Thursday, December 31, 2009

Top Covers and Worst Film of the Decade

Decembers in pop culture land are always filled with a glut of year-end lists, but this year is even crazier with everyone tossing out decade-end lists left and right. I didn't want this to get out of hand, so I've really narrowed the scope to just a flat-out list of my personal favourite cover songs of the decade and THE absolute worst film of the decade.

Attempting to rank these would be an exercise in futility, so this is purely based on iTunes playcounts. I have 6000+ covers tagged as being in the 00's, but of course it wouldn't surprise me if some poor covers were left out of the running based on incomplete tags. While posting all 50 songs would be overkill, not to mention an open invitation for a blogger crackdown, I've randomly linked to a few covers, some of which I've probably never even blogged about despite their high ranking. Here we go...

Top 50 Covers 2000 - 2009:
50. Dick Brave & The Backbeats - Freedom [originally by George Michael]
49. The Breeders - Wicked Little Town (Hedwig Version) [originally from Hedwig & the Angry Inch]
48. Bowling For Soup - The Bare Necessities [originally from Disney's The Jungle Book]
47. Ben Folds - Songs of Love [originally by The Divine Comedy]
46. The Bad Plus - Tom Sawyer [originally by Rush]
45. The Living End - I Get a Kick Out of You [originally by Cole Porter]
44. Tok Tok Tok - The Weight [originally by The Band]
43. The Phantom Of The Opera - Nightwish [originally by Andrew Lloyd Webber]
42. Rasputina - Rock and Roll [originally by Led Zeppelin]
41. Brad Roberts - Bette Davis Eyes [originally by Jackie DeShannon]
40. Pascale Picard - Shine On You Crazy Diamond [originally by Pink Floyd]
39. Devo 2.0 - Monkey's Uncle [originally by Annette Funicello with The Beach Boys]
38. The Wrong Trousers - Such Great Heights [originally by The Postal Service]
37. Lulu Hughes - Time [originally by Pink Floyd]
36. Hayseed Dixie - Holiday [originally by Green Day]
35. Fall Out Boy - What's This? [originally by Danny Elfman]
34. Mark Ronson - Oh My God (feat. Lily Allen) [originally by Kaiser Chiefs]
33. The Polyphonic Spree - Lithium [originally by Nirvana]
32. JerryC - Canon Rock [originally by Pachelbel]
31. The Bicycles - Cuddly Toy [originally by Harry Nilsson]
30. Serena Ryder - It Doesn't Matter Anymore [originally recorded by Buddy Holly; written by Paul Anka]
29. Motormark - Left To My Own Devices [originally by Pet Shop Boys]
28. Mark Ronson - Just (feat. Alex Greenwald) [originally by Radiohead]
27. Serena Ryder - Some Of These Days [originally by Shelton Brooks]
26. Chris Thile - Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground [originally by The White Stripes]
25. PoZitive Orchestra - Shine On You Crazy Diamond [originally by Pink Floyd] [DIRECT LINK]
24. Daniel Bedingfield - A Dream Is A Wish Your Heart Makes [originally from Disney's Cinderella]
23. D-Sailors - We Built This City (feat. Wick Slick) [originally by Starship]
22. Danny Michel - Lady Stardust [originally by David Bowie]
21. The F-Ups - All the Young Dudes [originally by David Bowie]
20. Phantom Planet - Our House [originally by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young]
19. Blacklight Posterboys - Jet [originally by Paul McCartney & Wings]
18. Me First & The Gimme Gimmes - Nothing Compares 2 U [originally by Prince]
17. Jon Brion - Play the Game [originally by Queen]
16. Days of the New - L.A. Woman [originally by The Doors]
15. OK Go & Bonerama - Rock 'N' Roll Suicide [originally by David Bowie]
14. Mint Royal - Singin' in the Rain [originally written by Arthur Freed & Nacio Herb Brown]
13. The Polyphonic Spree - Wig in a Box [originally from Hedwig & The Angry Inch]
12. The Shins - Baby Boomerang [originally by T. Rex]
11. William Shatner - Common People [feat. Joe Jackson] [originally by Pulp]
10. Jamie Cullum - I Get a Kick Out Of You [originally by Cole Porter]
09. Harvey Danger - Oh! You Pretty Things [originally by David Bowie]
08. Manic Street Preachers - Can't Take My Eyes Off You [originally recorded by Franki Valli]
07. RLM & Katsuhiko Sakamoto & Ikuko Harada - 19th Nervous Breakdown [originally by The Rolling Stones]
06. Estradasphere - Super Mario Bros. 2 SuperBuckJazz [originally by Koji Kondo]
05. The Shins - We Will Become Silhouettes [originally by The Postal Service]
04. Ben Kweller - BK Baby [originally by Vanilla Ice]
03. The Bens - Wicked Little Town (Tommy Gnosis Version) [originally from Hedwig & The Angry Inch]
02. Ben Jelen - Wicked Little Town [originally from Hedwig & The Angry Inch]
01. Danny Michel - Young Americans [originally by David Bowie]

It shouldn't surprise any regular reader that Danny Michel's Young Americans tops this list since it's more or less my favourite cover of all-time. Perhaps a little more surprising, two covers by four Bens of two different versions of Wicked Little Town take the two and three positions. A third cover by The Breeders also made the cut, so quantitively you could say Wicked Little Town is my favourite song of all-time, cover or otherwise, and I wouldn't really argue. With five entries, David Bowie dwarfs the competition in having his songs covered lending some vague credibility to an argument I heard once that everybody does a better Bowie song than Bowie himself (not at all true, though he does inspire great covers).


Thankfully, I managed to avoid almost all of Rotten Tomatoes' Worst 100 Films of the Decade, but a couple slipped by. While some bad films are merely boring or forgettable, these ones also inspired active hate.

5. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009)
4. The New Guy (2002)
3. August Rush (2007)
2. Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever (2002)
1. Titanic: The Animated Movie (2001)

No, I'm not joking. This exists and I have seen it. I came across the DVD multiple times in the Chinese section of the public library before morbid curiosity got the better of me and I took it out. Oh boy, did I regret it. This incomprehensibly abysmal movie can basically be summed up with this clip of a rapping dog:

When discussing decade-end lists, my co-worker says this doesn't count because it's not even a movie and he's kinda right. While Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever is so terrible it's almost laughable, this abomination is so mind-blowingly atrocious that it makes you hate yourself for having watched it.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

'Tis the Season to be Jolly

One last gift to you all, my dear readers! The gift of laughter, ho ho ho. I've watched this dozens of times and it never fails to crack me up. Much joy to you and your loved ones wherever you are.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Every Season Has an End

It's the end of the year, the end of the decade. So far, I've resisted the temptation to add to the plethora of decade-end lists, which isn't to say that it won't happen... but for now, four versions of The Greenhornes' There is an End, followed by a grab bag of random links to recent things of note.

"Spring brings the rain,
With winter comes pain,
Every season has an end.

The Greenhornes featuring Holly Golightly - There is an End
The Greenhornes collaborated with British singer Holly Golightly who performed lead vocals on There is an End, written by Craig Fox, the band's guitarist/lead vocalist. It originally appeared on their 2002 album Dual Mono, but later served as the de facto theme song to the 2005 Jim Jarmusch film Broken Flowers with Bill Murray. By a weird coincidence, the very same weekend that Broken Flowers came out, I happened to go to back-to-back shows of The White Stripes here in Vancouver for which The Greenhornes were the openers. After the second show, I hung around with some other fans in the vain hope of meeting Jack or Meg (neither showed) but The Greenhornes did and I shook hands with Patrick Keeler and got the band to autograph my ticket (which I promptly lost). Of course, Keeler and Little Jack Lawrence went on to join Jack White as part of The Raconteurs and Lawrence would also be part of The Dead Weather when they debuted earlier this year.

Holly Golightly - There's an End
This version sans The Greenhornes (and slightly altered title) appeared on Holly Golightly's 2003 album Truly She is None Other, which featured liner notes by none other than Jack White. Golightly also joined Jack and Meg for the duet (um, word for three-person duet??) It's True That We Love One Another from The White Stripes album Elephant.

Gnarls Barkley - There's an End (Live in Boston)
This was an early Christmas gift courtesy of fellow blogger Leopold Stotch of Versions Galore. I had been searching for this for the past couple years ever since finding out Gnarls Barkley had been covering There is an End during their summer '06 tour. I knew some sort of recording existed somewhere but I failed miserably in my attempts to track it down until it magically appeared in my inbox last month. Many thanks!! Funnily enough, that same summer The Raconteurs were frequently covering Gnarls Barkley's Crazy at their own shows!

Ronnie Spector - There is an End (featuring Patti Smith)
Last month saw the US release of The Last of the Rock Stars from the legendary Ronnie Spector, though the album actually came out in the UK in 2006. Backed by Keeler and Lawrence (no Fox?), this version also features fellow 2007 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee Patti Smith on backing vocals. Running with this whole theme of White Stripes connections, this summer Meg White married Patti Smith's son Jackson in a double ceremony with Jack Lawrence and his fiancée in the backyard of Jack White's Nashville home.


Okay, so this is probably my last post until after the holidays, but I've got a bunch of news/links to share, as always, filtered through the tunnel vision that is Fong Songs.

  • The nominations are in and the Coverville Countdown is on! Brian's annual countdown of the top 40 covers of all-time is in the voting stage until December 22nd. This year's a little different with the newly instituted Coverville Hall of Fame, 10 perennial cover contenders taken out of the running to let some new blood in. Jeff Buckley's Hallelujah, Johnny Cash's Hurt, and Bill Shatner's Common People are among the elite covers that are no longer eligible. Last week, I submitted my five nominations for your consideration: Ellen McIlwaine's Higher Ground, Moxy Früvous's Psycho Killer, OK Go & Bonerama's Rock 'n' Roll Suicide, Danny Michel's Young Americans, and PoZitive Orchestra's Shine on You Crazy Diamond. Vote here!

  • Speaking of voting, Cover Me's latest cover commission is We Are the Willows. Vote what song he should cover! Right now, The Shins' Caring is Creepy leads the pack, but I went with The Zombies' The Way I Feel Inside.

  • In case you missed it, 2009 Polaris Prize winners F*cked Up recently released their cover of Do They Know It's Christmas on iTunes with 100% of the proceeds going to Canadian non-profit organizations. The eclectic cast of performers lending their support include Tegan & Sara, David Cross, Yo La Tengo, GZA, Vampire Weekend's Ezra Koenig, Bob Mould, Andrew W.K., Kyp Malone, and Kevin Drew. You can buy it on iTunes and read more about it here.

  • Fong Songs fave Alex Robinson's A Kidnapped Santa Claus is in bookstores everywhere and online if you're looking for a last minute stocking stuffer or just a plain great gift. Full disclosure: I know Alex reads my blog(!), but that won't stop me from an shamelessly plugging it without being asked to! A Kidnapped Santa Claus is a graphic adaptation of a 1904 short story by L. Frank Baum (he of Oz fame), which can be read for free in its entirety on Project Gutenberg. I'd honestly never heard of the story before this, but it's fun to notice the obvious influence it had on the plot of Tim Burton's Nightmare Before Christmas. As always, Alex's drawings are great and it bears his distinct style even though it's his first adaptation, not to mention his first all ages book. There are hilarious hidden visual jokes throughout and I should definitely mention there are pugs in suits, ha ha. Highly recommended! Alex's epic Box Office Poison was also recently named one of The AV Club best comics of the past decade--congrats, Alex!

  • I've mentioned this before, but it's worth a revisit: Covered, the blog of comic book covers redrawn by other comic artists. Just like music covers, the best ones completely make it in their own style while still retaining the essence of the original. I'm consistently impressed by the output and occasionally I'll actually recognize a cover from my miniscule collection of single issue comics (somewhere in a box back home).

