Friday, September 10, 2010

The Show Must Not Go On

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

NOV 13
Atlanta, GA
The Buckhead Theatre
with Lille

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

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

NOV 17
Chicago, IL
The Vic Theatre
with Mucca Pazza

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

NOV 20
Houston, TX
with Girl in a Coma

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

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


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

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

My indefinite hiatus starts now!

Friday, September 03, 2010

Fong Songs 101 All-Time Covers: TOP 10

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

Top 10
Here we go!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. Danny Michel - Young Americans [originally by David Bowie]
Surprise, surprise. This has come up multiple times in past posts as my favourite cover song of all-time. In fact, it's my most played song in iTunes, cover or not. I discovered Danny Michel, who became one of my favourite artists, via his album of Bowie covers Loving the Alien. It was this cover in particular that made me sit up and realize I needed to find out more about his original music. That is an unmistakable quality of a great cover: the "I need to hear more from this person" factor. I got to see Danny live for the first time in 2006 and he's somehow even more amazing live. I've seen him at least five times since and will again in just a couple weeks! David Bowie himself had this to say about Danny's cover of Young Americans:
"he's a great little mover. never seen anyone move quite like that. are his arms double jointed? the maracas are a beautiful thing, out of nowhere they come and the backup voices are really moving and intimate. this is a good, good cover.

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

Thursday, September 02, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, August 30, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, August 27, 2010

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

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

A Set of Standards
Standards are tricky since these are the ones that have been done a zillion times, but then again, no one generally cares how zany and original you get with it. The songs have stood the test of time and have been performed so often, most people have probably never even heard the "original", if such a recording even exists. In fact, we may have only ever heard most standards through cover versions! These are few of my favourite versions of my favourite standards.

35. The Arcade Fire - Brazil [originally by Ary Barroso]
I love the wonderfully sinister strings in this brooding rendition from recent chart-toppers The Arcade Fire. Fittingly, Brazil director Terry Gilliam filmed their recent live show at Madison Square for an online broadcast with the potential for future collaborations. Got my floor tix to see them with guests Calexico at the end of September here in Vancity. Should be a good one!

34. Katharine Whalen's Jazz Squad - After You've Gone [originally by Turner Layton & Henry Creamer]
Katharine Whalen's Jazz Squad is my favourite album of jazz standards, which might not be saying much considering I can't think of another that I listen to with any regularity. In any case, I love the soothing, Billie Holiday-esque vocals from Katharine Whalen of the Squirrel Nut Zippers backed by an ace band that included a couple fellow Zippers. The disc was recorded during a dark period for the Squirrel Nut Zippers with band acrimony, legal troubles, and a split on the horizon, but you wouldn't guess it from the jaunty and light-hearted renditions of tunes like Deed I Do, My Baby Just Cares For Me, and Sugar. Though perhaps the gloomy and regretful Yesterdays (also great!) serves as more than a tribute to Billie Holiday.

33. Sammy Davis Jr. - The Lady is a Tramp (Live) [originally by Rodgers & Hart]
I'm guessing Sammy Davis Jr. must have sung this song hundreds of times with numerous recordings, but it's this particular version that has stuck with me, perhaps because it was simply the first I heard. It's from a compilation called Live From Las Vegas that I borrowed once from the library. It included cuts from Tom Jones, Louis Prima, and Nat King Cole, but where in Vegas and which year, I have no clue. I love how this starts... with some sort of gaffe that makes Sammy restart the song with a faux stern warning to the flutist (I think). He vocally races back to where he left off with a laugh and soon the full band kicks in with a bang. The rest of the song is just killer. Every time I hear this version it makes me wish I could've seen his show live.

The Rolling Stones
32. Choro Azul - Paint It Black [originally by The Rolling Stones]
From the Japanese compilation A Tribute to the Rolling Stones comes this reinvention of Paint It Black as a Brazilian samba with Nina Simone-like vocals.

31. Ruth Copeland - Gimme Shelter [originally by The Rolling Stones]
This is an epic tour-de-force of funk with British folk/blues singer Ruth Copeland backed by George Clinton and members of Parliament. I'm going to just reprint what I previously wrote about this cover once upon a time:
"Eschewing the trademark rhythm guitar opening, it starts off with just the drums, before the main chords are dramatically pounded out on a piano. Then, enter the fuzz. Warbling, wah wah, fuzzy guitars featuring a blistering Jimi-like lead by Parliament's Eddie Hazel. And Ruth Copeland's soulful wails of War! Children! Rape! Murder! cement this as the winning cover. Halfway through, the drums crawl to a stop, replaced by a slow organ with whispered vocals of the chorus, which swell to a chaotic climax as the band bursts back in and "love's just a kiss away" is repeatedly chanted like it's the end of the world."
Yes, that was my favourite Gimme Shelter cover for a long time, but it was eventually eclipsed by the next cover...

