Tag Archives: Cat Stevens

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.

Top 250 Songs of all Time 219-210

#219 – Can’t Buy a Thrill – Steely Dan

A couple of Jazz enthusiasts who decide to form a rock band sounds like a recipe for disaster but with Steely Dan’s debut album, Can’t Buy a Thrill, this is obviously not the case. With two successful singles & complex instrumentals this album got up to #17 on the Billboard charts in 1972. “Reelin’ in the Years” is the 6th track off the album & happens to have Jimmy Page’s favorite guitar solo of all-time. The 2 core members of the group Walter Becker & Donald Fagen were also notorious perfectionists when it came to their studio & live performances & stopped touring in the 70s for a time to become a purely studio act as they had more control there.

Steely Dan – Reelin’ in the Years

Steely Dan – Do it Again

#218 – Hard Day’s night – The Beatles

Hard Day’s Night was a phrase coined by Ringo Starr in a Yogi Berra moment.

“We went to do a job & we’d worked all day & we happened to work all night. I came up still thinking it was day, I suppose & I said, ‘It’s been a hard day…’ & I looked around & saw it was dark so I said,’…night!”

More the rock n’ roll Beatles that got them in the limelight than the psychedelia they later subscribed to. Lennon & McCartney wrote every song on the album & one of the first instances of John Lennon’s jealous guy/misogynistic streak (seems to have becoming a recurring theme here on The De Mello Theory) with “You Can’t Do That” but my favorite song on the album is “I’ll Be Back” which sounds like something off of a Del Shannon album with a twinge of Spanish guitar thrown in for some measure of awesomeness.

The Beatles – You Can’t Do That

The Beatles – I’ll Be Back

#217 – A Man & His Music – Frank Sinatra

Despite being a retrospective of his career, A Man & His Music is not just some greatest hits album. Instead of using the original recordings, which were made for RCA, Columbia & Capitol, therefore making them ineligble for use by his current label Reprise, Sinatra re-recorded the tracks. This proved to be a good decision as it won the 1967 Grammy Award for Album of the Year. Enlisting help from some of his old friends (Dean Martin, Bing Crosby, Nelson Riddle & Count Basie, among others) Sinatra proved that the “old has-been” many thought he was in the psychedelic era were way off. He reworked classic tracks such as “Luck be a Lady“,  “Young at Heart“, “Come Fly with Me” & “Love & Marriage” & made a lasting monument to the legacy of brilliance.

Frank Sinatra – Love & Marriage

Frank Siantra – Luck Be a Lady

#216 – Purple – Stone Temple Pilots

Purple will always hold a special place in my heart. Not merely because it was the first CD I ever purchased, but in ’94 I was 17 & I had a shitty job at Carl’s jr. flipping burgers that I hated. I had limited money, but still I bought this and Dookie by Green Day. It literally changed my life with the De Leo brothers strong hooks and riffs & Weiland’s fantastic lyrics. I went from being a pseudo Alternative music fan to completely immersing myself in rock music. The steel guitar of “Interstate Love Song” & “Big Empty” really personified great musicianship in my mind & led me to break away from the monotony of rap music and fully appreciate great artistry.

Stone Temple Pilots – Big Empty

Stone Temple Pilots – Interstate Love Song

#215 – Outlandos d’Amour – The Police

Who could forget Eddie Murphy singing “Roxanne” in 48 hours with that comedic high pitch? That’s how big Outlandos d’Amour became. A song that was about suicide & prostitution was the song that propelled this album in the U.S. to #23 on the Billboard charts & was initially banned by the BBC.

“…We had a publicity campaign with posters about how the BBC banned “Roxanne”. The reason they had a problem “Can’t Stand Losing You” was because the photo on the cover of the single had Stewart standing on a block of ice with a noose around his neck waiting for the ice to melt.”

This, also, was one of the fore bearers to the New Wave, post punk era & led the Police to be one of the biggest acts before Sting lost his backbone and played bad music throughout the 90s.

The Police – So Lonely

The Police – Roxanne

#214 – Straight Outta Compton – N.W.A.

