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!


Anonymous said...

total badass, beautiful outro, and thanks from way down yonder in the Lower Colorado River Basin Greater Wetlands Resource Area. You'll be missed but I hope life in Fongolia is good.

Anonymous said...

Incredible list of 100 here, thank you so much for sharing. I definitely didn't want the list to come to an end but you've showed us all a lot of wonderful songs out there. Good luck with whatever projects you're tackling next.

Leopold Stotch said...

Definitely gonna miss Fong Songs, thanks for all the great tracks and good luck with your future endeavors man!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for putting this together.
Regards, Dave

Fongolia said...

Thanks for the kind comments all!

Anonymous said...

Seems I’ve missed a great blog … well, thanks for what I’ve could listen to in this short time.

And all the best for you, health and happiness.


Andy said...

Wonderful - thanks for all the songs.

Not-Pop said...

It's amazing how many songs, covers and just standards, that Bobby Darin really nailed. I think of him as "that Splish Splash guy" but he had a fantastic voice. His version of Blue Skies is my all-time favorite.