being the case, I'd rather just stay home and listen to their record. Although I don't have big production values or even a backing band just yet, anyone who comes to see me perform live should at least expect that I will try to engage them in some way or another. I think some people might assume that I would be more aloof, but after shows I love meeting new people and talking casually.

As for final thoughts, I don't have an elegant conclusion or profound insight to offer, but I would say that I make music so I can feel like I'm a part of a community. I think the point of making any kind of music is to create a dialogue, or some kind of call and now I'm waiting for the response.


A massive thanks to Max Vernon for taking the time to thoughtfully respond to all of my questions. As mentioned, they'll be showing up soon on the latest Guilt by Association cover compilation from Engine Room Recordings, which I'm told has a digital release date of November 18th with a physical release probably in January. I'll continue to be keep a close eye on Max and their future endeavours and hopefully now you will too.

Max Vernon - Open Casting Calls

Max Vernon - When Your Body Breaks
My most played Max Vernon song, this was actually completed as a student project at NYU and features a 10-piece student orchestra. Love it.

Oh, Max also had this to say:

MV: just as a quick amendment, I just got an email from Brian Ibbott of Coverville asking me to cover a Squeeze song, so there is a good possibility I might attempt to do that. But after that no more covers! hahahaha

Max Vernon is all over the internet... check out their music here:

Since MySpace seems to have discontinued downloads, most downloadable songs are here, though you may have to log in: