100 best covers: #98 Great Big Sea “End of the world”

“It’s the end of the world as we know it…. and I feel fine.” What a great line and an incredible tune. 

Chances are pretty good that you’ve heard R.E.M.’s original version. From their 1987 album “Document”, “End of the world” is considered one of the band’s best-known and best-loved songs and is definitely up there among my own personal faves by Michael Stipe and company.

Fast forward to 1997 and we have Newfoundland-based folk rock band, Great Big Sea, releasing a cover of said song for their third studio album, “Play”. If you’re not from Canada, it’s possible you’ve not heard this band but they were pretty big here in their home country. I say “were” because they’re broken up now but in their heyday in the 90s, the four-piece of Alan Doyle, Bob Hallett, Séan McCann, and Darrell Power put out a string of albums that were filled with high energy rock tunes with a Celtic folk bent and more than a few of these were perfect soundtracks for hoisting a pint or three. I didn’t like all of their songs, favouring those where their traditional background was more evident, but they had a talent for putting a rousing Celtic folk touch on the songs they were covering.

Great Big Sea’s version of “End of the world” is a full minute and a half shorter than the original. But don’t you go thinking that they cut out a verse or something. No. It’s all there. It may be unbelievable to you R.E.M. fans but they actually did it by speeding up the already frenetic pace set by Bill Berry’s drumming in the original. Fiddles are a-whir and the mandolin on a tear but it’s Alan Doyle’s valiant vocal effort here that really makes this song, sounding off each syllable of Michael Stipe’s lyrics with his own hoarse Newfoundland roar.

Both versions are great in their own right (though I still prefer the original) and both are ripe for a rowdy dance floor, but where R.E.M.’s is made for the pogo, Great Big Sea’s is one more prone to jigging. Oh and be careful, that dance floor is likely quite sticky from all the spilt beer. Carry on.

The cover:

The original:

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

Best tunes of 2000: #9 Björk “I’ve seen it all”

The year 2000 was my last full year living in Toronto before moving to Ottawa the following year. At the end of the summer of 2000, I moved to an apartment in Roncesvalles village and fell in with the neighbourhood. It wasn’t quite as hip and happening as it is now but it had some cool shops and restaurants and also a repertory theatre called The Revue. I spent a lot of time in that theatre, being that it was only a block from my building and admission being only slightly more than renting a DVD. I don’t remember all of the films I watched there but I definitely remember seeing “Dancer in the dark”.

The film is one not easily forgotten. Indeed, it is a real feel bad movie. 

Directed by Lars Von Trier, it features Björk as Selma, a nearly blind, factory-working, single mother who escapes her existence to a daydream world of Hollywood musical numbers. I’ve heard (but cannot confirm this) that Von Trier came up with the film’s concept and hand selected Björk for the starring role after seeing her music video for “Oh so quiet”. She wrote all the music for the film and co-wrote the lyrics with Von Trier and Sjón. Björk then released the songs on a nine-song album called “Selmasongs”. The highlight number in both the film and the soundtrack is the breathtaking “I’ve seen it all”, a song for which she received an Oscar nomination for best original song. This, of course, led to an outstanding performance at the ceremony, where she wore the “swan” dress, which sadly, is more remembered than said performance.

On the version of “I’ve seen it all” on “Selmasongs”, she duets beautifully with Radiohead’s Thom Yorke (singing the parts sung by Peter Stormare in the film) over a jarring rhythm line that morphs from the chugging of a train at the intro. Strings abound and you can almost see the technicolor images of Thom Yorke as Jeff, a man in love with Selma, as he tries to convince her to use her life savings to correct her vision. Meanwhile, Selma has long-since decided to selflessly use it to prevent her son from suffering her fate from the same degenerative disease. He pleads with her, listing the things she’s never experienced, “You’ve never been to Niagara Falls?” But Björk is unshaken. “I have seen water, its water, that’s all.”

Heart-breaking, much like her performance in the film.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 2000 list, click here.

Best tunes of 1990: #19 Deee-lite “Groove is in the heart”

How do you say… Deeee-grooooo-vy????

Ooh-la-la! La-la-la-la-la-la!

A million dollar question, for sure. You might be able to do so with the help of Towa Tei, Lady Miss Kier, and one Supa DJ Dimitri. Throw in a guest rap by Q-Tip of A Tribe Called Quest and the bass stylings and vocal flourishes of funk master Bootsy Collins and you’ve got one hell of a dance number. Dig.

The Deee-Lite we know and love became real once Towa Tei joined the already existing duo of Kier and Dimitri, forming an international supergroup of sorts. The American-based trio had a string of hits that were spear-headed by “astronomical” uber-hit “Groove is in the heart”, off their debut album “World clique”, but really, that one single is all that anyone ever remembers. The group only lasted a handful of years and three albums before disbanding, though the individual members have all gone to have successful solo careers as club DJs.

This sort of tune isn’t typically my bag. Guilty pleasure? Absolutely not! It hooked me hard in my youth and never truly let go. It’s hard to argue with Bootsy’s killer bass line, the one that insinuates itself into your soul like some sort of designer drug, whose only side effects are to chronically force you into already packed dance floors. The frenetic and funky beats don’t hurt at all, and neither do the ridiculously infectious vocals. This song has found itself on the playlist of most wedding receptions in the last two decades for good reason. Like “The Macarena” and the “Grease Mega Mix”, it’s a crowd-pleasing, dance floor filler that for some reason or other, appeals to all generations. But unlike those other tracks, this one has a bit of soul.

Unfortunately, the video hasn’t aged as well as the song. I remember watching this technicolor, ridiculous mess at the time and thinking it was cool and that Lady Miss Kier in her catsuit and nails was where it was at. Now, I just shake my head and close my eyes and turn up the volume.

This song, right here, is how you spell de-groovy. And it’s a perfect spin to kick off a weekend so… Kick it.

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