Before Straight Outta Compton Hip-Hop was primarily an East Coast genre that told about poverty, partying or drug use to a minimal extent. This album redefined the direction of Hip-Hop & spoke of the “gansta liefstyle” in graphic detail. It received no airplay on the radio & had no major tour promotion, yet went double platinum. The group consisted of future Rap heavyweights, Dr. Dre, Eazy-E, Ice Cube, MC Ren & the D.O.C. It was produced by Dr. Dre & DJ Yella & relied heavily on samples of James Brown, Funkadelic, Marvin Gaye & Kool & the Gang among others. I’d be remiss if I did not mention the negative press this album received due to the #2 track on the album “Fuck tha Police“.  This from N.W.A. biographer Stephen Thomas Erlewine”

Because of the recurring violent & sexual lyrics & profanity, often specifically directed at governmental organizations such as the LAPD, N.W.A. always enjoyed a particular repudiation from U.S. Senators & the FBI. One of the reasons for this was the highly controversial track from the album “Fuck tha Police”, which resulted in the FBI & the Secret Service sending a letter to Ruthless Records informing the label of their displeasure with the song’s message & N.W.A. were banned from performing at several venues.

Nevertheless, this album broke huge barriers for today’s hip-hop artists for better or worse.

N.W.A. – Gangsta, Gangsta

N.W.A. – Express Yourself

#213 – Tea For the Tillerman – Cat Stevens

Cat Steven’s second album, Tea For the Tillerman, brought him a kind of acclaim that the first album had not. It is a memorable album in that it does adhere to the conventional norms of the singer/songwriter genre. It has intricate melodies & well thought out lyrics that speak to protest & a thought of better ways to accomplish things. “Where Do the Children Play” is the perfect example. This from William Ruhlman:

The song reflects Steven’s growing awareness of the turmoil of the 1960s and the issues involved; war, urban sprawl, poverty, ecological disaster, and the future of humankind. The same themes and concerns are repeated later in many of his songs. This song was originally played in concert only by Stevens and Alun Davies most often with only acoustic instruments, but later, after Stevens began to embrace more of an electric guitar sound, it was adapted to accommodate it.

Within the year of writing the song, Stevens provided songs, including this one, for the soundtrack of the 1971 movie, Harold and Maude. The film, directed by Hal Ashby and written by Colin Higgins, shows a scene during the song, where one of the lead characters, Harold, is driving, and then, the camera, from above, shows him driving past first one little white grave stone, and then pans out to a large area of the same identical war-time gravestones, until, panning even further, the number of little tiny white graves is nearly overwhelming, and underscores the point of the song.

It is one of the simpler songs on the album as far as instrumentation, but spoke the most to the disenchantment of the Nixon era, the Vietnam War & the end of the “Free love” 60’s.

Cat Stevens – Where Do the Children Play

Cat Stevens – Wild World

#212 – Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J. – Bruce Springsteen

Bruce Springsteen’s debut album, Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J., did not sell well, because of it’s difference to anything released at that point. While the influence of Bob Dylan is felt heavily with the quick pace of the lyrics a la “Subterranean Homesick Blues” the instrumentation is mixes of Jazz & Rock with Clarence Clemons playing the Saxophone. The album has one recurrent theme of becoming an adult. In one way or another most of the characters are putting aside their childish ways or reminiscing of their childhoods. “Lost in the Flood” is the first of many Springsteen songs that deal with both Vietnam vets disillusionment & the car themes. it speaks to the despair & chaos that ensued during the Vietnam/Nixon Era that we have spoken of time & time again here on the De Mello Theory.

Bruce Springsteen – Lost in the Flood

Bruce Springsteen – Spirit in the Night

#211 – Combat Rock -The Clash

Combat Rock was the last album featuring lead guitarist Mick Jones. It is less experimental than Sandanista, but less Punk & more reggae than previous offerings. According to author Marcus Gray, the song “Red Angel Dragnet” was inspired by the January 1982 shooting death of Frank Melvin, a New York member of the Guardian Angels. The song contains extensive quotes from the 1976 movie Taxi Driver’s main character Travis Bickle, delivered by Kosmo Vinyl. Bickle sports a mohawk in the later part of the film and that hairstyle was adopted by Joe Strummer during the album promotion. The song, “Ghetto Defendant”, features beat poet Allen Ginsberg, who performed the song on stage with the band during the New York shows on their tour in support of the album. A song that at once condemns the heroin addict & the police at the same time.

