Best tunes of 2001: #24 Gorillaz “Clint Eastwood”

In or about a month ago, I posted some other words on Gorillaz and one of the few other songs of theirs that I liked, “On melancholy hill” (#13 on my Best of 2010 list). In that same post, I made mention of this track, which also happened to be my first taste of what the virtual hip hop fusion band led by Blur frontman Damon Albarn was going to be offering.

“Clint Eastwood” was the first single released off Gorillaz’s self-titled, debut album. The name of the song appears nowhere in its lyrics, nor does it seem at first glance, relevant to its themes. I recently learned, though, that it was so named due to the similarity of the song’s melody to that of the theme song for the film, “The good, the bad, and the ugly”. I never picked up on that myself but now that I know it’s there, it changes things a bit for me, and I can’t seem to un-hear it. I always used to feel that the drum machine rhythm and keyboard line, as well as the synthesized strings, evoked the image of a travelling midway circus, a dark and haunted one, at that. I loved Albarn’s sung, ear worm chorus and its interplay with Del the Funky Homosapien’s rapped verses. The whole thing had an eerie but laidback groove that you didn’t want to try too hard to escape, no matter how unsettling it was.

The song will always remind me of one of the few social evenings my wife and I enjoyed shortly after relocating from Toronto to Ottawa. I had met a couple of people at the new call centre job I had started at the end of August, found myself wandering down for coffee at the same time as them during breaks, and by October, Candace, Jeff, and I were making plans to go out for drinks with our respective boyfriends and girlfriends. The six of us met at the Blue Cactus down in the Byward Market on a Saturday night and we had a blast. Even to this day, my wife Victoria looks back fondly on that evening and marvels at how easily we hit it off. The group of us would go out a few more times together after that but save for a particularly fun New Year’s gathering at our place, we never really replicated the magic of that night.

And at some point during the evening, “Clint Eastwood” was played in the Blue Cactus and even as deeply engaged in hilarious conversation as we were, my subconscious recognized the track and my head started bopping. I think it was Candace who noticed and asked who it was that was playing. I explained and we all sat back and soaked in the song for a few moments before continuing with the laughter. It wasn’t the first time I had heard the song, but perhaps the first time from someone else’s speakers and in a whole other environment and I saw it in a whole other light.

But enough blathering. Enjoy the tune.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 2001 list, click here.

Best tunes of 2010: #11 Beach House “Used to be”

Okay. So I know that Beach House’s “Used to be” was originally released as a single in 2008, something brand new after the Baltimore-based dream pop duo had just spent months on the road touring their last album, and they were aching to get back to the studio. But the album version, placed midway through the track listing of 2010’s incredible “Teen dream”, is the version I heard first and am more familiar with, so I had no issues including it as number eleven on my Best of 2010 list.

I had been loosely following Beach House since the release of their self-titled debut back in 2006 and saw them open for The Clientele the following year. I say ‘loosely’ because while I had both of their first two albums and thought they were pleasant to listen to, I only ever really considered them fodder for background music. The worlds created by Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally were light and airy but also grim and plodding up to that point. It all changed for me with the third album and “Used to be” really anchored the shift. It is all very dreamy still, synth washes abound and Legrand’s breathy delivery is just lovely, but it was like the sun came out and they found something to be cheerful about.

Interesting, then, that the song that spearheaded their move towards upbeat rhythms was written as an examination of the passing of time, of aging, and seeing things change. Beach House shakes a little fairy dust, sings a lullaby, the rhythmic snare counts off the seconds like years, and you’re off to your dream world, seeing things as you remembered them. Even the piano chimes, echoing the vocal melody, are nostalgic, sounding every bit like that toy piano you wanted for Christmas when you were six. It’s a happy place, this song, all innocence and pure joy.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 2010 list, click here.

100 best covers: #91 Dum Dum Girls “There is a light that never goes out”

“And if a double-decker bus
Crashes into us
To die by your side
Is such a heavenly way to die”

Who else but Morrissey could pen such a lyric? Pair that with Johnny Marr’s instantly recognizable jangly guitar and you might wonder how anyone could possibly stand up to cover any song by The Smiths. Many bands try but very few succeed. Dum Dum Girls, the noise rock project led by Dee Dee Penny, have managed it, in my opinion, with their version of “There is a light that never goes out”.

The original appeared on The Smiths’ third record, “The queen is dead”, and is considered by some to be among the band’s best work. It’s got Marr’s aforementioned jangle, some synthesized strings, and of course, Morrissey’s warble, all typically morbid and depressing. It’s tone is melancholy in its regal, unhurried sound, a song that many a teenager has spun in their bedroom to soundtrack their breaking heart.

Dum Dum Girls’ cover appeared as the final track on their 2011 EP “He gets me high”, which was produced by Raveonettes’ Sune Rose Wagner and by Richard Gottehrer (writer of 60s girl group hits, like “My boyfriend’s back”). Their version is bigger, brasher, and faster. The arrangements are the same but the sound is completely different. There are noisy guitars and heavy-footed bass drumming, and Dee Dee’s vocals are exuberant and thrilling in the pure emotion created by fresh love.

I’m not even close to admitting it to be better than the original, but Penny and her Dum Dum Girls, gave “There is a light” a pretty sweet makeover for a date night on a town. What do you all think?

The cover:

The original:

For the rest of the 100 best covers list, click here.