100 best covers: #100 Manic Street Preachers “Raindrops keep falling on my head”

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Happy Friday all!

To celebrate kicking off the weekend and to belatedly usher in June, I am launching a new list, this one a grandiose glimpse of my 100 all-time favourite covers. And we start it all off on a high note with Manic Street Preachers’ rendition of “Raindrops keep falling on my head”. The original was written by Hal David and Burt Bacharach for the Butch Cassidy & Sundance Kid soundtrack. Recorded by BJ Thomas on vocals, it was released as a single in 1969 to middling reviews but sales jumped to colossal heights after the film was released in 1970.

“Raindrops” has been covered several times over the years but this one by Manic Street Preachers has been praised for injecting some angst into the blind optimism of the original. It came about as part of the Help album project in 1995, a compilation for which some of the biggest names in British music at the time (including Blur, Oasis, and Radiohead) all went into the studio on the same day to produce brand new recordings, all to raise funds in support of Bosnia’s children. A great cause to be sure and it resulted in one of my favourite ever compilation albums, containing many fantastic songs, some of which were covers that will possibly appear further on down this list.

In the case of Manic Street Preachers, they were seven months removed from the infamous disappearance of songwriter/guitarist, Richey Edwards, who to this day, has never been found. They had decided to carry on as a trio and had incidentally booked studio time for their next album. Some have theorized that the recording of this song was a message to Richey that the Manics were going to soldier on but the band has denied this, stating that the short timeframe necessitated a song that they were already familiar with, this being one that had been part of past live sets.

Manic Street Preachers inject some (to my ears) much-needed rock and roll into the number. James Dean Bradfield’s vocals are a lot less polished than those of Thomas, but are lovely, nonetheless. The acoustic guitars are jaunty, the bass bubbly, and the drums are like a skipping heartbeat but the fun really comes in with drummer Sean Moore’s trumpet solo at the bridge. All in all, it’s just a fun track, a band showing a toothy grin in the face of adversity, and that it’s okay to be cheerful when the rain continues to fall, seemingly without end.

The cover:

The original:

This is the first in what will be a long list but once more are posted, the rest of the list can be viewed here.

Best tunes of 2000: #13 Oasis “Go let it out”

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When you get as big as fast Oasis did, there’s bound to be a modicum of backlash, especially from the tastemaker set. We saw a similar phenomenon with Coldplay and more recently, with Mumford and Sons but in the case of Oasis, they didn’t really do themselves any favours. The Gallagher brothers’ constant squabbling was much publicized in the music press, as were their outspokenness and snarky potshots at other bands. It’s like they couldn’t keep their mouths shut and it only got worse as their egos grew. This attitude also found its way into the studio with them. You only have to listen to the all the bombast and navel-gazing on “Be here now” for a point of reference.

Now don’t get me wrong, I love Oasis. Noel Gallagher is as great a songwriter as he is at repurposing hooks and melodies and Liam’s looks and attitude (when held in check) made him an all-star frontman. Their first two albums were brilliant rock and roll records but when it came to the third, I thought it all just way too much. Then, when “Standing on the shoulders of giants” was released in 2000, I didn’t even bother. I mean, just think about what that title means. I only finally listened to their fourth album in full close to a decade after it was released, just after the Gallagher brothers and the new look Oasis lured me back into the fold with albums five (“Heathen chemistry”) and six (“Don’t believe the truth”).

That doesn’t mean I never once heard “Go let it out” in the intervening months and years. How could I not? It was all over the radio, at the least it was on the only radio station I could stomach at the time: Toronto’s EDGE 102.1. My initial response was ambivalence. I didn’t hate it but I didn’t love it enough to make me want to check out the album. It has turned out to be a grower though and nowadays, it ranks up there with some of my favourite Oasis singles. It’s got that cracking drum sample that loops through the entire tune and due to the departure of both Bonehead and Guigsy, Noel does double duty here, providing both the muscular rhythm guitar and the fuzzy bass. Liam, meanwhile, is very present and provides his usual edge, a raw and raspy performance.

“Go let it out” is as stadium-friendly and anthemic as their other work during this period, yet it also feels somewhat restrained, at least as restrained as these guys could ever get (it’s almost two minutes shorter than the average song on “Be here now”). And yes, it has that raise your fist and pump it in the air kind of climax. Pure Oasis.

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

Best tunes of 2010: #27 Karen Elson “The ghost who walks”

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The next stop on this Best tunes of 2010 list is the title track off Karen Elson’s debut solo album, “The ghost who walks”. This title, apparently, is a nod to one of the nicer nicknames bestowed upon her in school for “being tall, pale and a little bit haunted”.

Karen Elson was born and grew up in Manchester, England, where she was “discovered” at the age of 16 and began working as a model. She met Jack White in 2005 while filming the video for The White Stripes’ “Blue orchid” and they married shortly afterwards. They had two children together and divorced after eight years in 2013. She continues to model but claims that music is her first love, having released two solo albums now, having co-founded and performed with the New York-based cabaret troupe, The Citizens band, and having collaborated with a number of prominent musicians over the years.

A more cynical writer than I might point to her connection with Jack White as the reason this debut album was ever released. He did produce it and release it on his own label, Third Man Records. However, they have both maintained that she had written the majority of the album in secret, keeping it from him until she thought it almost ready to start recording. Still, his musical touch is pressed firmly on the album’s sound and sensibility and one only has to listen to and compare it with Elson’s sophomore solo release, “Double roses” (released last month), for confirmation.

I’ll be honest. I first came across this album because of the Jack White connection. (I was quite enamoured with The White Stripes for a number of years but more on that another time, I’m sure). However, I stuck with it after the first listen, and this on the strength of the songwriting and of Karen Elson’s vocals.

“The ghost who walks” as an album is quite lovely, if not dark and perhaps macabre, and its title track is emblematic of the entire work. It feels like a cabaret number. Listening to the song (not the video, that’s a whole other story), one can almost picture the waif-like redhead in a black cocktail dress and in a murky spotlight, surrounded by cigar and cigarette smoke. She herself sports a lit cigarette in a holder, clasped in a slender, gloved hand, while her other hand rests on cocked hip, standing and singing alone. Her backing band are in the shadows, neckties loosened, hair dishevelled, crashing cymbals and guitars and keys, each climbing and falling, vying for supremacy. For all this, it’s a mellow and morbid number. A song for well after last call, when the last of the party animals have gone home and only the diehards remain.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 2010 list, click here.