Tag Archives: Bruce Springsteen

You Must Bear Your Neighbor’s Burden Within Reason

Last year was a fine year for music, but only a few things really wowed me. That’s not to say it was completely bereft of anything good, but the prevailing theme, at least in my estimation, was that while 2009 was a banner year for new talent & a resurgence of older talent, 2010 had very little to offer. 2011 is shaping up to be, already, one of the better years. The Decemberists came out with a new album on Tuesday & it’s their best album yet. It hits chords in my soul that bring out such joy, that I can’t help but sway.

I suppose I should address the elephant in the blog & explain my prolonged absence. Boredom. That’s it. I was completely & utterly bored with anything that was coming out. I was searching for new & exciting things to come my way. Lissie made an album that I adore, but I couldn’t write anything that hadn’t been said. I had a whole soliloquy ready for the brilliance of Ray Lamontagne’s overnight transformation from Indie darling to bluegrass star & yet nothing came out. There was a block of sorts & much of it came from the draining effects of writing a book about my travels through Europe. A book that is finished in its infant form, but must now be raised into something I can market.

There were a few other albums that I quite enjoyed: Justin Townes Earle, Head & the Heart, Broken Bells, The Black Keys & obviously Arcade Fire which was the best album of the year, but perhaps through my own depression of  the musical offerings being put out there or indifference the ability to cognitively discuss these in terms that were worth reading was nonexistent. So here sat the blog. Relatively unchanged throughout the year as I struggled to put my thoughts into words. I feel I’ve made some sort of a turning point, even though I intended to begin writing last week. To be cliche I suppose it’s better late than never.

So I purchased two albums from Amazon the other day (yes I buy my music), where the $3.99 deals keep me coming back & spending on things I would otherwise think twice about buying. I bought Social Distortion’s new album Hard Time & Nursery Rhymes & the aforementioned Decemberists album The King is Dead. Let’s discuss Social D’s new album first. It’s been  7 years since they released an album & a few years since Mike Ness has come out with an album, himself. I’ve always been a fringe fan of Social D’s, as I do not have the dancing skeleton tattooed anywhere on my body. It has that patented loud Gibson sound & gruff Mike Ness nosy drawl, but with lyrics that seem to have more emotional impact than ever before. Take for instance “Still Alive”  where Ness pleads,

“I’m still alive, I will survive, I can handle what life brings, just give me time…I’m still alive, talking the same ol’ jive, I can handle anything that comes my way, just give me another day”

It ends with a short, but beautiful piano solo that made me really feel that this album rivals anything they’ve ever done. It is so reminiscent of early Springsteen that I haven’t stopped listening to it for 3 days. That is, except to listen to The Decemberists’ new album The King is Dead, an album which seems to have awoken them from their prog rock malaise from the past few years. It sounds so similar to early R.E.M. that it came as no surprise to see that Peter Buck contributed to three of the tracks. The opening track almost sounds Tom Pettyesque with heavy drums taking the forefront much like “You Don’t Know How it Feels”.

Colin Meloy really lets loose with his voice on The King is Dead & goes places that I haven’t heard him dare go vocally before. It shows that the risks were worth taking. Changing the sound & straying away from that boring sound have worked wonders & even though it came out in January there’s a distinct feeling that come coincidentally December we will still be talking about this album as one of the best of the year.

I can’t say I will write everyday as I do have a job that requires a good chunk of time, but I will continue to talk about things I love & look forward to talking about new releases from groups like Foxxhound, Two Guns, Cold War Kids, Amos Lee, Drive-by Truckers & Okkervill River. It will be a banner year for Indie music & soon Indie Music will become alternative & all the kids will have to jump on the bandwagon. I’m fine by that. Music should be loved by all & not thrown into some meta category to be hated once it becomes popular to the masses. If it’s good, love it. If it sucks, hate it, but don’t despise popular music for being popular. Despise it, much like I despise She Wants Revenge & Jason Mraz for being bad at music.

Machine Gun Blues – Social Distortion

Sweet & Lowdown – Social Distortion

Still Alive – Social Distortion

Don’t Carry It All – The Decemberists

This is Why We Fight – The Decemberists

One Day I’ll…Someday I’ll Come Home

I went on Saturday to the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival & it was fantastic, but Sunday was the day that I will remember for all my days. My sister & I arrived early in the morning to make sure we had a good seat at the stage where the Avett Brothers would play later that evening. They were the ones we wished to see most of all, but we were eager to see everything that the festival had to offer.

When the Felice Brothers came on, expectations were low. I’d heard of the band from New York in passing, but was not sure of what they had to offer. What they had to offer was a brilliant collection of songs that came across as a hybrid of Bob Dylan, The Band & Tom Waits.  We marveled at their presence & we enjoyed them without reservation.

Then came on Moon Alice & we were less enthusiastic about their performance. They were from a bygone generation of Dead Heads that didn’t appeal to my or her generation*. They spoke of doing hallucinogenic drugs & of playing with the Grateful Dead throughout the world. I must put this out there that I have a strong distaste towards the Grateful Dead & Jam bands in particular. It’s great if you’re on acid, but if stoned or drunk it does nothing but wear on one’s patience. Since I’ve never tried any psychedelic drugs (unless you consider pot as such) I couldn’t relate.

*My sister & I are 15 years apart, but oftentimes, if not at all times, she is the voice of reason.

Boodge (what my sister will be heretofore referred to as) & I decided to eat lunch. The sun came out for a spell & we basked in its glory, however short lived & we were asked by a young hippie what we were eating & where we could get it. Whole Foods, that corporate conglomerate that brilliantly markets itself to nonconformists was the answer & she brimmed with near luminescence at the suggestion that we didn’t propagate one of the other corporate establishments such as: Safeway, Raley’s or Lucky’s. As if this corporation was better than the others because it had a better global strategy to make more money by being the organic food headquarters, by being morally just to  follow laws about fair trade & by not being afraid to hire those, nay encourage their employees (male or female) to have dreadlocks & beards. A brilliant corporate strategy & one not lost on those that have the power of literacy.

I, however, could care less about any of that. While being a concerned global citizen, my main objective is selfish to be true. I want the best price I can find for my buck. Sure I can get a cup of coffee for a buck & Winchell’s**, but Starbuck’s offers the facilities to sit & write this diatribe for $1.95 so I’m getting more for my money. That, my friends, is economics.

**That is assuming I’m not dating myself & Winchell’s is still around.

After we consumed our hummus & flatbread thing with Spinach we left our blanket & ice chest at our little spot & headed off to wander to the various booths of food & merch before going to see Randy Newman. Randy Newman was uproariously funny. Cracking jokes in-between songs & we laughed as if seated in a comedy club. It was half way through the set that I became distracted by a curious Groundhog, named Gunther by Boodge. He would come up eat a little grass, peer out over the crowd & scurry back into his hole. Shy, but not overly so it didn’t take him to long to become comfortable with me & eat leaves right from my hand.

After Randy Newman’s set, which included scattered boos for playing “I Love L.A.” we headed off to see Elvis Costello, one of the larger draws of the show. We got a spot on  a hill about a mile away, which was great for about five minutes until the sheer masses of people began to crowd around us & the young Boodge’s claustrophobia got the better of her. Five songs & we headed off to the Avett Brothers stage. Declan MacMannus would have to wait for another day.

As we walked over, Boodge felt a desire to apologize for her ailments. How heartless must one be to want to subject someone they care about to such deplorable a condition as thousands of people pushing against you & making you terribly uncomfortable. Apologies weren’t necessary as I was none to happy to subject her or myself to something thoroughly unenjoyable.

We caught the Yonder Mountain String Band & they made us dance with a joy that is usually reserved for weddings, funerals & bar mitzvahs. Banjos, fiddles & an accordion ruled the hour as we lost all inhibition to what others may think. We had never heard their music before, but it didn’t stop us from enjoying them as if they were our hometown band making a trip through one last time.

After they finished we anxiously awaited the band we wanted to see most of all. Boodge wanted them to play “Colorshow” more than anything & wouldn’t you know they came out & led with it. The tempo was set & we lost ourselves in the music. They played songs from their newest album, their older albums & a cover of Doc Watson’s “Blue Ridge Mountains”. The throngs of people made it even better as we belted out the lyrics as though we’d written them ourselves. We sang with reckless abandon as well all peered out over the haze of fog & marijuana smoke that permeated the festival atmosphere.

