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.

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