Tag Archives: Beck

Top 15 Cover Songs of the Decade

It’s come to that time of the year/decade where innumerable lists will come out touting writer’s knowledge of music by saying what the best album, songs or artists of the decade/year are. Some are interesting reads, others are banal wastes of time & yet others are pretentious attempts at musical superiority while showing you have little knowledge about “real” music. It is this final category that Paste Magazine’s 30 best covers of the decade falls into.

Covers are a delicate subject with me. A cover song must be at least similar to the original. Otherwise, you’re not covering another artist’s song you’re simply saying you think they did a shitty job the first time around instead of paying homage. Jimi Hendrix did not cover Bob Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower” he dissected it & made it better. Dylan provided the blueprint for Hendrix & Jimi ran with it. Dylan himself has said as much:

It overwhelmed me, really. He had such talent, he could find things inside a song and vigorously develop them. He found things that other people wouldn’t think of finding in there. He probably improved upon it by the spaces he was using. I took license with the song from his version, actually, and continue to do it to this day…I liked Jimi Hendrix’s record of this and ever since he died I’ve been doing it that way…Strange how when I sing it, I always feel it’s a tribute to him in some kind of way.

Paste has a reputation for thinking they’re better than everyone with obscure references to obscure songs & praising them from the mountain top as being immortal & themselves as fore bearers to the band’s success. Their list is full of songs that hold little relevancy to anyone except the artists themselves.

It’s a bit disgraceful to see a list of songs with The Polyphonic Spree at #7 with Nirvana’s “Lithium” or Calexico at #8 with Stereolab’s “Peng! 33″. What? Really? Stereolab was an obscure band from the ’90’s that never found success in part because they were bad at making music. The Polyphonic Spree is a band from today that suffers from the same problem. I’m all for opening eyes with new artists. I try to introduce new artists to the masses on this blog regularly, but to indiscriminately toss out labels like “best of the decade” is hyperbolic to the core.

There are a few I agree with on the list, but none above number 9 (they are 28, 20, 18 – which may be the best on their list, 10 & 9). In large part I think Paste is, once again, showing they’re rightly regarded as a magazine strictly for the arrogant hipster, who thinks he knows more about music than you. It’s like saying Sgt. Pepper is too commercial of an album to be the best of all time or the “Godfather” is too widely known to be the best film of all time. Everyone has their opinion & rightfully so, but when an opinion is there to show you how shitty your musical tastes are then it becomes a practice in musical bullying & I think it’s an abhorrent practice.

Music is there to spark conversation, to create unity, to educate, not belittle (unless you’re talking about Gangster Rap). Every time I give an opinion on this blog (or any other place I write) I try to give it context, not to dumb down my point, but to educate in one way or another. I happen to know a lot about music, mostly because I have no life, but also because it happens to be my passion. I do not claim to be the end all be all of musical critics. I’m simply a conduit to better understanding for those that have lives or seek some better form of musical knowledge.

So here is my list of the 15 best covers of the decade with short explanations as to why I enjoy them & why they’re great in my opinion:

#15 – Love Vigilantes – Voxtrot (originally: New Order)

A classic ’80’s song that is faithful to the original without being a complete replica. While expressing the emotion that many families are feeling, it is apropos of the moment in which we live.

#14 – Girls Just Wanna Have Fun – Ben Gibbard from Death Cab for Cutie (Originally: Cyndi Lauper)

Another ’80’s song many consider trite pop, but Gibbard turns it into something much more. An anthem of parental & societal oppression. The audience laughs but if you really listen to the lyrics you realize that it is a plea to stop worrying about social mores that tend to pigeonhole people into groups that have no true bearing on who they really are. A beautiful interpretation.

#13 – You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere – Counting Crows (Originally: Bob Dylan)

Redone by many artists, this is faithful to the original from Bob Dylan’s Basement Tapes version with The Band. Marketa Iglova & Glen Hansard do a fairly competent version on the I’m Not There Soundtrack, but it really doesn’t compare to Adam Duritz belting this classic out.