As if on cue when “Salina” came on we danced like Native Americans dancing for rain & when the lyric “The rain it fell, the story went on. The rain it fell & we got gone” came we all screamed it as a steady drizzle fell in the valley of trees where the stage was situated. Epic is a word that I throw around, sometimes too often, but that is what the scene was in a word. The energy put into that set left us speechless. After an hour & a half of singing & playing their hearts out the boys from North Carolina left the stage to pure love & affection.

In that moment, where we all sang “I & Love & You” & the Avetts left the stage we genuinely felt it. It was nothing but admiration, thankfulness & love for giving us an experience. There are things that have stuck with me in my life, the births of my sisters, niece & nephew, my father’s passing, the first time I saw Bruce Springsteen, Paul McCartney & Bad Religion. This was one of those moments where time stood still & 100, 000 voices on the ground, in the trees, on hills sang in unison to the heavens. No violence, no strife as the free festival carried through three days of peace due to the benevolence & generosity of Warren Hellman.

As we left the excitement was palpable & life was good. We were throughly exhausted, but it was the good kind. The kind that makes you know that the thing you just witnessed was magical & will be a story that never grows old. We were there, like it was Monterey ’67 or Woodstock ’69. We watched these artists give us joy & in turn we gave them love & admiration. Our lives were forever changed by music & why shouldn’t it be music that changes lives. Why must life always be changed by negative things? Why can’t that those moments of joy stay locked in our cranial cavities like money in a safe only coming out when we feel the need to share. It was a glorious day!

They Say We’re The Chosen Few But We’re Wasted

Two of the albums that I listened to over & over again while away on my trip to Europe were Arcade Fire’s two albums Neon Bible & Funeral so it comes as no surprise that when I heard the new album The Suburbs was coming out I was elated. I knew it would be a good album, but I had no idea it would be this good. While not as good as Funeral it is miles better than Neon Bible, an album I love. The Suburbs has a Springsteen feel to it & Bruce is an avowed fan (most likely the reason I fell into them).

The new album is rife with experimental or rarely used instruments but it’s songs like “Modern man” that stand out to me as good old fashioned rockers. While bands like The Killers & Muse do their best to get their music out to the masses, Arcade Fire does not rush out to complete his albums on a yearly clip as many others. Now, though is where it all gets so pretentious. The people touting the brilliance of Arcade Fire (which is a true statement) will become unbearable.

There is a fine line people, let’s not turn this beautiful music making machine into a pariah for doing nothing more than making the best music of a generation. I once got into a pseudo online feud about Josh Ritter being the best songwriter of a generation. A point I disputed & what went from a mere point of contention or a polite conversation on what defines the “greatest songwriter” designation turned into something that got ugly quickly due to dedicated readers. The point is I was remiss in not bringing Win Butler into the discussion.

But Matty D you just warned against hyperbolic statements about Arcade Fire & you’re now doing just that, what gives? The reality is there, I’m not trying to cram it down your throat. It’s there for you to hear it if you’re so inclined, but it isn’t my duty to force you to open your eyes to what is a fantastic musical experience. I am merely the facilitator. I bring to your attention things that you might not otherwise be aware of or wouldn’t have the wherewithal to know about at that second.

The Suburbs is easily the best album thus far this year, killing anything Muse or Brandon Flowers could vomit out. It is a themed album of sorts based on life in the suburbs, a fate not for everyone. I have now lived in & out of the suburbs at various points in my life & I have always had a special affection for them. The people that are in the suburbs have a genuine affection for their neighbors, they’re friendlier & much more affable yet not as naive as perhaps their country living counterparts.

City life is rough & tumble. It moves at break neck speed & oftentimes the soul crushing speed of it all can ruin whatever ounce of humanity you brought into it. The suburbs are the median between City & Country life & I believe that is the point that Arcade Fire attempts to convey. This is an album that also conveys regret, failure & the modernity of how we are different than previous generations. Arcade Fire brings a deeper essence of life to their music & today when so much is focused on laughable acts like proud lesbian Justin Bieber or Madonna wanna-be Lady Gaga it is refreshing to hear something come along that breaks the mold & simply makes great music not for the masses, but for the few.