30. Merry Clayton - Gimme Shelter [originally by The Rolling Stones]
Everyone's heard Merry Clayton's blistering vocals opposite Mick on The Rolling Stones' original Gimme Shelter, but she doesn't get nearly the recognition she deserves. A year after the original, Clayton released her own solo version, which starts off similarly before the awesome awesome horn section comes in (and you know I love the horns). She actually recorded the original version of The Shoop Shoop Song, remarkably when she was just fifteen years old. Covers-wise, Clayton also does an incredible Bridge Over Troubled Water and a stunning version of Neil Young's Southern Man. Oddly enough, she sang back up both Neil's self-titled debut AND Lynyrd Skynyrd's Sweet Home Alabama. She was born with an incredible voice and it's a wonder she never became a superstar, but luckily I'm not the only one rooting for her comeback... Aeroplane, a Belgian/Italian DJ duo that is now simply an Italian solo act after an amicable split, tracked down Merry Clayton to provide her still wicked vocals on a track called I Don't Feel. The debut album We Can't Fly is due in September.

29. RLM & Katsuhiko Sakamoto & Ikuko Harada - 19th Nervous Breakdown [originally by The Rolling Stones]
This jazz trio + flute cover comes from that same Japanese Stones tribute as Choro Azul's Paint It Black. With a near incomprehensible accent, the lead singer here sounds like he learned the song phonetically (perhaps with the wrong lyrics sheet to boot) but bonus points for unabashed enthusiasm!

Taking a break this weekend to visit the Island. The Fong Songs 101 countdown will continue on Monday with (count 'em) 1, 2, 3, 4 numbered-themed covers.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, August 23, 2010

Fong Songs 101 All-Time Covers: #61 to 56

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

The Dap-Kings Set
61. Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings - Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In) [originally by Mickey Newbury]
This of one of several instances where my introduction to what would become one of my favourite artists was through a cover song. Back in 2007, I headed down on a bus from Edmonton to check out the Calgary Folk Festival for the first time, mainly because the newly reunited Squirrel Nut Zippers were on the bill, but I was also intrigued because the festival organizers had also booked Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings. At the time I knew almost nothing about the band, but I recognized their name from their cover of Just Dropped In which, oddly enough, I had tracked down after becoming a fan of Supergrass's cover of the same song. Yes, cover love begetting further cover love. I was a full-fledged fan by the end of the festival, the last day of which they jammed with Bettye Lavette on a side stage before killing it on the Main stage. I've seen them at every opportunity I get (three more times) and they simply put on one of the best live shows you'll ever see.

60. Mark Ronson - Oh My God (featuring Lily Allen) [originally by Kaiser Chiefs]
I soon became acquainted with the Dap-Kings brief history and found out that not only did they provide horn backing on Amy Winehouse's Back to Black album, but they also collaborated with Mark Ronson on his Version cover album, which was quickly becoming my favourite cover album of '07. Even now, it's among my favourite all-time cover albums. I've become hyper-aware that I'm predisposed to liking almost any cover song that adds a horn section, so Mark Ronson's style of covers are right up my alley. Also, his "re-version" of Bob Dylan's Most Likely You Go Your Way (And I'll Go Mine) is brilliant and would be high on this list if it technically wasn't a remix.

59. Mark Ronson - Just (featuring Alex Greenwald & Sam Farrar of Phantom Planet) [originally by Radiohead]
A year before his Version even hit stores, Mark Ronson popped up on everyone's radar in the blogosphere with his masterful horn-infused reworking of Radiohead's Just for the tribute album Exit Music: Songs with Radio Heads. Once I heard he was working on a full cover album, it became one of my most anticipated releases. When Version finally did come out, it delivered on the promise of even more Ronsonized covers.

The Motown Set
58. The Flying Lizards - Money (That's What I Want) [originally by Barrett Strong]
I was surprised to learn this oddball cover was released in 1979 since it sounds like the sort of avant-garde indie cover that could have easily come out sometime in the past 10 years. Barrett Strong's original version was the very first hit for Berry Gordy Jr.'s Tamla Records in 1959, an early incarnation of Motown Records.

57. Gladys Knight & The Pips - I Heard It Through the Grapevine [originally by Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong]
The timeline of the recording and release of this song is rather confusing. It was first recorded by Smokey Robinson & the Miracles but this original version was vetoed by Berry Gordy Jr. and remained unreleased until many years later on a Motown compilation. Marvin Gaye recorded it next, but this was also not released immediately as apparently Gordy was apparently still unimpressed. Gladys Knight & The Pips recorded their version, which had been retooled in the style of Aretha Franklin's Respect (of course, itself a cover) and finally released as a single in September 1967. Then Berry reluctantly agreed to release Gaye's version a year later and it was, of course, a huge success and became Gaye's signature tune. Which brings us to a covers dilemma: which song is the "original"? I don't really have a proper answer to that, but in my gut this is a cover and it's my list, so there.

56. Ellen McIlwaine - Higher Ground [originally by Stevie Wonder]
I first discovered this on the compilation A Break From the Norm, which collected the original song sources that were sampled by Fatboy Slim (he used this in Song for Lindy). It's a unique tour-de-force of a cover by Ellen McIlwaine who plays a mean slide guitar and has a soulful expressive voice, which I've been privileged to witness live in concert twice. She has a playing and singing style that's all her own. This is one of the rare covers in my book that comes close to topping the original.