#12 – The Long Way Home – Norah Jones (Originally: Tom Waits)

Tom Waits has that writing quality that makes everyone want to redo his songs. Norah Jones is a phenomenal songwriter in her own right & has the perfect voice for this Waits composition. There’s something to be said for a steel guitar & a Tom Waits song that just reeks of awesomeness.

#11 – Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood – Cat Stevens/Yusuf Islam (Originally: Nina Simone)

While the Animals may have popularized this song, it was written for Nina Simone by Bennie Benjamin, Gloria Caldwell and Sol Marcus. The song correlates with Yusuf’s own struggles after he changed his name from Cat Stevens to Yusuf Islam & his subsequent inclusion on the Terrorist watch list in the early ’00’s.

#10 – Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want – She & Him (Originally: The Smiths)

Zooey Deschanel & M. Ward covered this song for the 500 Days of Summer Soundtrack perfectly. The echo behind Deschanel’s voice creates a haunting version while staying succinctly true to the original. You can almost hear the anguish in her voice as she desperately emotes Morrissey’s plea for a change in his luck.

#9 – Glory Days – The Avett Brothers (Originally: Bruce Springsteen)

The issue I’ve always had with this song is that instead of saying fastball at the beginning he says speedball. When I hear Bruce say “He could throw that Speedball right by you.” it always makes me cringe as a baseball fan & someone who had a lot of friends who did a lot of drugs. That’s my only complaint, though, I love the song & the Avett’s doing it with a banjo, a kick drum & a tambourine is magical.

#8 – The Weight - Gaslight Anthem (Originally: The Band)

The seminal song in the Band’s career is faithfully done by the Gaslight Anthem’s lead singer Brian Fallon. There’s a lot to be said for a man & his guitar. Fallon has that kind of voice that is suited for a song such as this. It’s a story song, almost in the same vein as The Beatles “A Day in the Life”.

#7 – Sunday Morning – Beck’s Record Club (Originally: Velvet Underground & Nico)

When Beck started his Record Club project it was considered a bit of a lark (especially when I read he considered doing Digital Underground’s album Sex Packets in it’s entirety), but when you hear this song you realize otherwise. I have never been a fan of Beck’s music. I’ve interviewed him a number of times, smoked out with him & find him to be a fascinating person, but musically I’m not evolved enough to enjoy what he does, though I do recognize his talent. Be that as it may I do love this cover so much. When stripped down Beck’s voice is incredible.

#6 – Dancing in the Dark – Pete Yorn (Originally: Bruce Springsteen)

Another Springsteen song covered by a talented musician. Pete Yorn’s first album spoke to me so much that I don’t think I listened to another album for a month after it came out. Yorn with a piano slowly singing this mournful song about escaping the everyday doldrums of life. It’s something we can all relate to, especially in this context.

#5 – I Don’t Wanna Grow Up – Cold War Kids (Originally: Tom Waits)

Hearing the Cold War Kids acoustically is a sound to behold. Hearing them sing Tom Waits’ song about having to accept responsibility as an adult & wanting to stay a child forever is a moment. It’s much like when the Beach Boys released A Beach Boys’ Party where they covered a few Beatles songs among others & made it a sing along. This recording, while much less hokey, has that feel to it.

#4 – The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carol – Black Rebel Motorcycle Club (Originally: Bob Dylan)

While not completely factual this song still does speak to the injustice that was still going on in 1960’s America. Lead Singer, Peter Hayes, expresses the difficulty in remembering all the lyrics before he starts actually singing noting it is a Bob Dylan song. He doesn’t sing it with tonal precision which makes it even that much better. What he does give it is slightly more melody than Dylan (as many often have). The harmonica in the Bridge is not overstated or too intense to overpower the audience.

#3 – My Oklahoma Home – Bruce Springsteen (Originally: Pete Seeger)

When Bruuuuuuce decided to make a tribute album with all Pete Seeger songs I never thought it would work. I love just about everything Springsteen touches, but even this seemed like a stretch to me. I was wrong. The true merit of an artist is the ability to reinvent oneself & make it work. Dylan did it, the Beatles did it & Springsteen did as well. This song about the Oklahoma Dust Bowl holds as much connotation in today’s current economic climate as it did 80 years ago. No one today speaks of the hardships of the blue collar society like Bruce & before him there was no one better than Pete Seeger & Woody Guthrie.

#2 – The Drugs Don’t Work – Ben Harper (Originally: The Verve)

Ben Harper has a way of making songs better as with this Verve song about as Richard Ashcroft put it:

There’s a new track I’ve just written [...] It goes ‘the drugs don’t work, they just make me worse, and I know I’ll see your face again’. That’s how I’m feeling at the moment. They make me worse, man. But I still take ‘em. Out of boredom and frustration you turn to something else to escape.

Harper brings a subtle vulnerability to this track as if he were actually speaking this to a loved one. The Verve version was a little more gruff, but beautiful nonetheless. Richard Ashcroft is a highly underrated lyricist & never was that made more evident than in this version.

#1 – Long, Long, Long – Jim James (Originally: The Beatles)

Earlier this year Jim James of My Morning Jacket, quietly released a 6 song EP under the moniker Yim Yames covering some of his favorite George Harrison songs. It went mostly unnoticed by critics as it was released primarily online, but it was perhaps the best thing recorded all year. This is one of my favorite Beatle songs from the White Album & James captures the essence of the track with the echoed brilliance of the vocals. If ever a cover song moved me I can not remember when one did it like this one. It is not merely faithful to the original, but luminous in it’s own right.

Music News 07-08-09

A lot of things going on this week. For some reason Beck is on his game lately doing things that no other artist consider doing, but maybe he’s just smarter than everyone else.

  • Beck started a new section to go along with his Record Club. It’s called Irrelevant Topics & he basically interviews other artists about whatever he feels like talking about. This week it’s Tom Waits & it’s a fascinating read if you’ve got the time.
  • Trent Reznor changed his mind & decided to play more shows in the U.S., but only small venues. Like the Wiltern. Should be awesome.
  • The NY Times reported yesterday that Internet Radio & Record Labels have come to an agreement in regards to royalties. Which, to me, is bullshit. I’m sorry, but radio stations don’t pay anything to artists or labels. They pay maybe a few cents per song  to ASCAP/BMI but this is what Internet/Satellite stations now have to pay.

Many of the streaming music sites had argued that all sites should pay a percentage of revenue rather than a per-song fee. They added that satellite radio stations pay a cut of their revenue, while broadcast stations pay nothing to artists and labels. Under the new agreement, though, almost all Internet radio stations will pay the new, lower fee for each song, because that will be more than 25 percent of revenue.

Hope Sandoval – Blanchard

  • Great new video from Blitzen Trapper. “Black River Killer” – Just as good a song as “Furr” but an even better video.
  • 31 million people watched the Michael Jackson on T.V. yesterday, plus millions more online (myself included) according to the Huffington Post. 28 million watched the American Idol finale & 38 million watched President Obama’s inauguration.

Music News

Hey, it’s Wednesday (pronounced Wed ness day, truth, no not really, but wouldn’t it be funny if it was? Maybe I’ll write the whole article in parenthesis. I used to ignore parenthesis when I would read a book, but if you did that & I wrote the whole article in parenthesis like I said then it would consist of Hey, it’s Wednesday. Never mind, back to your regularly scheduled program.) & that means it’s time for some music news. Yay! Some decent stuff out there so let’s get to it.

