100 best covers: #86 Pet Shop Boys “Always on my mind”

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The Pet Shop Boys were my favourite band for about five minutes when I was twelve or thirteen years old. My memory is vague as to what year it was exactly and whether it was the Grammys or the MTV Video Music awards that I was watching them perform “West end girls” at on TV. Nonetheless, I certainly remember thinking that Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe were so cool. Of course at that age, it was quickly on to the next thing and I probably didn’t even notice when they released this cover of “Always on my mind” a couple of years later.

The song was written by Johnny Christopher, Mark James, and Wayne Carson and originally recorded by both Brenda Lee and Gwen McCrae (see below) in 1972. The feel of these two versions is very similarly heartbreaking but the vocal styles markedly different, each blazing a path and fixing a mold for numerous future cover versions. It has been successful as both pop and country songs and in some cases, somewhere in between. Arguably, the two most iconic version of the song were recorded by Willie Nelson and Elvis Presley. And it was this last that actually led to the Pet Shop Boys doing the song as well. The story goes that they performed a synthed up cover of “Always on my mind “ on a television special commemorating the 10th anniversary of the king’s death and it was so well received, they recorded and released it as a single.

Perhaps it was so successful because it was so different from all the slight variations of the song that had come before. Instead of handkerchief soaking grief, regret, and longing, theirs is more celebratory, happy that we had the time together, rather than not at all. It’s bells, whistles, synths, and lasers, like a rave, almost before raves were a thing.

“Maybe I didn’t treat you
Quite as good as I should have
Maybe I didn’t love you
Quite as often as I could have
Little things I should have said and done
I just never took the time”

Dancing a party over the relationship’s ending is not what was likely envisioned when those words were written but man, do they work. Happy Friday all!

The cover:

The original:

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

Best tunes of 1991: #21 Ned’s Atomic Dustbin “Kill your television”

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“Kill your television” was first released as a single in the UK in 1990 and in the US in 1992. So why is it on my best of 1991 list? Because that is when I first heard it while listening to Ned’s Atomic Dustbin’s debut album, “God fodder”. And well, it’s my list dammit.

Ned’s were a five piece that formed in Stourbridge, England in 1987. They were slotted into the Grebo pigeonhole with compatriots, The Wonder Stuff and Pop Will Eat Itself, and they certainly were as fun-loving as those other two bands. However, their sound was definitely more aggressive from the start and highly irregular, with dual bass players leading the assault. “Kill your television” is a perfect example of what they were all about. Storming out with total abandon, without a care of the consequences. Complete bluster and adrenaline, stage diving, arms and long (perhaps crimped) hair flailing, just a ruckus, really. But a hell of a lot of fun.

I distinctly remember watching an interview with frontman Jonn Penney (distinct because I had it on VHS at one point) on the old Friday night video show, “Good rockin’ tonight”. And he was asked about names, the band and the single. I’m pretty sure he was regretful about the band name. The band had thought it funny at the time, all being youngsters, some still teens when the band formed, but later, felt a bit saddled with it after they had found success. As for the song, he had still found it quite funny because people were constantly asking about its meanings, looking for depth and profundity where there was none. You’re never really going to find much of that with early Ned’s. In truth, the song title was lifted from a sticker that bassist Alex Griffin had picked up somewhere and had affixed to his instrument.

Sometimes in life, you need something as simple and as fun as that. And Ned’s were always willing to abide.

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

Best tunes of 2011: #28 The War on Drugs “Baby missiles”

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In the summer of 2011, I started up my first blog, Music Insanity, which lasted around five years before I decided to stick a fork in it. In its early days, it was pretty scattered and eclectic, its only constant being the music I loved. One of the ideas I had started out with but never finished was to create playlists, mixed tapes of a sort, of all the different alternative sub-genres. It was while putting together the second half of a two part playlist on shoegaze music, a kind of intro to the second wave revivalists, that I came across The War on Drugs.

Some music writer had termed them “Boss gaze” in reference to their second album, “Slave ambient”, and in exploring further, I saw this expression bandied about across the blogosphere. I found the term so humorous, I wrote a post with the term as its title and provided the video below to my, at the time, very modest readership for their consideration. Personally, as silly as the term sounds, I found it apt to describe the sound of “Baby missiles”. The song sounds a heck of a lot like “Born in the USA” era Springsteen, filtered through an early 90s Britain reverb pedal, Ride or Swervedriver, take your pick. Frontman and driving force Adam Granduciel was still finding his voice on this early album but you can almost picture him wearing a bandanna and jean jacket vest, much like a couple other bands (I’m thinking Killers and Airborne Toxic Event) were wont to do about this time. The beat is uptempo, built for handclaps, and augmented with a heavy wash of organs and harmonicas and vocal “whooo”s.

Six years and two albums later, this group has become relatively well-known, especially on the festival circuit, and has gone on to win a grammy for Best Rock Album. Nowadays, though, there’s another dubious term for them: “Dad rock”. Whichever you prefer, I think both fit.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 2011 list, click here.