Tomorrow the Fong Songs 101 countdown continues with some Alt Rock and some TV Themes.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Fong Songs 101 All-Time Covers: #65 to 62

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

U2 + Frankie Valli
65. rx - Sunday Bloody Sunday [originally by U2]
Whether it's George Bush's My Way, Tony Blair's Should I Stay or Should I Go, or more recently Obama's Taxman, New York-based DJ rx has made a name for himself (er, anonymously) with his politically-minded remixes and videos that skillfully, and pain-stakingly I imagine, splice the voices of world leaders so that they "sing" various songs in their own voices. There is none as smooth and biting as one of his earliest, an electro dance version of U2's antiwar anthem Sunday Bloody Sunday as sung by George W. Bush.

64. Jarvis Church - One (featuring K'Naan) [originally by U2]
From the 2003 War Child compilation Peace Songs, Jarvis Church (AKA Gerald Eaton of The Philosopher Kings) sings a soulful version of the U2 classic, bolstered by a gospel choir and a guest appearance from K'naan whose debut album (produced by Eaton) was still to be released. One of my faves... well, obviously since these are all my faves!

63. Pet Shop Boys - Where the Streets Have No Name (Can't Take My Eyes Off You) [originally by U2/Frankie Valli]
Part of the appeal of cover songs for me is discovering song origins and more specifically finding out songs I know and love are in fact cover songs. This is probably one of the more egregious examples of my childhood musical naiveté. I was well-familiar with this dual cover (you could almost call this an early mash-up) by the Pet Shop Boys from constant listening of their Discography album, but it wasn't until a couple years later that I first heard U2's original while at a movie theatre. It took a minute to realize that U2 was not in fact covering the Pet Shop Boys. Many more years later while watching The Deer Hunter I was caught off guard again when the original Can't Take My Eyes Off You figures into the memorable singalong bar scene. These days I obsessively research most songs, but I still love being surprised by the "uncovering" of a cover.

62. Manic Street Preachers - Can't Take My Eyes Off You [originally recorded by Frankie Valli]
There are countless covers of this song though probably the only ones I listen to with any regularity are this one by Manic Street Preachers and Lauryn Hill's from the soundtrack to Conspiracy Theory. Mind you, ever since I first heard it, absolutely nothing tops Frankie Valli's original.

Tomorrow The Dap-Kings leave their mark on the Fong Songs 101 countdown and we also make a pit stop in Motown.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Fong Songs 101 All-Time Covers: #71 to 66

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

Just Duet
71. Tom Jones & Stereophonics - Mama Told Me Not to Come [originally written by Randy Newman]
Clearly taking a cue from Three Dog Night's famous cover, this is my favourite cut from Tom Jones' 1999 (nearly) all-covers album Reload, which more or less resurrected his career.

70. Daryl Hall & KT Tunstall - Something to Talk About [originally recorded by Bonnie Raitt]
Speaking of career resurrections, Daryl Hall seems to have undergone a revival of his own in the past 5 years with his excellent Live at Daryl's House webcast-- free and cover -friendly! A couple Hall & Oates tribute albums have recently popped up, Daryl randomly showed up on an episode of Flight of the Conchords, and their You Make My Dreams provided the soundtrack to a great fantasy dance sequence in last year's (500) Days of Summer. This loose and fun cover is from the KT Tunstall episode of Live at Daryl's House. If you've never watched it, it's a lot of fun and he has one of the most talented backing bands I've ever heard. For the record, this song was written by Canadian Shirley Eikhard who would later record her own version on her album Country.

69. William Shatner - Common People (feat. Joe Jackson) [originally by Pulp]
A surprising cover that takes the spoken word magic of William Shatner, complements it with an inspired guest vocals from Joe Jackson, and throws in a choir and almost the kitchen sink. It's audacious, it's irreverent, but not a joke (well, not entirely) and this can be said of Shatner's entire solo album Has Been. It helps to have a producer like Ben Folds who frequently straddles the line between irreverence and genuine pathos. And yes I know I have a Ben Folds bias.

I'll let these ones speak for themselves. It's late and I'm lazy.

68. The Bad Plus - Tom Sawyer [originally by Rush]
67. Speak Low - Thriller [originally by Michael Jackson]
66. Dorothy Ashby - The Windmills of Your Mind [originally performed by Noel Harrison]

Tomorrow the Fong Songs 101 countdown continues with some U2, Frankie Valli, and the cover that bridges them both.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Fong Songs 101 All-Time Covers: #77 to 72

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

Playing with Shadows

77. Labelle - Moon Shadow [originally by Cat Stevens]
From their 1972 album Moon Shadow, Labelle completely make this song their own, transforming Cat Stevens' peaceful folk ballad into a vivacious soul number with a healthy dose of funk. This is actually a shortened version of the album edit, which stretches the track to over 9 minutes by adding (unnecessarily I think) a 5 minute slow groove coda.

