100 best covers: #96 Barenaked Ladies “Lovers in a dangerous time”

Pay no mind to the above photo. Barenaked Ladies were cool in 1991… Well, okay, we thought they were at the time anyway.

The duo of Ed Robertson and Steven Page formed In 1988, adding band camp friends, brothers Andy and Jim McCreegan, two years later. Tyler Stewart joined the same year to temporarily fill Andy’s spot while the drummer went to Europe and then, stayed on upon his return. The band made a name for themselves with their hilarious, energetic, and often improvisational live shows, a fame that only grew with their DIY videos that they made using a video booth in downtown Toronto called “Speaker’s corner”, and that became a notoriety when they were banned from playing the city’s live New Year’s Eve show because of their “provocative” name. Then, their self-produced and self-released five song demo tape, the now famous “Yellow tape”, became the first ever indie release to reach platinum level sales in Canada. Needless to say, that attracted all the right attention. They released their debut album, “Gordon” in 1992, another classic. Six years later, BNL hit it big in the US with the single, “One week” and the rest is history.

But just as they were getting started, even before “Gordon”, they recorded this cover of Bruce Cockburn’s “Lovers in a dangerous time” for a tribute called “Kick at the darkness”, from a line taken from this very song. Bruce Cockburn is a Canadian icon, a prolific singer/songwriter, whose lyrics are part poetry, part social activism. Inspired by watching teenagers kissing and the thoughts that invoked, “Lovers in a dangerous time” is one of his more popular songs and one of the few I would recognize as his if you played it for me.

Going back to listen to Cockburn’s original before writing this post, I realized how dated it sounds. It is still a great song and the way Cockburn sings it is just right but it really does sound so 1980s. I almost think I like Barenaked Ladies’ cover more than the original, blasphemous though that statement might be. It’s no surprise they chose to cover one of his more popular songs, a bigger one being that they played it straight, something rare for them in those days. The cover is really quite lovely with Robertson’s and Page’s now familiar vocal harmonies, the acoustic guitars, and Creegan’s cello providing the backbone.

Make sure you check the video below of band playing in the back of a pickup, touring the streets of their hometown of Scarborough. It smacks a little of the Monkees but with a Canadian touch.

The cover:

The original:

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

Best tunes of 1990: #15 The Beautiful South “A little time”

Being that I grew up in small-town Southern Ontario, Canada, in an age before the wonders of the Internet, it often happened that I came upon a band’s more popular and successful material, long after I did their less successful work. I discovered The Beautiful South’s “A little time” and their second album, “Choke”, years after their debut and third albums had become close friends. Truly, by the time I came across this song and the album on which it appears, I had listened to “0898” countless times (had written all my first year university essays to it), was intimate with each song, and knew most of the lyrics therein, like I knew every acne scar on my young twenty-something face. I never knew then that their third record was seen as a bit of a letdown after “Choke” and that none of its singles had reached as high on the UK singles charts as did “A little time”, their only tune to reach the number one position.

None of this is really surprising given that the band never achieved the same success here in North America. However, I was super eager to follow them as soon as I learned that they were an offshoot of 80s indie pop group, The Housemartins. Formed around the vocals of Paul Heaton and Dave Hemingway, The Beautiful South added Briana Corrigan as a third vocalist for “Choke” after she had guested successfully on their debut, “Welcome to the Beautiful South”. And it was the interplay between the three vocalists, especially the male/female sparring, that marked the group’s sound, set them apart, and along with their smart and jarring lyrics, was the likely reason for the modicum of success they achieved over their nine-album career.

“A little time” is a perfect illustration of the band’s magic. Featuring Hemingway and Corrigan on vocals, it jingles and jangles and tells the story of a relationship that sours after the male decides he needs “a little time” to, as he puts it, “think things over” and “find himself”. But when he decides he’s ready to settle down, he learns that the female didn’t sit by the phone to wait for him.

You had a little time
And you had a little fun
Didn’t you, didn’t you
While you had yours
Do you think I had none?

It’s not a little. It’s lots of fun. “A little time” plays the Brechtian-irony card well, pitting the dark and cynical vocals against the rays of the sunshine in the instrumentation. And even if you are familiar with the tune, you should check out the Brit Award-winning video below. It takes the themes of song and expounds upon them, hinting at a domestic battle of epic proportions, leaving the familial domicile a wasteland of flour and pillow feathers.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 1990 list, click here.

Vinyl love: Blur “Leisure”

(Vinyl Love is a series of posts that quite simply lists, describes, and displays the pieces in my growing vinyl collection. You can bet that each record was given a spin during the drafting of each corresponding post.)

Artist: Blur
Album Title: Leisure
Year released: 1991
Year reissued: 2012
Details: 1 of 5 in Blur 21, anniversary box set, black vinyl, 180 gram

The skinny: The debut album by Damon Albarn, Graham Coxon, Alex James, and Dave Rowntree, also known as Blur. It’s a bit messy, not knowing whether to lean towards baggy or shoegaze, two sounds that were both on their way out. Still, some fantastic tracks here.

Standout track: “There’s no other way”