City With No Children – Arcade Fire

Modern Man – Arcade Fire

Ready to Start – Arcade Fire

Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains) – Arcade Fire

The Art of Feeling Naked in Your Clothes

It’s been a week or so since I wrote anything. Writer’s block? Laziness? Nothing to write about? Who knows? I’ve been sitting on this topic for a few days & now I feel the time is write to truly express my outrage (probably not the right word). Coachella, in case you live in a cave (talking to you Osama), is a 3 day music festival in Indio, California in April every year that highlights some of the most amazing bands & usually showcases new & old alike. This year, however, the lineup is shit. Talk about getting right to the point.

Last year the headliners were Paul McCartney, The Cure & The Killers. This year it’s Jay-Z, Muse & Gorillaz? Jay-Z is awesome & I’ve wanted to see him forever. He’s one of the best rapper’s around, but Gorillaz & Muse? I just don’t understand why Muse is blowing up so huge. They’re good, but headlining material? Not so much. I saw them at the Download festival a few years ago opening up for Beck & the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. They’re a nice band, with a nice sound. Hardly, headlining material. Don’t even get me started on Gorillaz who were another nice band about 5 years ago.

Sunday might as well be labeled has-been night with Pavement, Sly & the Family Stone & De La Soul also on the bill. 2009 had Franz Ferdinand, Morrissey, The Black Keys, Leonard Cohen & Paul McCartney & that was just the first day. What happened to getting the biggest acts in the world & showcasing them. It’s like the promoters for Coachella threw in the towel & just said “fuck it, we’ll see if Stephen Malkmus wants to get an underachieving 90’s band back together!” They’re not even headlining!

It’s get’s better. In their infinite wisdom they have decided not to sell individual day tickets, but to reduce the cost of camping.  This, to me, is a sign that they know they’re not going to make their money back with such a subpar lineup. If I had their money & the time they had form one year to the next to lock down anyone I wanted here’s 10 of the artists I would get.

Bruce Springsteen – Have him headline like he did at Bonnaroo. He’ll play for 3 hours like McCartney did & leave everyone with a memorable experience. .

Born to Run (Unplugged) – Bruce Springsteen

Thunder Road (Acoustic) – Bruce Springsteen

The Avett Brothers – Yeah I know they’re playing Day 1 on a shitty side stage, but I’d get rid of Grace Jones & move in the Avett’s. Poor planning once again.

Laundry Room – Avett Brothers

It Goes On & On – Avett Brothers

The Pixies – They’ve been playing again recently & would’ve been a helluva better option than Pavement.

Here Comes Your Man (Live) – The Pixies

Hey (Live) – The Pixies

Blitzen Trapper – An amazing band that would’ve fit nicely with Passion Pit & Grizzly Bear on day 1.

Furr – Blitzen Trapper

Wild Mountain Nation – Blitzen Trapper

Danger Mouse & Sparklehorse – They came out with one of the best underground album in years (probably since The Grey Album) & John Waters will be playing on Saturday.

Revenge – Danger Mouse & Sparklehorse featuring Wayne Coyne from The Flaming Lips

Little Girl – Feat. Julian Casablancas

Dr. Dre – He’s coming out with a new album. Could’ve gotten Eminem on stage with him & screams West Coast much more than the New Jersey native Jay-Z.

Nuthin’ but a G Thang – Dr. Dre

Forgot About Dre – Dr. Dre feat. Eminem

Guns ‘N Roses – What better venue than Coachella to try & get the original line-up together for a one-off? This is what Coachella used to be about, getting bands back together after years of strife.

Don’t Cry – Guns N’ Roses

Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door – Guns N’ Roses

Led Zeppelin – They’ve been talking about getting back together for a couple of years now. Wouldn’t Coachella have reaped the benefits of getting such an amazing act on their queue?

Black Dog (Live) – Led Zeppelin

Going to California (Live) – Led Zeppelin

My Morning Jacket – They bring their own audience much like the Dead, but talented. They are a band that would bring people from across the country to the event, unlike say…Muse or Grace Jones.