76. The Shins - We Will Become Silhouettes [originally by The Postal Service]
The original electropop version of this song by The Postal Service (i.e. Jimmy Tamborello and Ben Gibbard) is excellent in its own right, a bittersweet song of loneliness in a post-apocalyptic world. I prefer to interpret the lyrics quite literally rather than a metaphor for a broken relationship, but in any case The Shins' warm acoustic cover is a joy to listen to, providing an even more dramatic contrast to the melancholy lyrics than the original. This cover was actually included on The Postal Service's single for Such Great Heights.

75. Dick Brave & The Backbeats - Black or White [originally by Michael Jackson]
Dick Brave & The Backbeats only put out one album, a collection of rockabilly covers that included Red Hot Chili Peppers, Avril Lavigne, Eddie Cochran, Pink, and Aerosmith. Far and away the two best covers of the album are a toe-tappin' reworking of George Michael's Freedom and this lively update of Michael Jackson's 1991 hit.

From the Wonderful World of Disney Covers
The realm of Disney covers is wide and wonderful, which is why we're lucky to have Kurtis and his Covering the Mouse to help highlight the best (and sometimes worst) of them. I nearly forgot that I first got an e-mail from Kurtis just over three years ago inquiring about some Disney cover songs. This led to a long e-mail conversation over the next few months swapping Disney covers and discussing an idea he was toying with: an all-Disney cover blog. Soon this would eventually evolve into Covering the Mouse with me providing sagely advice as a veteran (ha ha) two-year blogger. I can't believe at one point I actually suggested expanding the scope to include all cartoon covers, thinking it would help extend the lifespan of his blog. Now it's been three years and I realize there's no danger of Kurtis running out of Disney covers anytime soon! As one of my favourite subgenres of covers, I'm more than happy to chip in every now and then with some of my favourites, so I'll continue to do so in my monthly guest post over there.

74. Devo 2.0 - Monkey's Uncle [originally performed by Annette Funicello and the Beach Boys]
The first time I heard this while randomly shuffling my iPod I didn't even know it was a cover, but I resisted skipping long enough to get hooked on its nutty lyrics and unusual electro-pop rock arrangement. I soon found out it was Devo 2.0, a Disney kids reincarnation of Devo that actually featured the original performers. They produced one album of revamped Devo covers that flopped and this cover for a Disneymania compilation. I'd never heard of the original song or even the movie it was originated from, 1965's The Monkey's Uncle. I was immediately fascinated since it was originally performed by Annette Funicello and the Beach Boys over the film's opening credits (watch it here!). It was also written by the Sherman Brothers who are actually my favourite Disney-associated songwriters, notably writing songs for Mary Poppins, Winnie the Pooh, The Jungle Book, Disneyland, and so much more.

73. Daniel Bedingfield - A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes [originally performed by Ilene Woods in Cinderella]
This starts off as a dreamy ballad, then flips into a snappy big band number and I do dig when covers get the big band treatment. Along these same lines, I'll actually be going to see Michael Bublé tonight for the first time! The two previous times I've tried to go have been sold out, but for a hometown show I expect it to be pretty awesome.

72. Vika, Linda & Siniva Bull - The Bare Necessities [originally performed by Phil Harris and Bruce Reitherman]
Speaking of the Sherman Brothers, they were brought in to redo the soundtrack to The Jungle Book after original songwriter Terry Gilkyson's songs were deemed "too dark", but Gilkyson's now-classic The Bare Necessities was retained and went on to be nominated for an Oscar for Best Song. Vika and Linda Bull are a sister duo from Australia and this particular cover comes from a rare album I stumbled across in Hong Kong called Duets: A Family Celebration that featured Australian artists covering Disney songs with their siblings, parents, or children. As I just found out, this thing is so rare that I can barely find much information on it other than a few posts (including my own) on Covering the Mouse. I can't even find the CD to consult the liner notes, so I'm not even entirely sure what relation "Siniva" is to the sisters or if that's even the proper name since I specifically recall that the CD designers had ill-advisedly chosen a nearly illegible cursive font that made tagging the MP3s difficult and potentially erroneous. In any case, this has become my all-time favourite Disney cover song with its unique arrangement and incredible singing.

Tomorrow the Fong Songs 101 countdown continues with some duets and some instrumental covers.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Fong Songs 101 All-Time Covers: #82 to 78

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

The 80s Set
82. Jaded Heart - Easy Lover [originally by Philip Bailey and Phil Collins]
I love how 80s metal never really went away in Germany. Jaded Heart really go to town on this Philip/Phil 80s classic and-- I can hardly believe I'm saying this-- they also do a really great cover of The Backstreet Boys' Larger Than Life.