  • Pomplamoose made waves in the cover world with their relatively recent hit youtube video cover of Beyoncé's Single Ladies. And that's not all, they have great covers of Beat It, Mrs. Robinson, September, and more. The accompanying videos are must-see since the San Francisco duo are pioneers in the self-created movement of "VideoSongs". That is, every instrument, voice, and sound you hear can be seen in the video (this will completely make sense when you watch the videos). Even without the visuals, the music is fantastic and all the covers can be downloaded for free from their myspace page. Proving they're not just a one-trick pony (or one-trick moose), their latest triumph is the Christmas original Always in the Season. Watch the magic here. This time, the duo is joined by a mini orchestral section that includes Zoë Keating on cello! A new classic.

  • If you have some sort of crazy White Stripes fanatic on your Christmas list and you're extremely generous, well, Jack White just made your gift-giving decision very easy. Last week, it was announced that a limited edition box set for The White Stripes concert film Under Great White Northern Lights would be immediately available for pre-order and released in March. The film, which recently premiered at the Toronto Film Fest, celebrates The White Stripes unprecedented tour of every Canadian province and territory in 2007. The über boxset includes the DVD of the film, an exclusive DVD of the entire 10th Anniversary show in Glace Bay, the band's first ever live album on CD and double LP with songs recorded during the Canadian tour, a 208-page hardcover photo book with a foreword by Jim Jarmusch, 1 of 6 different silk screens designed by Rob Jones, a and a 7" vinyl with two live cuts included The Wheels on the Bus (uh, recorded on a city bus in Winnipeg). Naturally, I was all over it and pre-ordered it as soon as humanly possible, in spite of the hefty $200 price tag (watch it, it jumps $50 in the new year). If you're a long-time reader, you may remember me going on and on and on about the tour that whole summer on the blog. In addition to our hometown Edmonton gig, my friends and I managed to pull off a crazy pilgrimage to the Maritimes to see four shows included the ultimate gig in Glace Bay. I'll let you know if I make it on the DVD. :)

  • From the realm of unlikely cover collaborators, Montréal rocker Sam Roberts performed a cover of Kenny Rogers' The Gambler with the The Holiday Jam Players at a benefit show in Toronto a few days ago. Sharing the stage: Kathleen Edwards, Jim Bryson, City & Colour's Dallas Green, TSN's Dave Hodge, and CBC's Ron MacLean! Watch here.

  • In related hockey news, strictly for Oilers fans... country singer Corb Lund penned a celebratory Oilers anthem called The Oil's Back in Town. The song is peppered with classic calls from 630 CHED play-by-play man Rod Phillips during our dynasty years. Fun stuff and proceeds from the single's sale benefit The Edmonton Oilers Community Foundation. Buy it from iTunes today!

  • A silent short film directed by Neil Gaiman called Statuesque will make its debut on SKY1 in the UK on Christmas Day at 10pm. It stars the always reliable Bill Nighy and the lovely Miss Amanda Palmer. If I remember correctly, the score is by Sxip Shirey.

  • My ever-dwindling concert bucket list will get another check when Jamie Cullum drops by the Commodore Ballroom in March! Cullum will be touring select cities in the US (also Vancouver and Toronto!) in support of his first album in 4 years, The Pursuit. You may have seen his, ahem, explosive video for his cover of Rihanna's Don't Stop the Music, a song I admittedly only knew from the 30-second snippet that plays TWICE before every single movie I've seen in the past year.

  •, the "little digital music store" from Canada, recently released a full cover album of A Charlie Brown Christmas. Featuring recent Fong Songs fave Jill Barber crooning The Christmas Song, the whole 12 track album can be bought for only $8.88 with 100% of the proceeds going to the Daily Bread Food Bank.
Have a great holiday everyone!

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Eh! to Zee Avi

I am really excited to see Malaysian artist Zee Avi play at the Media Club here in Vancouver tomorrow night. Even though she's basically my favourite new artist of the year, I've somehow avoided blogging about her since first finding out about her music in April. My first exposure to Zee Avi was through a post on Ukulele Hunt with the chords to her song Just You and Me and a brief description of her heartwarming journey from YouTube uke picker to a US record deal. Admittedly the part that immediately grabbed my attention and had me dig deeper was the mention of her video being "discovered" by Raconteurs drummer Patrick Keeler.

Dating back over two years ago, she had been posting several original songs and covers (including The White Stripes' We're Going to Be Friends) under the username KokoKaina, but it was her original Christmas song No Christmas for Me that exploded in popularity, being featured on the YouTube front page and leading to a deluge of e-mails from well-wishers and label reps. One of those was from Ian Montone, manager of The White Stripes and The Shins among others, who had been shown the video by Patrick Keeler. This eventually led to her being flown to L.A. to record her self-titled debut album, which was jointly released this past May by Monotone Records and Jack Johnson's Brushfire Records. Her No Christmas for Me was also released on last year's Brushfire X-Mas compilation, This Warm December: A Brushfire Holiday.

If I'm not mistaken, this will be her first ever gig in Canada. Don't worry, we will refrain from referring to her as Zed Avi... Based on some of her tweets today, the gig was a little up in the air:

    @ZeeAvi: Wow. What an ordeal of a morning. Up since 6. Headed to Canadian Consulate, told 2 come back at 1:30, found out we didn't just in time b4 10

    @ZeeAvi: Waiting for my number to be called out. Keeping my fingers crossed for same day approval. Big ups to my agent Robin Taylor for running...

    @ZeeAvi: with me. Literally. Running.

    @ZeeAvi: Cross your fingers with me. Let's make Vancouver happen!

    @ZeeAvi: So after ONE whole day of walking, Vancouver is good to go! Ohsem!
Huzzah! This is the third time this year she's been scheduled to perform a Vancouver gig and I would've been very disappointed to find out another show was scrapped. I was originally going to see her show here in July when I found out it had been canceled with no explanation. Then she was re-scheduled a month later as the opener for Pete Yorn, unfortunately on the same night as The Dead Weather's Vancouver debut. It turns out that Yorn gig never happened anyway for reasons unknown. So third time's the charm, right?