One Big Holiday (Live) – MMJ

Where to Begin – MMJ

Oasis – What better venue than to get the Brothers Gallagher to kiss & make up once again than Coachella. They could bring a global audience to watch what could turn out to be great music or a great fistfight. Either way the crowd is entertained.

Live Forever (Unplugged) – Oasis

What’s the Story Morning Glory (Unplugged)– Oasis

Like A Little Drop Of Ink In A Glass Of Water

I consider myself a nostalgic person, but not overly so or is it overly such? Regardless, I thoroughly enjoy music from previous generations & probably even more than most of the music coming out today. I’m that way with a lot of things though, movies, baseball, radio, etc. Not everything is worse now that it was say 20 years ago, however, video games have dramatically improved, basketball & football are so much more exciting & television has climbed to heights many never thought it would with the emergence of edgy cable programming.

One of the things that I most enjoy about today is writing. Today everyone seems to be putting pen to paper or rather computer text to blogs & expressing themselves in ways the world has never seen before. 10 years ago I would never have had the opportunity to write everyday for the world to see my divergent opinions were it not for this utterly fantastic forum. Last week I decided again to break from my nostalgic rut once again & force myself to listen to something at least somewhat current. Actually it’s a couple years old, but I’d heard so much about it, but never listened to it.

From the ever reliable Wikipedia:

The National are a Brooklyn-based indie rock band formed in 1999. The band’s lyrics are written and sung by Matt Berninger in a distinctive, deep baritone. The rest of the band is composed of two pairs of brothers: Aaron and Bryce Dessner and Scott and Bryan Devendorf. Aaron plays guitar, bass and piano, Bryce plays guitar, Scott plays bass and guitar, and Bryan is the drummer. Padma Newsome, from sister band Clogs, often contributes strings, keyboards, and other arrangements and instrumental flourishes.

I decided to listen to what Paste called, “The number 1 album of 2007” & that is Boxer. I will say that at first the aforementioned deep baritone of Matt Berninger threw me off as it sounded so much like Crash Test Dummies lead singer Brad Roberts that I almost couldn’t listen to it without fully expecting “Mmm, Mmm, Mmm” to break out in the middle of “Fake Empire”, but I pushed through & found this album so amazing that much like the Tom Waits album before I kicked myself for having been so close minded as not to listen to it before.

I found it to be very much like Joy Division musically who they list as one of their main influences & lyrically like Bruce Springsteen who was another influence. After a few listens I realized that the vocal style, while something I could not listen to every day fit perfectly with this style. it is so much of a collaborative effort that the vocals do not stand out as much once you are fully integrated into the style. You may say music is always a collaborative effort & to an extent I agree, but not to this level.

In this band it takes every single member to come up with the sound they are attempting to achieve while in bands like The Smiths, Smashing Pumpkins or even Nine Inch Nails those aren’t as prevalent. Especially in the case of NIN who are really just Trent Reznor & session/touring musicians. On Boxer it’s almost like the lyrics are faded down so that the music stands out. My favorite song on the album was “Green Gloves” . it was so beautifully constructed & so pared down that you can hear the sliding down on the acoustic guitar (a sound I adore). Again, this album is a stellar album of grand achievement & I’m so glad that my year is starting off with new music that can guide me towards a more open-minded existence.

Fake Empire – The National

Green Gloves – The National

Start a War – The National

Brainy (Alt. Version) – The National

Santa Clara (Demo) – The National

The One Big Soul That Belongs To Everybody

Bob Dylan once wrote a song to Woody Guthrie (A Song to Woody was the official title) while Guthrie, increasingly unable to control his muscle movements due to Huntington’s Disease, was hospitalized at Greystone Park Psychiatric Hospital. It’s addressed to Woody, but also meant for all the old folk singers that were losing touch with the new modern world. A world that was increasingly forgetting about them. Woody Guthrie sung of the Depression mainly the Dust Bowl Refugees that had come to California seeking work only to be turned away.

I’ve referred to what I think is the greatest novel ever written many times on this blog recently, The Grapes of Wrath & how it correlates with today’s new economic climate. I don’t have a cable television, mainly because I have an addictive personality & I would indeed watch all the time, but I do keep up with the news voraciously & I love to read. Today, people are no longer coming to California for work, they are leaving.