81. Harvey Danger - Save It for Later [originally by The English Beat]
As one of my favourite all-time bands, I knew I had to work some Harvey Danger into this list. Up until the last minute, I was debating between this and their rousing organ-led cover of Bowie's Oh! You Pretty Things. It's a toss-up, but I ultimately chose this one since it was one of the first Harvey Danger "rarities" I heard when I really started getting into the band. They were more or less tricked into recording the cover for the movie 200 Cigarettes. Asked to cover a 1981-82 era song, the band suggested Devo, Bowie, XTC, and Duran Duran, but the label insisted on an English Beat cover. They found out later that the label was re-releasing the English Beat catalogue and was using their cover as a sort of product placement in the movie. So they never played this cover live... except I DID actually get the privilege of hearing this live, once at their 10th Anniversary Show Spectacular (where I first heard this story) and also at their Last Show Ever. They also do a wicked cover of This Busy Monster's Underground on their second album King James Version (my fave), though I'm guessing very few of you know the original tune.

80. D-Sailors - We Built This City (feat. Wick Slick) [originally by Starship]
From the German cover compilation Punk Chartbusters, Volume 4, D-Sailors give Starship the ol' punk cover treatment without really any ironic winking and nudging, which I admire since I admittedly dig the original (gasp!). On Volume 5 of the same series, D-Sailors do an equally impressive take on Midnight Oil's Beds Are Burning.

79. Brad Roberts - Bette Davis Eyes [originally by Jackie DeShannon; as made famous by Kim Carnes]
If you've ever heard the original honky tonk country version by Jackie DeShannon, you know no one is actually covering that version, but rather Kim Carnes' 1981 reincarnation (punny!) of the song. Crash Test Dummies frontman Brad Roberts covered this acoustically on his live solo album Crash Test Dude in all his baritone glory. His voice is absurd.

78. Lowry - Africa [originally by Toto]
I'm always reluctant to declare a cover better than its original since I often get caught up in the whole paradox of the cover not being able to exist without the original source, yet this cover accomplished something pretty rare in my books. I absolutely LOVE it despite the fact I do not really like Toto's Africa at all. This is from Volume 2 of the Guilt By Association compilation.

Tomorrow the Fong Songs 101 countdown continues with covers of MJ, Cat Stevens, and The Postal Service (though probably not the song you're thinking of). Also, my favourite 3 Disney covers!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Fong Songs 101 All-Time Covers: #88 to 83

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

Swedish Invasion
88. The Flu - Hate to Say I Told you So [originally by The Hives]
What sounds like a window breaking kicks off this audacious cover with multi-part harmony and a hoedown bassline. At first it's a hilarious context shifting variation on The Hives hit, but by the midpoint I always want to join in on the handclaps, sing along with the climactic harmonized vocal arpeggio right out of Twist & Shout, and folk rock out like there's no tomorrow. I don't know if "harmonized vocal arpeggio" is a proper term, but you know what I'm talking about, right? See also: intro to Bowie's Let's Dance.

87. Love is All - I Ran [originally by A Flock of Seagulls]
With wailing child-like vocals, splashes of saxomaphone, and idiosyncratic drumming, this fun and noisy take by Love is All (from Gothenburg, Sweden) made me completely forget the original, perhaps that's a good thing anyway. They also remind me of a defunct San Diego band I adore called Bunky.

86. Glow - Dancing Queen [originally by ABBA]
It's fun to play this for someone and see how long it take for them to identify the original. This is such a dramatic pop rock reinvention that unless they recognize the lyrics, it might not be until right before the chorus that they finally go "Ahhhhh!". This is from a German ABBA tribute album, aptly named A Tribute to ABBA. That might sound generic, but another cover from this album will grace this list a little later on.

The soundtracks to Les Misérables and The Phantom of the Opera were ingrained in my head from a fairly early age. I've seen them each about three times and have listened to both soundtracks countless times. There of plenty of Phantom covers though sadly very few Les Miz covers (excluding I Dreamed a Dream). Although Me First & The Gimme Gimmes have a full album of showtune covers (Are a Drag), genre busting covers of any Broadway musical number are somewhat hard to come by. The next are a couple of my favourites while the last one's a bit of a cheat.

85. Nightwish - The Phantom of The Opera [originally from Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Phantom of the Opera]
The definitive metal cover of The Phantom of the Opera, Finnish power metal group Nightwish delivers a snarling, but faithful rendition with an impressive duet from Nightwish's original classically trained vocalist Tarja Turunen and the band's bassist Marco Hietala. By the way, look up Nightwish in the Urban Dictionary for a laugh.

84. Toy Dolls - Any Dream Will Do [originally from Andrew Lloyd Webber's Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat]
I've never been completely sold on Joseph, which I also saw when I was quite young. Some of the music is pretty catchy, but my overwhelming impression of the CD soundtrack (I'm probably wrong in retrospect) was that it sounded like one guy on a keyboard playing all the instruments. I'm a big fan of English punk band the Toy Dolls' cheeky rendition of Joseph's opening number complete with children's choir.

