100 best covers: #84 Crash Test Dummies “Androgynous”

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Back at the end of April, I railed on about my love for the “The ghosts that haunt me”, the debut album by Winnipeg’s Crash Test Dummies, as part of my Best tunes of 1991 series (“Superman’s song” at #24). That darned cassette definitely got a workout in both my Walkman and my stereo while at home. I played it so often that I pretty much knew all the words to all ten songs on the album, though I’m sure studying the lyrics in the foldout cassette cover didn’t hurt. It was here that I was first tipped off that “Androgynous”, track three on side two, was a cover, the lyrics attributed to a “P. Westerberg”.

It was years, though, before I made the connection between that name and the legendary American punk rock band from the 80s: The Replacements. And years still until I actually sat down to listen to the original. It was, in fact, just this past week that I brought it up on YouTube, figuring I should probably do so since I’d be writing about it. I almost felt like a cheat when I made up this covers list, including Crash Test Dummies’ version on it as one of my favourite ever, not knowing the song on which it was based. But back in the day, I loved singing along to this song so much.

“Here come Dick, he’s wearing a skirt
Here comes Jane, you know she’s sporting a chain
Same hair, revolution
Same build, evolution
Tomorrow who’s gonna fuss
And they love each other so
Androgynous”

The version I know starts off slow and plodding, folky like the rest of the album, while Brad Robert’s bass-baritone melds with Ellen Reid’s angelic textures, until it picks up to a foot stomping climax. I checked out two versions of The Replacements performing it: what I think is the original and a live version performed in recent years. Their original has a juke joint rockabilly feel, plonking piano and sing along vocals but live, it has an even more raw edge, focused more with guitars.

Given that I haven’t as yet put aside time to explore more of The Replacements’ work, I don’t know how this song even fits within their back catalogue. I do like their version as well, so does this mean I need to check them out? Replacements fans, help me out.

The cover:

The original:

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

Best tunes of 2001: #11 The Lowest of the Low “New Westminster taxi squad”

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The Lowest of the Low were one of my favourite bands in the early 90s. A friend of mine loaned me a copy of their debut album, “Shakespeare my butt”, on cassette tape, which I dubbed and with which I promptly became obsessed. Their sophomore album came out in 1994 and though I was initially put off by “Hallucigenia”‘s harder rock edge, grew to love it as well. Like on the debut, the Toronto-based independent alternative rock band wrote literate, punk-informed songs that referenced places and things that people who knew Toronto would appreciate. In a short handful of years, they had made a huge fan of me and amassed a cult following in Southern Ontario and in communities in neighbouring parts of the US, like Buffalo. Then, they broke up, at Cafe Diplimatico (as the story goes), while preparing to record their third album and before I got the chance to see them live.

Meanwhile, their debut album kept selling copies and their legend grew. So much so that, in 2000, when all four original members decided to reform and do a string of club shows, they sold out in short order. It was so successful they decided to do more, a “world tour”, really just a handful of shows around Toronto and Buffalo, that culminated in a headline slot at Molson Amphitheater (which is a large outdoor concert venue, for those not from Toronto) on a night that included storied openers The Weakerthans and Billy Bragg. It was a great night of good cheer and singing along to every word. I can attest to this first hand because this was the night that I, along with my friend Zed, finally got to see The Lowest of the Low live.

A few months later, the band released “Nothing short of a bullet”: a live album put together from recordings of the original string of sold out reunion shows. At 18 tracks, it features selections from the first two albums and includes a couple of previously unrecorded, yet fan favourite tunes, like “The unbearable lightness of Jean”. But that is just the first disc. Yes, my friends, there was a second disc and as good as the live material was, it was this that was real gem for me: the first new material from one of my favourite bands in seven years. It was three tracks: one was a Bad Religion cover and the other two were split between the two principal songwriters: Stephen Stanley and Ron Hawkins.

It is from this bonus disc that song number eleven on my best tunes of 2001 comes. (I know. It took me a while to get here.) On the first two albums, I typically preferred the songs penned by Hawkins over those by Stanley but it was not the case here. Stanley’s “New Westminster Taxi Squad” is a rocker and a riot. It’s got energy and jump and you can almost picture the man first pumping, in full on punk pose, while Hawkins jumps around him with the other guitar, à la Mick Jones.

“Oh say, Oh my God
You’re going to pay for a ride
With the New Wesminster taxi squad
Oh say, I can see
You’ve got the weight of the world
On your shoulder and it’s killing me”

That’s right. Sing it, Steve.

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

Best tunes of 1991: #17 Northside “Take 5”

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So here’s yet another tune in this list that I discovered while recording music videos off MuchMusic’s Friday night alternative show, “City Limits”, back in 1991. I’m pretty sure the VJ for the show at that time, Simon Evans, might have even been wearing a Northside “Chicken rhythms” t-shirt that night, he was so stoked about the band.

I loved “Take 5” immediately and replayed the video on my VCR constantly after that. And later on, when Simon Evans played the video for “My rising star”, I knew I had to get a copy of that album. The problem was that I couldn’t find it anywhere on cassette tape, not in my small town of Bowmanville, nor even in Oshawa, the next city over. “Chicken rhythms” ended up being my first ever CD purchase for this reason, it just happened to be the only format I could find the album in. And because I didn’t yet have a player, I had to record a copy to cassette using my parent’s stereo so that I could then play it ad nauseum in my Sony Sports Walkman.

Northside formed in Manchester in 1989 by Warren “Dermo” Dermody and Cliff Ogier, and Timmy Walsh and Paul Walsh later filled out the band to a quartet. They were very much part of the baggy, acid house scene in the early nineties that included Inspiral Carpets and The Happy Mondays. I had thought they were so full of promise, given that “Chicken rhythms” was their debut, but it was not to be. A second album was recorded and the release was imminent before their record label, Factory Records, went bankrupt and everything fell apart. I remember hearing at the time that Factory’s collapse was a direct result of Happy Mondays blowing their budget partying while recording their follow up to “Pills ‘n’ thrills and bellyaches”. It was for this reason that I bore an irrational grudge against the Mondays for many years.

“Take 5” was actually slightly bigger here in North America, cracking the alternative billboard charts, than it was in England, where the two previous singles, “Shall we take a trip” and “My rising star” did better. I always liked the way it started off the album with that fantastic bass line that tore this way and that, the funky drumming kicking everything into high gear and then those wicked jangly guitars. It wasn’t a deep song. The lyrics are really secondary to the exuberance of the music. Every time I hear it, I just want to get up and freak out on the dance floor, which is kind of inconvenient on the morning bus ride. It’s been known to get me some strange looks as I bop along.

Have a listen and see that your toes don’t tap a bit.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 1991 list, click here.