The Clash – Red Angel Dragnet

The Clash – Ghetto Defendant

#210 – New Morning – Bob Dylan

New Morning was a return to form, of sorts, from what many fans consider Bob Dylan’s worst album Self Portrait. Since 1967 Dylan had experimented with a more country music style & changing his voice to adapt to it more. This album saw the return of his more recognized style of singing. Held in Studio B, the first session was accompanied by George Harrison, bassist Charlie Daniels, and drummer Russ Kunkel. The master take for “Went to See the Gypsy” was recorded at this session and eventually included on New Morning, but most of the results were rejected.

The best song on the album is without a doubt “If Not For You” it has that undeniable sweet snare drum & a country guitar hook. it was the only single released from the album & was later covered by George Harrison. Also, who could forget  in “The Big Lebowski” where  “The Man in Me” in the first dream sequence fades out after The Dude wakes up, but we still hear it, tinny and distant on his Walkman.

Bob Dylan – If Not For You

Bob Dylan – The Man in Me

Music News

  • Trent Reznor also announced that Bonnaroo would be his last U.S. show ever. He is going to finish his European and Asian tour & continue to make records, but is just too burnt out from touring constantly. Could this be Trent Reznor’s Brett Favre, Michael Jordan moment? Only time will tell. Hopefully he didn’t just play his last show in front of what has been described as “an almost Phish concert”. Nine Inch Nails playing to hippies…what next?
  • New photos of John Lennon & Yoko “I broke up the Beatles” Ono’s sit-in from 1969 by photographer Gerry Deiter, who covered the bed-in for Life magazine. “Give Peace A Chance: John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s Bed-In For Peace,” which runs through September 7th, at the Museum at Bethel Woods in Woodstock, New York, features more than 30 large photographs of the couple’s famous protest for peace, held May 26 through June 2, 1969 in room 1742 of Montreal’s Queen Elizabeth Hotel.
  • Coming from a semi-photographic background (My mother is an excellent professional photographer) I love to see photographs of musicians or by musicians & this seems to be a good week for photographs. Pat Graham & Raen Optics collaborated on pictures Graham took of Modest Mouse. Worth taking a gander at. Plus, how much better has Modest Mouse gotten since Johnny Marr joined the group? Wait that’s not a question that’s a statement or is it just a hypothetical question? See that’s a question. Things I should’ve learned in Journalism.
  • What a great year for box sets this is turning out to be as the Pixies are coming out with their definitive collection in a set called Minotaur. Includes all five Pixies’ studio albums (Come on Pilgrim, Surfer Rosa, Doolittle, Bossanova, and Trompe le Monde) in the following formats:

    24k gold plated CD’s;
    five 12″ – 180 gram virgin vinyl LP’s cut from the original analog tapes;
    Blu-ray audio mastered for 5.1 surround sound and 2 channel stereo at 24/192;
    DVD mastered for 5.1 surround sound and 2 channel stereo at 24/96.
    Also included is the previously unreleased Pixies 1991 live performance from Brixton, on both Blu-ray and DVD, mastered for 5.1 surround sound at 24/192 and 24/96, respectively.
    All discs are housed in a custom designed folio.In addition to reinterpreting all of the original album covers, Oliver’s and Larbalestier’s extensive work is featured in a 96-page fine art book, measuring 22″ x 14″ inches, and an additional 54-page book, measuring 7.75″ x 8.25″.
    Also included is a 12″ x 19.5″ giclee print of the duo’s work, and two double-sided fold-out posters measuring 48″ x 36.
    Each copy of the Limited Edition is individually numbered, and hand-signed by every member of the Pixies and Vaughan Oliver.
    Additionally, at random, 25 of the 3000 Limited Edition sets will include test pressings of the vinyl albums. Housed in an oversized clamshell case and weighing over 25 pounds, Minotaur ships via Federal Express or UPS worldwide.

  • The Beastie Boys will feature rapper Nas on one of their tracks on the upcoming album Hot Sauce Committee (stupid album title) due in September. Nas made an appearance with the Beasties on the stage at Bonnaroo last week, but as of yet I have not been able to get my hands on the audio or reliable video to make anything out of it. Rest assured I will, though.
  • Finally, Cat Stevens has forgiven Coldplay for allegedly stealing his melody. Coldplay is a shitty band, this we all know, but this was stupid & frivolous to begin with. Way to keep your name in the news Yusuf!