83. Jon Brion - Play the Game [originally by Queen]
Technically this is in the Queen musical We Will Rock You so it's getting lumped in here to help fill out the showtunes category. Jon Brion is a remarkable and severely underrated musician/composer/virtuoso. As a producer he's worked on albums for Fiona Apple, Kanyé West (Late Registration), Rufus Wainwright, and Aimee Mann among others. He composed the scores to P. T. Anderson's Hard Eight, Magnolia, and Punch-Drunk Love, not to mention Michel Gondry's Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. He's legendary in certain circles for his residency at L.A.'s Largo club where he'd play setlist-less shows of originals and covers shouted out from the audience, his knowledge of popular music history being so vast that it was a challenge to stump him. He still plays there semi-regularly and I'd love to visit Los Angeles just to see him perform (I've been to the Largo, but my trip didn't coincide with one of his shows). His solo output is limited to his 2001 indie release Meaningless, a long time bestseller on CD Baby, and a handful of guest appearances on compilation albums including Sing Hollies in Reverse and Killer Queen: A Tribute to Queen.

Tomorrow the Fong Songs 101 countdown continues with a quick trip through the 1980s.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Fong Songs 101 All-Time Covers: #95 to 89

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

It occurred to me that attentive regular readers will probably know or will at least be able to guess what's sitting at the top of this list. Oh well, hope the journey there is a little less predictable!

Super Mario Covers
The video game cover scene has exploded over the past ten or so years as generations of kids who grew up with Super Mario Bros and other video soundtracks pervading their consciousness went on to become musicians and form bands. There are video game cover bands such as The Minibosses, The Advantage, and The OneUps, just to name a few. A integral role of the proliferation of video game covers has been OverClocked ReMix, which has long been the premier site for video game covers and remixes.

95. The OneUps - Super Mario's Sleigh Ride [originally by Koji Kondo; Sleigh Ride by Leroy Anderson]
This brilliant cover seamlessly weaves Super Mario musical cues with Leroy Anderson's Sleigh Ride with few other Christmas classics sprinkled in. I love how you could get away with throwing this on at a Christmas party where it can pass for legitimate Christmas music while only a small subsection of the room might catch on to its Koji Kondo roots.

94. Estradasphere - Super Mario Bros. 2 SuperBuckJazz [originally by Koji Kondo]
This was probably the first video game cover I ever heard that really blew me away with its impeccable musicianship and creative jazz arrangement.

93. Retro Remix Revue - Super Mario World - Overworld BGM, Ending [originally by Koji Kondo]
Retro Remix Revue is a project by Davis Jones and Blaine McGurty that is "solely dedicated to arranging and remixing classic video game music with great musicianship and quality engineering". They've released two albums, Retro Remix Revue Vol. 1 and Vol. 2, each containing a phenomenal jazz trio arrangement of Mario music. While the rest of the songs on the albums are a grab bag of styles, unfortunately nothing comes close to the greatness of these covers that play the Mario themes like they're jazz standards. Really, there should be an entire album of these! I had this on at work one time and my manager (who in his spare time happens to be gypsy jazz guitarist a la Django Reinhardt) walked by and exclaimed something along the lines of "Oh yeah! Now THAT'S music!". I nodded in agreement but neglected to ask if he was a fan of Super Mario World for the Super Nintendo.

Rock and/or Roll
92. AC/DC - Baby Please Don't Go [originally by Big Joe Williams]
This blistering Bon Scott-era version of Baby Please Don't Go is probably my favourite version of the song. Well, besides Them. Sorry Aerosmith.

91. Jazz.k.lipa - Purple Haze [originally by Jimi Hendrix]
The first time I heard this I thought it was a brilliant infusion of James Brown's soul into Jimi's original Purple Haze, but it turns out it's actually a remix of a great cover by Johnny Jones and The King Casuals. In fact, Jimi Hendrix was in fact a one-time member of The King Casuals before going solo. The band recorded this cover of their former member in 1968, one year after Purple Haze was originally released. Although it's already a great cover in its own right, I really dig the beats underlying the remix.

90. Lulu Hughes - Time [originally by Pink Floyd]
I first heard Québec singer Lulu Hughes' stunning pipes on this electro tinged cover from the generic sounding (but quite good) Pink Floyd Redux, a collection of Pink Floyd covers by Canadian female artists including Sarah Slean and Pascale Picard. Lulu Hughes also contributes her wails to The Great Gig in the Sky and, on her own self-titled debut, a cover of The Beatles' Helter Skelter. Just a couple weeks ago while at the movie theatre, they actually showed a short interview with Lulu Hughes in conjunction with her new album Lulu Hughes & The Montréal All City Big Band, one of the few times I've actually perked up during the pre-show ads and videos. The new album features a mix of big band originals and covers including Whole Lotta Love, Respect, God Put a Smile Upon Your Face, and Welcome to My Nightmare!

89. The Beatles - Rock and Roll Music [originally by Chuck Berry]
As I've mentioned a couple times, Beatles for Sale is my favourite Beatles album. It was probably the first full Beatles album I ever heard and definitely the first I repeatedly played as a kid. If memory serves, it was the second CD our family ever bought (somewhat ironically, our first CD was a 3-inch Chuck Berry disc) at the defunct Sam the Record Man on Yonge Street in Toronto. Of the six covers on Beatles for Sale, it was between posting this one or Kansas City/Hey Hey Hey Hey, but this one won out. After all, it really does "gotta be rock and roll music if you wanna dance with me". I was definitely an unconscious cover lover at an early age!