Even when you check out her early videos her on YouTube, it's easy to hear that star-making quality in her voice, which has a jazzy Norah Jones vibe. Though most of the songs are performed on guitar, she starts writing them all on ukulele. In an interview I read or heard somewhere, she describes The Velvet Underground as an influence, in the sense that she would write these happy, upbeat songs that belie the lyrical content. For example, one of the standout songs Poppy describes losing a boyfriend to heroin addiction with the head bobbing chorus "The poppy took my baby away from me". Another great song Kantoi jauntily flops back and forth between Malay and English while telling the story of two cheating lovers ("Kantoi" = "Busted!"). Some other ones I dig are Bitter Heart, Monte, Honey Bee, and a cover of Morrissey's First of the Gang to Die. Zee has also been doing the radio circuit this summer, which has produced some other sweet covers:

Zee Avi - First of the Gang to Die [originally by Morrissey]
From Zee Avi's self-titled album, available on Amazon, iTunes, and the usual spots.

Zee Avi - Slow Hands [originally by Interpol]
Zee Avi - Dream a Little Dream of Me [originally written by Wilbur Schwandt, Fabian Andre and Gus Kahn]
Live on KCRW's Morning Becomes Eclectic, May 20, 2009.

Zee Avi - Summertime [originally by George Gershwin]
Live on the Acoustic Cafe, September 21, 2009.

Two dates left on the tour:
December 10th The Crocodile - Seattle, WA
December 11th Roseland Theater - Portland, OR

Check out Zee on the internet:

Friday, December 04, 2009

Beatles For Sale Covered!

2009 has been a big year for the Beatles brand, from the stereo and mono remastered box sets to the release of The Beatles: Rock Band. It was also the 40th anniversary of the release of Abbey Road, so we saw some cover action from Mojo Magazine who put together a full album cover compilation and The Art of Time Ensemble who put covered the album live (listen here).

We also saw the beginning of the epic Beatles Complete on Ukulele project spearheaded by Roger Greenawalt and Dave Barratt, which started in January and will continue until July 2012, a new Beatles ukulele cover every week for free. Since I last mentioned the project, Megg Farrell's Dig a Pony has become my latest favourite. This very Sunday December 6th, The 2nd Annual Beatles Complete On Ukulele Festival will be performed in Brooklyn. Running from 11am to midnight, a ragtag band of singers and musicians will be performing all 185 original Beatles songs. You can get in, presumably at any point, for $10 admission, though free if you bring your own ukulele at 11am to join a ukulele playing mob. Notable among the multitude of performers are Guster's Ryan Miller (slated for Something and I'm Looking Through You) and The Zambonis, who any hockey fan would recognize from their ubiquitous I Wanna Drive the Zamboni played at NHL games everywhere [EDIT: it has been pointed out to me that the song is originally by The Gear Daddies, though The Zambonis have also recorded it]. Another exciting surprise is that Zee Avi, probably my favourite new artist of the 2009, is set to perform And I Love Her and Good Night at the show. I'm excited to see her live in Vancouver next week, so expect a Zee Avi cover post coming right up. More information including the hourly schedule for the Complete Beatles on Ukulele show is here.

Anyway, today marks another milestone that's particularly dear to my heart, the 45th anniversary of Beatles for Sale. Released December 4, 1964 in the UK, it's my all-time favourite Beatles album with arguably my all-time favourite Beatles song in No Reply-- arguably, since who can really pinpoint one favourite Beatles song to the exclusion of any other? In the US, songs from Beatles for Sale were split between the releases Beatles '65 and Beatles IV. After the all-original A Hard Day's Night, which was recorded and released in the same year (ridiculous!), The Beatles returned to the mix of originals and covers that marked their first two albums. Critics (and fans) have been pretty harsh on the album, noting the band's apparent weariness (ha, look at that album cover!), the originals to cover song ratio, and the cynicism of the title itself (the album was rushed for Christmas release). Even Lennon and McCartney consider several of the tracks as filler. But I say pshaw to all of that! Favourite Beatles album of all-time! That's my story and I'm sticking to it. Now on to the cover songs!

Yellow Matter Custard - No Reply [originally by The Beatles]
Yellow Matter Custard was a Beatles tribute supergroup made up of Mike Portnoy, Neal Morse, Paul Gilbert, and Matt Bissonette who only ever performed twice, though one show was recorded for a live CD and DVD. This cover isn't particularly great, but it supports something I've always believed, that No Reply basically has the greatest bridge of all time. When I was young, I used to repeatedly listen to that section of the song and immediately rewind it to hear it again, years before I even knew what the bridge part of a song was. When I first heard this version, I just had to laugh when the band finished the song but went back to replay the bridge part because it was so great. AMEN! The song is filled with bubbling rage, jealousy, and paranoia as the protagonist is repeatedly gets "no reply" from his lover. Or maybe it's all in his head and he's a stalker. Rubber Soul's Run for Your Life makes a particularly vicious sequel to this song.

Marianne Faithfull - I'm a Loser [originally by The Beatles]
The second in the so-called Lennon trilogy that kicks off the album, I'm a Loser carries on with the somewhat dark and dreary themes brought up in No Reply (just you wait 'til Baby's in Black!). Not along ago they were singing Love Me Do and All My Loving, but now John's repeatedly singing "I'm a loooooooooser". He's lost his girl and is now filled with self-loathing. Lovely! This peppy version by Marianne Faithfull has an air of tragedy if you listen to it while perusing her wikipedia article.

Punch Brothers - Baby's in Black [originally by The Beatles]
One of the darker themed Beatles numbers, here the protagonist is in love with a girl who is grieving the death of her man. "Though he'll never come back, she's dressed in black". Yikes! The song is also notable for John and Paul's great harmonies, which are admirably covered here by the Punch Brothers, a bluegrass band fronted by ex-Nickel Creek mandolinist Chris Thile. This is from their live performance on the Kent, OH online radio station Folk Alley.

The Beach Boys - Rock and Roll Music [originally by Chuck Berry]
The first of six covers on the album, The Beatles were reaching back into their catalogue of live covers from their days playing clubs in Hamburg and Liverpool. This was reportedly one of their favourites to play live and is one of several Chuck Berry covers they recorded. More than 10 years after The Beatles' version, The Beach Boys released this on their 1976 album 15 Big Ones, a bomb of an album (though a hit) that mixed covers and originals. Hmmm... sound familiar? Listen to the difference between the Beatles "cranking one out" and The Beach Boys trying to cash in on renewed public interest following the success of their Endless Summer compilation.

