100 best covers: #95 Aurora “Half the world away”

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I was driving home from work last night, listening to the CD that was in the car’s player, which happened to be a mix I had made at the behest of my lovely wife. And I was thinking of Victoria because she is away in Toronto right now and I was returning home to an empty house. And I definitely smiled when this particular song came over the speakers at about the midway point in my trajectory, not because Toronto is even close to ‘half a world away’, but because I knew, even when making the mix, that despite this cover’s beauty, Victoria would never be a fan.

I’ve mentioned already in previous posts in this series that Victoria is not fond of covers and that, in her humble opinion, there’s definitely bands whose songs should never be touched. Oasis would likely fit nicely into this category. They are among the first bands that I introduced her to back in university and to whom she really took. Victoria could easily listen to anything by them in the era during which their first two albums were recorded and that even includes the B-sides, such as this track: “Half a world away”. Originally included on the “Whatever” single in 1994, Oasis’s version features Noel on vocals, acoustic guitars, and drums (!) with Paul Arthurs backing him on keys. It became pretty popular in the UK due to it being used as theme song to a sitcom there, called “The royle family”, in the late 90s.

However, if you google the words “Half the world away” today, chances are that Aurora’s cover is the first listing you will see. I came across this cover last year when I was first listening to the young Norwegian singer-songwriter’s debut album, “All my demons greeting me as a friend”, and I noticed it among the bonus tracks included on the deluxe edition. The album as a whole is fantastic. I pretty much latched on to her dark and haunting sound right away, likening it to the more Kate Bush-sounding Florence and the Machine songs. Her take on “Half the world away” is simple, yet lovely, her ringing voice skipping along a layered bed of pianos and strings. It’s even more wistful sounding and emotional than Noel’s tough-guy-with-a-tear rendition.

I love both versions pretty much equally, but in the absence of the original on the mixed CD, I was quite content to replay Aurora’s cover for the rest of the drive home. And smiling, of course.

The cover:

The original:

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

Vinyl love: Blur “The great escape”

(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: The great escape
Year released: 1995
Year reissued: 2012
Details: 4 of 7 in Blur 21, anniversary box set, black vinyl, 180 gram, 2 x LP, Gatefold sleeve

The skinny: Released at the height of Britpop madness, Blur’s fourth album  finds the boys and their music as big and bloated and commercial, almost caricatures of themselves. Still, some really, really great stuff here, the song below included.

Standout track: “The universal”

Best tunes of 1990: #12 The Happy Mondays “Step on”

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“He’s gonna step on you again, he’s gonna step on you
He’s gonna step on you again, he’s gonna step on you
You’re twistin’ my melon man, you know you talk so hip man
You’re twistin’ my melon man”

And so starts Sean Ryder’s litany of nonsense that makes up the lyrics on “Step on”, the standout track from Happy Mondays’ third long player “Pills ‘n’ thrills and bellyaches”. To write this post a couple of weeks ago, I downed a couple pints of Beau’s Tom Green Summer Stout, put on my earphones, turned up the volume and then, put the yellow vinyl copy I bought on Record Store Day a few years back on my turntable. Lights dimmed and mood created, I dropped the needle, texted my friend Andrew Rodriguez the watermelon slice emoticon, and I let the party begin.

I really didn’t know what to think the first time I heard “Step on” and really, I understood less, the more I learned about the band. They were a product of their time and place: late 80s Manchester. There were drugs. And the mixing of 60s psychedelia and acid house culture. Lots of dancing. And more drugs. The beat was king and that was all the meaning that was necessary. “Pills ‘n’ thrills” illustrates this point, all groovy bass, bongos, drum machines and samples, chaotic, yet organic guitar craziness set against Dadaist lyrics and Ryder’s unsung, shout-along vocals. It is a non-stop party as long as you keep dancing and the drugs don’t run out.

The moment “Step on” came on, the third song on the second side of the album, I wanted to get up and dance around my living room. It is a rave epitomized. It’s whistles and heavy bass. It’s Shaun Ryder yelling “call the cops”. It’s Bez dancing with his maracas. It’s that hopping keys line and growling guitars. It’s neon and glow sticks. And to top it all off… it’s a cover song… or so I learned from an Andrew Rodriguez text message while writing these very words.

What?

Yeah. Apparently, it’s a cover of song from 1971, originally by South African singer/songwriter John Kongos. Ryder and co., renamed it from the original title “He’s gonna step on you again”, and created a version that I can only imagine is completely different. And you know that there’s no way I want to go back and hear Kongos’ version now, after all these years. It can’t exist in this dance party world that I inhabit while the song plays in the background.

Such a great tune and as Rodriguez succinctly summed it all up: “By midway through the song you are too busy dancing to care what twisting my melon means”

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