  • One of my favorite sites is I Am Fuel You Are Friends (See Blogroll). It is such a brilliant site that I’m sure many of you go to on a regular basis. Today it is imperative that you head over though since she has a killer video of Bruuuuuuuce with the Gaslight Anthem at the Glastonbury Festival this weekend. It will give you goosebumps it’s that good.
  • Paste Magazine has a killer interview with Nels Cline from Wilco who I saw last week at the Wiltern & the show was absolutely amazing.
  • Beck is a busy man lately. First, he’s doing the whole Record Club/Velvet Underground thing. Second, he’s doing an album with French Actress/Singer Charlotte Gainsbourg & now he’s planning on covering Sonic Youth’s entire 1986 classic album EVOL, but only releasing it on a cassette. Yes, a cassette! Beck is literally losing his mind as I write this & I couldn’t be happier. This is the best stuff he’s put out in a few years.
  • Interesting article in the Village Voice about Black America’s ties to Michael Jackson & if there could ever be an heir apparent.
  • According to NME the Killers are planning to release an album of all cover songs & here’s what they said

“It’s something that we’ve always talked about doing and we’re still talking about,” Flowers said. “It’s difficult for each of us to pick songs that represent us as individuals. I mean, I have a lot of personalities myself! I’ve gone through everything from Neil Diamond to The Cars.”

Vanucci cited acts including “Genesis, Tom Waits, a little Cyndi Lauper, Iggy Pop” as his preferred choices for the album, adding that he’s also been “messing around with a couple of Fleet Foxes songs”

  • Finally, Blitzen Trapper is encouraging everyone to sign up for their newsletter on Twitter & if you do (And if you do, and if you do — name that movie) you get a free MP3. Here’s a copy of the one sent to me.

Blitzen Trapper w/ Stephen Malkmus – Funk ’49 (Live)

Music News

Some great stuff for you kids this week, but we’ll start off with obvious insanity:

  • Jason Mraz was given an award by the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame. Really Jason Mraz given an award for fucking songwriting!!! I hope this virtual museum catches on virtual fire and everybody that thinks this douche bag is talented virtually dies in that virtual fire. Say it with me: Jason Mraz is BAD AT MUSIC!
  • Beck has gotten some talented people together and begun what he refers to as the Record Club.

We’ve been working on changes to the website for the last few months. We’ll be adding new sections as they’re ready. The first one to be added is called Record Club, an informal meeting of various people to record an album in a day. An album will be chosen to be reinterpreted and used as a framework. Nothing rehearsed or arranged ahead of time. A track will be uploaded once a week on beck.com as well as through the web sites of those involved with the project.

For this first edition, after lengthy deliberation and coming close to covering Digital Underground’s Sex Packets, all present voted in favor of the ‘other’ Underground’s The Velvet Underground & Nico. Participants included this time around are Nigel Godrich, Joey Waronker, Brian Lebarton, Bram Inscore, Yo, Giovanni Ribisi, Chris Holmes, and from Iceland, special guest Thorunn Magnusdottir, and myself. Thanks to everyone who helped put this together, and to all of you for indulging in this experiment. More soon.

  • Jack White told the National Post that the Internet or moreover the people that frequent the Internet are to blame for the early release of The Dead Weather’s upcoming album. White is a known hater of technology & frequently ties a string between two tin cans to get in touch with friends.
  • Blur bassist Alex James & Guitarist Graham Coxon told BBC 6 Radio that they have reunited and are writing songs for a new album. Release date not yet known.
  • Bloc Party’s new single from their upcoming album was released & I just don’t understand what their aversion to being a rock band.  Silent Alarm is a brilliant & a Weekend in the City was solid but they’ve been moving away from being a full fledged rock band & have been move more towards House or Disco & this single cements it. Tell me what you think.
  • Jack White, Jimmy Page & The Edge are coming out with a new documentary that looks awesome. Check out the trailer.

Beck & The Record Club – Sunday Morning (Velvet Underground cover)

Bloc Party – One More Chance