Glen Phillips - I'll Follow the Sun [originally by The Beatles]
This Glen Phillips cover comes from the 2009 Eddie Murphy film Imagine That. Has anybody even heard of this movie? Well, the film's soundtrack takes an I Am Sam all-Beatles cover approach, though the only other artists I recognize are Matthew Sweet & Susanna Hoffs who perform Got to Get You Into My Life. From what I've heard of the rest of the album, the covers are very by-the-numbers though I dig this one's extended coda.

The Hollies - Mr. Moonlight [originally recorded by Dr. Feelgood and the Interns]
This has been called one of the worst songs the Beatles ever recorded. What can I say, I like it. A commenter on The Beatles Bible website said of this song: "Each time John sings 'And the night you don't come my way...', possibly totaling 10-15 seconds worth of Beatles history, is emblazoned in my mind as perhaps the best 15 seconds in musical history!" I've always thought so too and I'm glad to read someone else pinpoint the exact moments of greatness in this cover. John's raw delivery particularly on those eight words completely makes it work and this distinct vocal quality is missing on other covers and even the original. The Hollies cover actually predates the Beatles' by 11 months on their Stay with the Hollies album.

Count Basie - Kansas City [originally by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller]
The seventh track on Beatles for Sale was a medley of Kansas City and Hey, Hey, Hey, Hey, the latter by Little Richard who usually performed this same combo live. This instrumental big band cover is from American bandleader Count Basie and his orchestra who released an album of Beatles covers in 1966, Basie's Beatles Bag.

The Undertakers - Hey, Hey, Hey, Hey [originally by Little Richard]
The Undertakers were contemporaries of the Beatles in Liverpool, led by Jackie Lomax who later became an Apple recording artist. His 1969 album Is This What You Want? was produced by George Harrison and also featured Paul, Ringo, and Eric Clapton.

Billy Preston - Eight Days a Week [originally by The Beatles]
The most outright pop song on the album, it's probably not a surprise that it was also the only song on the album to hit #1 on the charts. This upbeat organ cover is by Billy Preston, sometimes called the Fifth Beatle. Now just how many "Fifth Beatles" were there?? Answer: many. But Billy Preston made key contributions to several Beatles classics: electric piano on Get Back and Don't Let Me Down and Hammond organ on Something and I Want You (She's So Heavy). In fact, the Get Back single was credited to "The Beatles with Billy Preston", the only time an official Beatles single shared a credit with another artist. Another fun fact: Billy Preston's version of My Sweet Lord was actually released 10 months before George Harrison's!

Jessica Lea Mayfield - Words of Love [originally by Buddy Holly]
This austere, dreamy cover by Jessica Lea Mayfield is from this year's Sweetheart cover compilation from Starbucks and it's actually one of the stand-outs, although I suppose I am a sucker for Beatles for Sale covers.

Ben Folds Five - Honey Don't [originally by Carl Perkins]
As sung by Ringo for his one vocal spot, it was recorded during the final session for Beatles for Sale. Coincidentally, this would be the last song Ben Folds Five ever recorded together. It was featured in the PBS special Good Rockin' Tonight: The Legacy of Sun Records, although it was left off the accompanying CD release (Paul McCartney's That's All Right Mama made the cut). It was eventually released on DVD.

Yes - Every Little Thing [originally by The Beatles]
This might be one of the most drastic reinventions of any Beatles song, let alone one of their least covered ones. From the prog rock band Yes and their self-titled 1969 debut album, this cover starts off as an unrecognizable psychedelic instrumental that more or less sums up prog rock for me . . . then after a couple minutes of that, the lead guitar boldly blares the song's melody and even sneaks in the Day Tripper riff. Every single line in the chorus is punctuated by a musical exclamation mark and the whole thing is actually kind of awesome after a jarring first listen.

Rhythms of New Guinea - I Don't Want to Spoil the Party [originally by the Beatles]
I found this random CD at the library, which is a collection of songs recorded by artists from Papua New Guinea. There aren't really any liner notes to speak of nor any explanation of any sort, but it does randomly feature this Beatles cover! Apparently Papua New Guineans are equally capable of by-the-numbers cover songs as any other nation.

James Husband - What You're Doing [originally by The Beatles]
After No Reply, this is probably my next favourite original from the album. From James Husband of the band Of Montreal, this is actually the only cover of the song I found (excluding Beatles tribute bands).

Johnny Cash - Everybody's Trying to Be My Baby [originally by Carl Perkins]
This cover comes from the Johnny Cash's Unearthed box set, outtakes and alternate takes of songs recorded for his series of American Recordings. I didn't include it, but his daughter Rosanne Cash actually had a country hit in 1989 with her cover of I Don't Want to Spoil the Party.

Happy Anniversary, Beatles for Sale!

P.S. If you really want to see Beatles for sale, check out their official US webstore. For all your Beatles shot glass, fountain pens, and jigsaw puzzle needs. Sheesh.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

New PoZitive Orchestra! And the Many Adventures of Vinni-Pukh.

Firstly, Happy Thanksgiving to our American readers. Eat turkey, be merry, hang with your families, have fun, and let's not have any shopping-related deaths this year. Having celebrated our Canadian Thanksgiving last month, today is . . . Thursday. Yep, business as usual, though I might try to go for my H1N1 shot tomorrow. Now, to Russia for the rest of this post!

Huzzah! The PoZitive Orchestra's official site was updated sometime fairly recently with a new band photo, some upcoming gigs, and the jackpot: three new songs! With their same unique bossa string quartet sound, they tackle three homegrown Russian covers. I had to do some digging to find out exactly what songs were being covered, but don't let your unfamiliarity with the source songs dissuade you from eating these up since they're, naturally, brilliant. As might be expected, there are a few musical quotations of American classics sprinkled within, but I'll leave those for you to discover.

