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!