Tomorrow the Fong Songs 101 countdown continues with a Swedish Invasion and some showtunes!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Fong Songs 101 All-Time Covers: #101 to 96

As I mentioned last week, starting today I will posting every day as a last grand gesture before Fong Songs goes into hibernation, counting down my 100 all-time favourite cover songs. Make that 101. I went up and down this list and could just not make that last cut. It goes without saying that this will be a very personal list. There will be no covers of Hallelujah of any kind and no Hurt from Johnny Cash. Also, unless I am a huge fan of that particular cover there will be no historically significant or other chart-topping covers such as Jimi's All Along the Watchtower, Aretha Franklin's Respect, or Soft Cell's Tainted Love. Sorry, but there are plenty of other lists out there that cover that well-trodden territory. I should mention however that a different cover of Tainted Love did indeed make the list...

The process was unscientific and unwieldy. I started with a list of 4 and 5 star cover songs in iTunes and started whittling the list down methodically, factoring in playcounts and often using the criteria of "how likely am I to skip this song when it comes up on shuffle?" when faced with some tough cuts. A few were chosen because I think they represent the best of what a cover song has to offer, although at the same time I find there is no clear formula or pattern to what constitutes a great cover. There is something about each of these covers that resonates with me in some way, be it nostalgia (misplaced or genuine), the head bob factor, or some intangible quality that is hard to pinpoint. You might call it heart, but even that might not even necessarily apply. You'll find the list runs the gamut from straight up punk cover to funky instrumentals to Russian folk a cappella. You may also notice that I am partial to adding a horn section to any cover song, so expect some Mark Ronson later on.

As I found out this weekend, putting 100 songs in any sort of meaningful ranking is a futile process. Other than the top ten (and even that's up for debate), every other cover song on the list can be shuffled around and re-arranged depending on my particular mood that day. Instead I've grouped covers #101 through #11 into "sets" of three or more songs using very loose headings such as 80s, Showtunes, or simply Duets. I ruled against including mash-ups and remixes, though in one instance I did allow a remix of a cover. I attempted to limit artists to one cover on the list unless I absolutely had to include it. I also attempted to choose only one cover to represent any given song, though again there are some exceptions to that as well.

With all of that in mind, I think we're ready to get started with...

Animal Crackers
101. The Damned - White Rabbit [originally by Jefferson Airplane]
The first time I heard Jefferson Airplane's White Rabbit, one of my immediate thoughts was that it practically demanded a cranked up rock cover. The Damned more or less fulfilled this pressing need for me.

100. Toad the Wet Sprocket - Hey Bulldog [originally by The Beatles]
Subbing in an electric guitar for the recurring piano riff and upping the tempo, Toad the Wet Sprocket bring a slight edge to the proceedings while remaining faithful to the original.

99. OK Go - Antmusic [originally by Adam Ant]
I love OK Go's lead singer Damian Kulash's delirious vocals on this cover, coupled with the loud electrorock vibe. While known primarily for their wildly creative internet music videos, I think their underrated for their dabblings in the world of cover songs that are generally a cut above your average band. From a live acoustic cover of ELO's Don't Bring Me Down to a wonderful take on The Zombies' This Will Be Our Year, their not shy about wearing their influences on their sleeves, most notably the Pixies who they've covered multiple times and whose Surfer Rosa gets name-checked in their hit Here It Goes Again. We'll be hearing from OK Go again (much) further down on this list...

Covers for She & Him
98. Me First & The Gimme Gimmes - Elenor [originally by The Turtles]
Me First & The Gimme Gimmes are like the Weird Al of punk covers: they do what they do so well, other punk covers are often misattributed to them by default. While their tongues are definitely planted firmly in cheek, they perfected the arrangement of pop punk covers, staying surprisingly faithful to unlikely sources (e.g. an album of R&B covers or broadway musicals) while making them their own as well. It helps that they've got the musical chops and cred with band members from NOFX, Foo Fighters, and Lagwagon among others. Lead vocalist Spike Slawson has a go-for-broke quality with an unexpectedly range and ability to sing songs from any genre . There are at least ten of their covers that could have easily made this list (I Only Want to Be With You or Save the Best For Last come to mind), but I chose their cover of The Turtles' Elenore (different spelling), which also incorporates the opening riff from The Clash's London Calling. The Gimme Gimmes are clever like that.

97. Tori Amos - Angie [originally by The Rolling Stones]
Tori Amos' austere piano and vocal covers boil down a song to its essence. Her 1992 Crucify EP featured similarly arranged covers of Nirvana and Led Zeppelin while her 2001 concept album Strange Little Girls takes it to the next level with 12 covers of songs originated written and performed by men. Her version of Alice Cooper's Only Women Bleed is also worth checking out. This is definitely not the last Stones cover that we'll hear before I'm done this list.