PoZitive Orchestra - Носки [originally by Sektor Gaza]
This was originally by the Russian punk band Sektor Gaza (in English: Gaza Strip) from their 1990 album, Ядрена Вошь. The track's title translates as "Socks". Check out this music video of the original song:

PoZitive Orchestra - Прощайте, скалистые горы [original music: Evgeny Zharkovsky; lyrics: Nikolay Bukin]
This one translates as Farewell, Rocky Mountains and was originally a WWII poem by Nikolay Bukin telling of the impenetrable Soviet defense of the Rybachy Peninsula against the Germans. Songwriter Evgeny Zharkovsky set the lyrics to music and it became popular among Russian army seamen. For a little more historical context, read this. There are numerous recordings of this song, but I found this youtube video particularly compelling:

PoZitive Orchestra - Смуглянка [original music: Anatoly Novikov; lyrics: Yakov Shvedov]
Here's another WWII-era song. The title translates as "Darkie" and it seems to be a love song. Youtube embedding is disallowed, but check out a performance of the song by the Alexandrov Red Army Choir here.


I was reminded of a discovery I made at the library a while back in the Russian children's section. Do you recognize these characters?

Why, it's Winnie-the-Pooh and Piglet, of course! Confused? It's not the Disney incarnation and a long ways off from the E. H. Shepherd "classic Pooh" design. In 1960, Russian poet and children's author Boris Zakhoder introduced generations of Russian children to Winnie-the-Pooh with his liberal translations of A. A. Milne's classic Pooh tales (originally published in 1926). His design of Pooh and the other residents of the 100 Acre Wood may be jarring to us Westerners, but from what I gather, this is the lasting legacy of Pooh in Russia to this day. See if you can recognize some of these iconic moments and characters from the Winnie-the-Pooh stories:

Even more fascinating, Russian animator Fyodor Khitruk started a trilogy of Pooh short films in 1969, three years after the first Disney Pooh short, based on the translated books (Zakhoder co-wrote the screenplays). Now I'm an unabashed devotee of the Disney Pooh films, but these are quite brilliant in their own unique way. The voices, the hand-drawn quality of the animation, the music, and basically everything about it is a little mind-blowing. The first two shorts are each about 10 minutes and part 3 is about 20 minutes . If you've got some spare time (or even you you don't), definitely check these out!

Vinni-Pukh (1969)

Vinni-Pukh Goes on a Visit (1971)

Vinni-Pukh and the Day of Concern (1972) PART I

Vinni-Pukh and the Day of Concern (1972) PART II

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

It's Over Now, the Music of the Night... or not.

Just over a week ago was the final performance of Ramin Karimloo in the title role of The Phantom of the Opera in London. In 2007, he became the youngest ever actor to play the Phantom in the West End and now he'll continue the part in Andrew Lloyd Webber's sequel Phantom: Love Never Dies, which begins previews in February at the Adelphi Theatre.

As preposterous as a Phantom sequel may seem (set 10 years later at Coney Island!), I can't help but feel some good ol' Canadian pride as the Iranian-born, Ontario-raised Karimloo tops the bill of the eagerly anticipated new musical. He even started off in a Tragically Hip tribute band(!) before lying about his age and singing on cruise ships for two years. And now he's bringing the Phantom back. I may just have to make some sort of pilgrimage to New York when it eventually opens there, not to mention the crazy spectacle that will be the U2/Julie Taymor Spider-Man musical-- I want to see it, no joke. Ah, the power of the Music of the Night!

Ramin Karimloo - New York State of Mind (with Hadley Fraser) [originally by Billy Joel]
From Karimloo's 8-song EP of musical numbers and a couple Billy Joel covers that can be purchased from his official site.

Nightwish - The Phantom of the Opera [originally performed by Sarah Brightman and Michael Crawford]
You just can't top this snarling, but soulful metal rendition by Finnish power metal band Nightwish.

Sammy Davis, Jr. - The Music of the Night [originally performed by Michael Crawford]
It's almost unthinkable now that The Phantom of the Opera has been seen by tens of millions worldwide, but it's wonderful to listen to Sammy Davis, Jr. describe the plot of the musical and set the stage for the Phantom's signature song before delivering an expressive performance as only he could do it. This is from a 1989 "Ultimate Event" with Frank Sinatra and Liza Minnelli in Detroit, but you can find youtube footage of him performing the same song during a Jerry Lewis telethon the previous year.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Belated Bridge School '09 Wrap-up

It's been almost three weeks since I got back from The Bridge School Benefit shows and if I postpone this post any longer, it may end up like my never posted Calgary Folk Fest '07 Part II (sigh). Quickly, Ben Folds with the Seattle Symphony was awesome as expected (from the 2nd row!), but The Very Best show in San Francisco was unceremoniously cancelled on the day of the show since Esau Mwamwaya had passport issues getting into the US... very disappointing.

After the stage was blessed by native dancers, Bridge School founder Pegi Young introduced the students and alumni sitting at the back of the stage before introducing her husband (and school co-founder) Neil Young who kicked off both shows with Comes a Time before turning over the stage to the other artists. He also ended each show with Comes a Time with all the artists on stage, so in total we heard this song four times in less than 48 hours. Part of their inspiration for starting the Bridge School in 1986, which assists individuals with severe speech and physical impairments, was that their son Ben (in attendance) and Zeke (from Neil's previous marriage) were both diagnosed with cerebral palsy. It was very humbling to witness the students and their families enjoying the concert from the back of the stage and think of the major obstacles they've had to overcome in their lives. One remarkable alumni of the Bridge School recently graduated with a double major at the University of Berkeley!

Kate York - Comes a Time [originally by Neil Young]
From the tribute album Cinnamon Girl: Women Artists Cover Neil Young For Charity available on iTunes or directly from American Laundromat Records.

Gavin Rossdale was up first. He was fine, if a bit of a downer to start off the day. His set included covers of Fleetwood Mac's Landslide and Prince's Sometimes It Snows in April as well as several Bush songs.

Gavin Rossdale - Landslide [originally by Fleetwood Mac]
From a live "Stripped" session on, which has a fair number of covers lurking in the archives.

