100 best covers: #99 The Rural Alberta Advantage “Eye of the tiger”

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I’d be rather surprised if any one of you was to tell me they’d never heard the original version of “Eye of the tiger” by Survivor. It was the theme song for the third installment of the “Rocky” series (the one in which Stallone does battle with Mr. T!) and was released as a single the day after the film hit theatres. It is the American hard rock band’s biggest hit, attaining certified double platinum status and sitting atop the Billboard 100 charts for six weeks in 1982.

To say that this cover by Toronto-based indie rock trio, The Rural Alberta Advantage, is a bit less well-known is tongue-in-cheek hyperbole on my part. I first heard this performed live on a Spring evening back in 2011. I dragged my wife out to the now-defunct Ritual nightclub in downtown Ottawa to see this band I discovered at Bluesfest the previous summer. We were treated to a highly energetic and entertaining set, during which frontman Nils Edenloff was left alone on stage a couple times to perform a pair of covers, all acoustic like. The first of these was “Maybe tomorrow”, the “Littlest hobo” theme song (for Canadian fans of this classic TV show, you can check that one out here), and the other was this awesome cover of Survivor’s massive hit.

I think Victoria recognized it as “Eye of the tiger” before I did during the show but she definitely wasn’t as impressed as I was by the cover. She’s not really a fan of covers and she’s of the opinion that certain songs should just be left alone, this song being one of them. You see, she’s actually quite the fan of Survivor’s original version of “Eye of the tiger”. She describes it as one of those songs that always makes her want to move and has been a favourite of hers to put on mixes designed for working out. I can’t really argue with any of that but I think this cover is also special, mostly because it completely changes the mood of the original. Edenloff slows down the pace a tad and replaces the uppercut and left right hook combination on the muscular hard rock guitars with a quiet and lonely pluck on the acoustic. His voice is pained, almost wistful and tired where the original Survivor vocalist, Dave Bickler, was triumphant and full of adrenaline.

I’m not saying The Rural Alberta Advantage’s “Eye of the tiger” is better than the original but it feels to me like it actually has a bit more edge, kind of like it’s after the fight and the reality of all those rounds have set in. Have a spin of both and let me know what you think.

The cover:

The original:

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

Best tunes of 2010: #26 The Drums “Best friend”

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The Drums are an indie pop band out of New York City that were formed by childhood friends Jonathan Pierce and Jacob Graham. In 2008, Pierce relocated to where Graham was living in Florida to start collaborating on material and they later moved to Brooklyn where they fleshed out the band to a four-piece with Connor Hanwick (drums) and Adam Kessler (guitar). They were tapped as the next big thing by everyone from Pitchfork to the NME, even before they released their debut, self-titled LP (on which this song appears) in 2010. They have since released two more albums but internal friction and disagreements have meant that the band gradually lost members along the way. These days The Drums consists only of Jonathan Pierce and he has album number four coming out on Friday.

“Best friend” will always remind me of a trip my wife and I took out to British Columbia in 2011, over a full year after this single’s release. We spent three days in Vancouver before visiting Victoria and Whistler, and all of this during the Canucks crazy run at the Stanley Cup that year. (As you recall, they didn’t win and there were riots.) On our final full day in Vancouver, we were visiting the shops in Kitsilano after eating a fine vegetarian lunch at The Naam and happened into Zulu Records.

My wife always urges me into record shops in cities that we’re visiting and feigns interest herself while I take my time browsing. This was almost a full year before I started collecting vinyl but that was the section I found myself gravitating towards anyway. At some point, I recognized the song playing in the store but couldn’t place it right away. It sounded retro but I knew it was new and hip and at that moment, was really digging it. I even caught my wife subconsciously swaying to it at the other end of the store. But the band’s name was escaping me. It finally came to me well after we had left Zulu Records and we had made our way to Kitsilano beach.

Was it the beach that reminded me that the song we had heard was “Best friend” by The Drums? Perhaps. The song certainly is summery and bright, and calls to mind friendships of days gone by, that could very well have found their roots in the loose and warm grains of a sandy beach. It is jangle and reverb and peppy drumming, the sun glinting off the rim of a pair of sunglasses worn by a beautiful girl. Perhaps your teenage crush, perhaps the girl that never noticed your affections but instead, she dated the most popular guy in high school and considered you her best friend. Cheers to that!

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

Best tunes of 2000: #11 U2 “Beautiful day”

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I’ve gone back and forth on U2 over the years. I’ve liked certain songs and not others. I’ve bought albums and then, given them away because I never listened to them. It’s likely because for many years their music was inescapable, played on every radio station and their videos on heavy rotation on MuchMusic. And then of course, there’s the larger than life personas of the four band members, especially that of their frontman. I suppose I’ve suffered from U2 exhaustion for a number of years.

So why is “Beautiful day”, the first single off U2’s tenth studio album, “All that you can’t leave behind”, at the number eleven spot on my Best of 2000 list?

I place the blame squarely on my wife, Victoria.

It was because of her that I saw them live in 2005. It was then that Bono famously agreed to bring U2 to Ottawa to play Scotiabank Place at the behest of then Prime Minister, Paul Martin, as a favour between friends. Victoria, who had already seen them live twice, convinced me that I should at the very least see them perform once in my lifetime, so I duly queued up for tickets online and scored some decent seats. As it turned out, I really enjoyed U2’s set. Maybe it was the lack of expected theatrics or maybe I got caught up in the passion of the fans who surrounded me, but it was some magical and I found new respect for the Irish quartet.

It was also because of Victoria that this particular song stuck out for me among the best when I was compiling the list of my favourite tunes of 2000. I think it was because it found a place on many of the mixed CDs I made for her, or for others on behalf of her, over the years that I cultivated a fondness for “Beautiful day”. I say “think” now because she had me doubting myself when I asked her for her thoughts on the song for this post and she replied that it wasn’t one of her favourites. Her very next words were to compare it with the Levellers song of the same name, which to my mind is the only real point of comparison.

I was beginning to consider abandoning ship and taking a different tack but then, I played it for her. And I saw that smile.

“It is driving fast with the windows down, the stereo blaring and the wind in your face. Being in love and not caring about anything else.” (And I’m paraphrasing here because I’m writing this a few days after the conversation but I think and hope I am getting it right.) “It has that intro that makes you want to jump up and dance. But Bono doesn’t give it to you. He’s singing at his own pace, like he’s moving slowly along to a different beat as the world is crashing and racing around him.”

A good description, I thought. But she didn’t really need to say all that because that smile of remembering said enough for me.

So turn it up and enjoy. No matter the weather, it’s Saturday. It’s going to be a beautiful day.

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