96. Crispin Glover - Ben [originally by Michael Jackson]
Crispin Glover is often labelled as a "weirdo" or at the very least an outsider for his eccentric film roles and a very notorious appearance on David Letterman. In conjunction with his title role in the remake of the killer rat horror movie Willard, how perfect then is it to have Glover cover Michael Jackson's ode to a rat? The original song was MJ's first solo hit outside The Jackson 5 and served as the theme song to Ben, the sequel to the original 1971 Willard. What makes this cover great even beyond simply the greatness of its bizarre concept is that Glover sings it faithfully with all the poignancy and sincerity it deserves as if he completely identifies with that special human/rat relationship.

Tomorrow the Fong Songs 101 countdown continues with covers of Hendrix and Pink Floyd, covers by AC/DC and The Beatles, plus a set devoted to everyone's favourite Italian plumbers.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Five Years

Five years ago today, I started Fong Songs. I had moved to Vancouver for a two month stint taking a two month course in 2D animation and after happily reading other mp3 blogs figured "Hey, I can do that!" (isn't that how all blogs inevitably start). Now, full circle, I'm living in Vancouver semi-permanently and in less than a month I'll be going back to school for my master's degree. So yeah, the blog end is near, I face the final curtain, yada yada yada. I've done it my way, more or less.

The Polyphonic Spree - Five Years [originally by David Bowie]
Maxine Weldon - My Way [originally performed by Frank Sinatra; lyrics: Paul Anka]

While it may have started as a lark, Fong Songs has gone on much longer than I expected and it has resulted in many random fortuitous happenings and discoveries that I would have never imagined. I mean, to a narrow cross-section of the population I can brag how Neil Gaiman once pimped one of my blog posts in a tweet to Adam Savage! Even more astonishing to me was when I discovered that three months earlier I had also introduced Neil to the brilliant PoZitive Orchestra as evidenced by another of his tweets! Gasp, Neil, a closet Fong Songs reader?! Ha ha, I can dream. One of the coolest things that happened that I don't think I've ever mentioned was getting an awesome e-mail from Walt Kraemer, the composer of the Pinball Number Count, who thanked me for my post and actually asked me to help him in his quest to track down as many versions of the Pinball Number Count as possible! I got to participate in a cover songs round table discussion on the seminal Coverville and was even a cringy interviewee for an online radio station. I also performed my first (and last) Fong Songs interview with Max Vernon, one of those rare artist submissions I championed that I actually still listen to and follow. I got chummy with other cover bloggers to form a sort of covers community and they're still chugging along (you should have them all bookmarked already anyway, but be sure to visit their blogs on the sidebar to get your covers fix!). And then there was that awesome time I got DMCA takedown notices (9 total!). Yep, good times, bad times, you know I've had my share.

In light of the impending school workload and my steady decline in regular blogging anyway, I'll be going into a state of semi-retirement, though I won't completely close up shop. In the footsteps of many of my favourite bands, I guess you can say I'll be on an indefinite hiatus. I may drop in every now and then to check on the place, but don't hold your breath. I also plan to continue my monthly Disney cover post on Covering the Mouse (speaking of which, my latest guest post coincidentally went up today as part of Robin Hood Week).

So with less than a month left before sticking a fork in this blog, I thought I'd compile and post my 100 all-time favourite cover songs as my melodramatic swan song. Starting Monday (I may regret this) I'll post 5 songs a day for 20 days straight or until I get shut down by the powers that be. I'll lay down some judging criteria later once I come up with some. Stay tuned!

Christopher Lee - My Way [originally performed by Frank Sinatra; lyrics: Paul Anka]
Awesomely bizarre cover that will not make the final cut.

Friday, July 30, 2010


Been too busy, no substantial post forthcoming.
Off to the Island for the long weekend!

The Ten Pound Suit Band - Breathe [originally by The Prodigy]
The Prodigy by way of the Squirrel Nut Zippers.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Amanda Palmer covers The Double Rainbow Song all the way!

Yesterday marked the release of Amanda Palmer's all-ukulele album of Radiohead covers, which you can buy directly from her bandcamp site for as little as 84 cents for the whole thing!

1. Fake Plastic Trees
2. High and Dry
3. No Surprises
4. Idioteque
5. Creep (Hungover at Soundcheck in Berlin)
6. Exit Music (For a Film)
7. Creep (Live in Prague)

She also had a webcast release party during which performed a rousing piano cover of everyone's second favourite song about rainbows. Out of context you may be slightly baffled by this cover, so if you're not one of the 6 million folks (and counting) who has seen the original Double Rainbow video you really need to do so immediately. Once the original Double Rainbow video went viral less than 3 weeks ago following a Jimmy Kimmel tweet, The Gregory Brothers of Auto-Tune the News youtube fame quickly whipped up the instant classic Double Rainbow Song. If you can believe it, this song is actually available on iTunes and last week made it up to #74 on the singles charts with half the proceeds going right to Paul Vasquez AKA Yosemitebear AKA Hungry Bear AKA the Double Rainbow Guy who is also a former cage fighter. Got it? If you're still confused, Know Your Meme breaks it down in an easily digestible 3-minute video.

Amanda Palmer - Double Rainbow Song [originally by The Gregory Brothers featuring Yosemitebear]
"What does this mean?!?"