The newly retooled Wolfmother brought up the energy level, ripping through a rockin' acoustic set consisting of earlier hits like Woman and Joker and the Thief mixed with several cuts from their latest release Cosmic Egg. Only lead singer/guitarist Andrew Stockdale remains of the original trio, which is now a foursome. On Day 2, they pulled out the Neil Young cover Don't Let It Bring You Down, which they recently performed in the SPIN offices.

team9 - Daddy and the Thief [Wolfmother vs. Gnarls Barkley]
Great mash-up of Wolfmother's Joker & The Thief and Gnarls Barkley's cover of the Violent Femmes Gone Daddy Gone from the 2006 team9 mash-up album for, which is still available as a zip file here.

Fleet Foxes were next. To be brutally honest, they did almost nothing for me. The first day was pleasant enough with their CSNY-ish harmonies but the songs all started to bleed into each other, eventually lulling me into a mid-afternoon nap through parts of their set. The next day I couldn't even fight it, nodding off shortly into the first couple songs, occasionally opening my eyes to see if they were done yet. I do have to admit though, that I was captivated by their performance of a song called White Winter Hymnal. Maybe I wasn't in the right mood or they're suited to a more intimate venue or something, but I just had to laugh when I was at work last week and saw an old issue of Mojo with Fleet Foxes triumphantly on the cover as the "Best Live Act in the Entire World". And they put me to sleep, sigh.

Next were Monsters of Folk. Honestly I was expecting this to be a rather mellow set based on what I've heard from the individual artists, but I quite enjoyed their set which had some rock, folk, and even an old timey country vibe to it.

Sheryl Crow was never on my bucket list and now I've inadvertently seen her perform three times in less than two months. I took this opportunity to visit the facilities and roll my eyes at the concession stands prices. With $6.50 fries, I chose to skip dinner. Her sets on both days included a singalong cover of You've Got to Hide Your Love Away.

Sheryl Crow - Here Comes the Sun [originally by The Beatles]

I'm not familiar with any Jimmy Buffett songs, not even Margaritaville, which I heard here for the first time. Overall, his upbeat brand of "trop rock" music was pretty good, though his fans are fairly obnoxious... I'll leave it at that.

Jack Johnson - A Pirate Looks at 40 [originally by Jimmy Buffett]
From the soundtrack to the Jack Johnson directed surf film The September Sessions.

Day 2 featured Adam Sandler taking over Jimmy Buffett's slot. I like what he said when he came out: "I'm with you people, I don't what I'm doing here either!" While I knew more or less what to expect with all the acts on the bill, Adam Sandler was the one wildcard. Was he here to do stand-up in the middle of this concert, would he play a string of cover songs, the Chanukah Song? Backed by a full band, he jumped right in with a cover of The Doors' Break on Through (To the Other Side), followed by a string of original songs including the stellar Listenin' to the Radio, which treaded a fine line between funny, clever, and sincere while referencing seemingly every hit song about a girl in the last 50 years. Next, he said he was going to sing a song he "wrote for Led Zeppelin" and I was absolutely thrilled when I heard the opening chords of Hey Hey What Can I Do, one of my favourites.

He finished with two familiar originals Lunchlady Land and The Chanukah Song ("Mel Gibson: Not a Jew!"). Then the biggest surprise came when he brought Neil Young on stage to perform a duet on Powderfinger. This ended up being the only instance during the whole weekend where Neil joined another artist on stage. A Neil Young duet with Adam Sandler, go figure.

Adam Sandler - Listenin' to the Radio

Neil Diamond - The Chanukah Song [originally by Adam Sandler]
If you thought a Bob Dylan Christmas album was weird, how about Neil Diamond covering Adam Sandler on his latest disc of Christmas tunes, A Cherry Cherry Christmas?

Armed with just a piano, Chris Martin proved that sometimes less can be more with an impressive set of stripped down Coldplay songs and a couple covers. Oblivious to the fact that he even played the piano at all, I was quite impressed with his dangling particularly on his rendition of the Maple Leaf Rag, which led into Viva La Vida.

After a couple solo songs, he was joined by violinist Davide Rossi for the rest of his set. Coverwise, he did a rendition of Bruce Springsteen's My Love Will Not Let You Down and led the audience in a singalong version of his "favourite song from his favourite film", Earth Angel, played at the Enchantment Under the Sea dance in Back to the Future.

Red Hot Chilli Pipers - Clocks [originally by Coldplay]
If you like instrumental bagpipe covers, this one's for you. Also, check out Weezer's recent cover of Viva La Vida.

As the penultimate act of each night, No Doubt delivered a pair of fantastic sets filled with rare acoustic renditions of their hit songs. When they were first introduced, Gwen Stefani spent 90% of the first song Spiderwebs singing directly to the Bridge School kids at the back, a touching moment. The group was joined by a string quartet for the latter half of the set including Don't Speak and their cover of Talk Talk's It's My Life.

Lea Delaria - Just a Girl [originally by No Doubt]
In the Bridge School preview post, I shared a jazz rendition of this song by Shannon Butcher. Well, here's another jazz take by Lea Delaria. I wasn't kidding about it being a modern standard! No Doubt's acoustic rendition at the concert was a particular highlight of their set with just Gwen and guitarist Tom Dumont performing before the rest of the band, who had left stage, joined in one by one.

And, of course, Neil Young. Unlike the previous time I saw him for an austere solo set at Ambleside Park, here he was joined by a full band for most of the set with Sheryl Crow joining Pegi Young on back-up vocals (interestingly, I read Crow's first big break was as a back-up singer for Michael Jackson on tour!). For me, the highlight of his set and possibly the whole weekend was his performance of Harvest Moon complete with an old man "playing" the broom. Swish, swish.

Ben Kweller - From Hank to Hendrix [originally by Neil Young]
This cover is from Ben Kweller's visit to the Dermot O'Leary show last year.

Jean Jacques Milteau - Heart Of Gold [originally by Neil Young]
Neil didn't play this either night, but I couldn't resist posting this bluesy cover of his classic song.

I'll be back someday... maybe in 2011 for the 25th anniversary. Thanks for the music, Bridge School!

Saturday, October 31, 2009

For no mere mortal can resist the evil of the Thriller

Have a great Hallowe'en everyone!