There are so many scapegoats that it would take weeks to list them on this blog, so I won’t go into huge detail about all. However, there is one main culprit I have in my sites today & that is Unemployment. This is one of the worst, most unconscionable Government Organizations around.  While in theory it is there to help people, it is run by people who’s main goal is not to help you find work, not to help you while you are unemployed but to find ways not to pay you. I have witnessed this first hand with many members of my family.

It is corrupt & even though this is hyperbolic & slightly biased, evil. They interview people over the phone to see if they are eligible first off, but their line of questioning & tone is, more often than not, accusatory & on the blaming you side. Meaning you lose your job, they question why you wouldn’t do everything to keep it up to & including grabbing your ankles. It is not their goal or desire to help those that desperately want to work. They seek not to help get you work with their CALJOBS site (which is an absolute joke). What they seek is reason to delay, deny & discourage those that can’t find work.

I am not speaking of those that consider being unemployed, funemployed. People who sponge off the system or defraud it are deplorable. No, I speak of the needy in this state that need a sympathetic ear when times are tough. Whatever happened to courtesy? What happened to core ideals like caring for your fellow man? Where did we go wrong as a people that simple compassion & understanding have gone the way of the dodo only to be replaced by apathy & outright disdain?

Have we really gone so far as to becoming a country where the haves seek to eliminate the have-nots? It is a telling example that the unemployment is understaffed & now open on Saturdays to help with the utter saturation of calls they receive. Are they cycling people from the DMV into the Unemployment offices now? I am not complaining for the sake of complaining I want change. Our Governor checked out a long time ago. When you elect Rich Men who could care less about poor people this is what you get.

I watched parts of the “Jobs Summit” that the President held the other day with Corporate execs & I heard a recurring theme especially from Disney Chairman Robert Iger & that was reduce the Corporate tax. For what? They won’t employ more people, they’ll just line their own pockets. The economic system is so inherently flawed that it is destined to reoccur in the not too distant future. The people that are trying to help aren’t listened to or labeled as crazy & the people that shit on the poor are regarded as heroes. We are in serious need of our Tom Joad. Someone who will fight for the cause of the poor. Perhaps, The Grapes of Wrath was a call to socialism as many have intimated. If true then so be it, the system we have now is no longer working.

Tom Joad: I been thinking about us, too, about our people living like pigs and good rich land layin’ fallow. Or maybe one guy with a million acres and a hundred thousand farmers starvin’. And I been wonderin’ if all our folks got together and yelled…
Ma Joad: Oh, Tommy, they’d drag you out and cut you down just like they done to Casy.
Tom Joad: They’d drag me anyways. Sooner or later they’d get me for one thing if not for another. Until then…
Ma Joad: Tommy, you’re not aimin’ to kill nobody.
Tom Joad: No, Ma, not that. That ain’t it. It’s just, well as long as I’m an outlaw anyways… maybe I can do somethin’… maybe I can just find out somethin’, just scrounge around and maybe find out what it is that’s wrong and see if they ain’t somethin’ that can be done about it. I ain’t thought it out all clear, Ma. I can’t. I don’t know enough.
Ma Joad: How am I gonna know about ya, Tommy? Why they could kill ya and I’d never know. They could hurt ya. How am I gonna know?
Tom Joad: Well, maybe it’s like Casy says. A fellow ain’t got a soul of his own, just little piece of a big soul, the one big soul that belongs to everybody, then…
Ma Joad: Then what, Tom?
Tom Joad: Then it don’t matter. I’ll be all around in the dark – I’ll be everywhere. Wherever you can look – wherever there’s a fight, so hungry people can eat, I’ll be there. Wherever there’s a cop beatin’ up a guy, I’ll be there. I’ll be in the way guys yell when they’re mad. I’ll be in the way kids laugh when they’re hungry and they know supper’s ready, and when the people are eatin’ the stuff they raise and livin’ in the houses they build – I’ll be there, too.
Ma Joad: I don’t understand it, Tom.
Tom Joad: Me, neither, Ma, but – just somethin’ I been thinkin’ about.

Ghost of Tom Joad – Bruce Springsteen

Song to Woody – Bob Dylan

The Bourgeois Blues – Lead Belly

Head Full of Doubt/Road Full of Promise – The Avett Brothers

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.