A couple treats from Imogen Heap who recorded a timely cover last week on the Dermot O'Leary show and another for the soundtrack to Just Like Heaven.
Imogen Heap - Thriller (Live on Dermot O'Leary) [originally by Michael Jackson]
Imogen Heap - Spooky [made famous by Classics IV]

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Ben Folds, The Very Best, and Bridge School Benefit

It's going to be a busy week of music and traveling. First, I'm off to Seattle to see Ben Folds perform tonight with the Seattle Symphony Orchestra at Benaroya Hall! Then tomorrow morning I'm catching a flight to San Francisco to meet up with my dad. We're going to the Bridge School Benefit concerts in Mountain View on the weekend, a gift from my sister and I to celebrate his 60th birthday. He's a big Neil Young fan, though I'm pretty sure this will be the first time seeing him live. In between, I'll also be taking him to see The Very Best in San Francisco and see some sights including the new Walt Disney Family Museum in the Presidio. Busy, busy, busy.

With Someone Else's Money - You Don't Know Me [originally by Ben Folds featuring Regina Spektor]
You all know I'm a huge fan of Mr. Folds and this will be the third time I've seen him live, but the first time with a full orchestra backing him up! The music of Ben Folds (and Ben Folds Five) has long been fodder for college a cappella groups, so the only problem he had when assembling the album of covers released earlier this year as Ben Folds Presents: University A Cappella! was whittling down the deluge of submissions. The tracklist spans his solo and BF5 works, but leans heavily on the slower ballads. Ben himself contributes a cappella arrangements of his own Boxing and Effington. I would've loved to hear a cappella arrangements of the more rock-based numbers, though I'm sure it's just a youtube search away. This cover of the single from Way to Normal was arranged and performed by With Someone Else's Money from the University of Georgia. By the way, a demo of Levi Johnston's Blues from the forthcoming Ben Folds/Nick Hornby album debuted just over a week ago on the Huffington Post.

The Very Best - Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa [samples Vampire Weekend]
From last year's free mixtape, Esau Mwamwaya and producer team Radioclit completely reworked Vampire Weekend's Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa into a relentlessly upbeat but not cloying dance number. Delivering on the promise of that mixtape (which urged on the last track to "watch out" for the forthcoming album), The Very Best's Warm Heart of Africa was released earlier this month to universal critical acclaim. When I found out I'd be in San Francisco, I naturally scoped out the concert listings and was thrilled to discover one of The Very Best's few tour dates would coincide with my trip. Should be a blast!

It's an eclectic lineup this year with ska, hard rock, folk, and, uh, Adam Sandler on the bill. I'm curious to see how the different artists approach their setlists since past performers typically, as a tradition though not a rule, do acoustic sets. This will be my first Bridge School Benefit experience... but hopefully not my last!

Shannon Butcher - Just a Girl [originally by No Doubt]
Mississauga-born jazz singer Shannon Butcher's 2008 debut album Words We Both Could Say ranges from covers of Blondie, Tears for Fears, Glen Campbell, and this wonderful fast-paced rendition of No Doubt's Just a Girl that sounds completely natural as a modern jazz standard.

Pivot - Woman [originally by Wolfmother]
Wolfmother is expected to play an acoustic set at the Bridge School Benefit. We already got a taste of how this would sound when they played a 4-song set at the SPIN offices including a cover of Neil Young's Don't Let it Bring You Down (watch it here). Their upcoming sophomore album Cosmic Egg (guitarist/vocalist Andrew Stockdale is the only member of the original trio, now a foursome) is due to be released next week. Apparently a (studio?) recording of Don't Let It Bring You Down will be available on the Japanese edition of the album. This instrumental cover of their hit Woman by fellow Australian band Pivot is nearly unrecognizable, but a lot of fun.

Coldplay & Buena Vista Social Club - Clocks
I actually like this Latin reworking of Clocks better than the original. It's from the Rhythms del Mundo: Cuba album. A follow-up was released fairly recently called Rhythms del Mundo: Classics, which is chockfull of covers featuring the likes of The Killers, Amy Winehouse, Kaiser Chiefs, and Rodrigo y Gabriela. For the most part, they are previously recorded covers with new backing orchestration from a group of all-star Afro-Cubano musicians including members of the Buena Vista Social Club. I haven't given the CD a real thorough listen yet, but I did enjoy the last album.

Jets Overhead - Mr. Soul [originally by Neil Young]
Victoria band Jets Overhead was late addition to the Bridge School Benefit. They contributed this cover to the Neil Young double tribute album Borrowed Tunes II.

M. Ward, Conor Oberst & Jim James - Girl from the North Country [originally by Bob Dylan]
Before they dubbed themselves Monsters of Folk (along with Bright Eyes' Mike Mogis), the trio of M. Ward, Conor Oberst, and Jim James all toured together, playing triple bills that would include solo sets then all three of them together. This live cover is from Mojo's Dylan Covered compilation.

Sheryl Crow - Mother Nature's Son [originally by The Beatles]
Sheryl Crow was not exactly on my concert bucket list, but I will inadvertently be seeing her for the second time in just over a month. Judging from her performance at Ambleside Park last month alongside Sarah McLachlan and Neil Young, I know more of her songs than I'd care to admit, though I do unabashedly love her cover of Mother Nature's Son from the all-Beatles cover soundtrack to I Am Sam.

Neil Young - Imagine [originally by John Lennon]
I'll admit I was slow getting into Neil Young. I mean, his back catalogue is daunting even for people I consider big Neil Young fans. As a covers enthusiast, I just couldn't help being exposed regularly to his songwriting since everyone seems to have recorded a Neil Young cover at some point, a fact that especially holds true for any Canadian artist. But it's probably my best friend's occasional playing of Harvest Moon on his guitar that really opened my ears after years of listening indifferently to the frequently repeated Neil Young tunes on the local classic rock station.

Well, that's it for blogging for the next week, though you can follow me on Twitter and I'm sure I'll be updating that. I may even live tweet the concerts on the weekend since Google provides free wireless internet for all of Mountain View... Anyway, it's 3:37am and I've got a train to catch in a few hours. I can never sleep before these big trips and last-minute blogging sure doesn't help!