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100 best covers: #55 Smashing Pumpkins “Never let me down again”

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I’d consider myself a pretty big fan of Depeche Mode, especially of their period spanning the late 1980s to the late 1990s. In fact, last year on these very pages, I did a series of three posts on the iconic synth pop band, each one focusing on my top five tunes of their three very distinct eras: the prolific 1980s, the popular 1990s, and everything that followed, in a more experimental but still very relevant vein.

Near the end of that middle and very popular period in the 90s, a tribute album was put together by the artists and management team behind the industrial rock group, God Lives Underwater. Titled “For the masses”, it featured reimaginings by said band, but also by The Cure, Veruca Salt, Meat Beat Manifesto, and yes, Smashing Pumpkins. I bought the compilation on compact disc, of course, but was mostly disappointed with it and only ever listened to it a few times. And often those few times that it found itself in my player were because I had a hankering to listen to one of the disc’s meagre bright spots, that is, the track that we are focusing on today.

Smashing Pumpkins originally included their cover of “Never let me down again” as a B-side to the single, “Rocket”, released in 1994, just as they were breaking into the mainstream. The cover’s later inclusion on this compilation was the impetus for my buying the CD, after hearing it quite a bit on alternative radio. It is one of the few examples here that the covering artist really remakes the subject matter into their own thing. Where the original was robotic, dark, cold, and practically unemotional, Billy Corgan and gang inject a bit of warmth and yes, some increased sensuality to the proceedings. They take the convertible out for a ride in sunshine, still wearing sunglasses and cool, of course, the guitars are jangling and the drumming peppy, and Corgan is all snarls and whispery and just this side of screaming it out.

Yeah, it’s a great cover. Can I really say it’s better than Mode’s original synth pop evocation of drug euphoria? Nope.Do I think it’s still worth playing over and over? Oh yes.

Cover:

The original:

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

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Tunes

100 best covers: #57 Luna with Laetitia Sadier “Bonnie & Clyde”

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The second album I ever listened to by New York-based dream pop band, Luna was their third album, 1995’s “Penthouse”. I brought home the CD with me one day a few years after its release and put it right in my player, where it stayed for a few weeks. There was a hidden bonus track on the CD, a French-language number that told the story of legendary criminal lovers, Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, and it quickly became a favourite of mine on the album, even though my knowledge of French was limited at the time. And of course, back then, I had no idea it was a cover.

The original version of  “Bonnie and Clyde” was recorded by legendary musician/artist Serge Gainsbourg with French film actress Brigitte Bardot in 1968. Theirs was much more sped up than the version I first heard but with just as dreamy a feel, and just as timeless. It definitely doesn’t sound like something I imagine coming out the sixties. Relentless guitars in a wind tunnel on one channel and a weird vocal effect that sounds like a hiccup repeating on the other. I don’t know much about Gainsbourg’s other work but this duet with actress Brigitte Bardot is practically spoken word, which is apt given that the words were based heavily on an English language poem written by Bonnie Parker herself.

And yeah, this is just one of the many excellent covers that Luna has done over the years. This group seems to love doing them and remaking them into something that completely fits within their oeuvre so that it sounds all their own. In fact, Luna has done so many of them that when they released their “best of” compilation in 2006, the deluxe release included a bonus disc called “Lunafied” that gathered up all of their best covers from over the years and of course, this one was included.

Luna’s version of “Bonnie and Clyde” included the work of Stereolab’s Laetitia Sadier, performing the vocal parts originated by Bardot. The bonus track that I knew and loved was later re-released as a single and renamed as the Clyde Barrow version and a slower version was also made available as the Bonnie Parker version*. Both of these are just incredible explosions of surreal dream worlds, full of echoes and images and imaginings in French. And now that I actually understand the language somewhat, I enjoy the song even more.

Which do I prefer? Sorry, Serge, I might just have to go with the cover here.

Cover:

The original:

*Both of these appeared on the aforementioned “Lunafied” compilation, which when released by Runout Groove Records on vinyl a few years ago, I just had to purchase for my collection.

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

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Tunes

Best tunes of 1993: #25 Primus “My name is mud”

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In Oshawa, Ontario, Canada*, there used to be an infamous record shop called Star Records. It was started by Mike Shulga, the child of Ukrainian immigrants, who rebranded himself as Mike Star and became a big player in punk and underground music. His record store sprouted a record label (the first home of The Forgotten Rebels) and a renowned music venue, but it was the shop that would see the longevity. It opened its doors in 1974 and didn’t close until the year after its founder’s untimely death in 2015. It was temporarily replaced by a Kops Records chain location but I don’t know what’s there now.

I mention Star Records today as a nod because it will forever be connected with today’s song of focus, given that the one time I ever purposely went to the store was in the summer of 1993 and it was that very day that I first heard “My name is mud”.

I didn’t actually collect a lot vinyl when I was younger. I had a bunch of Disneyland 45s, as well as the “Pete’s Dragon soundtrack” and “Mickey Mouse Disco” LPs. On the cooler side of things, I had an early 7″ of Human League’s “Don’t you want me”. I also had a copy Bangles’ “Different light” that I won in a contest and a really warped copy of The Cure’s “Mixed up” that I bought because I couldn’t find it on CD. But that was it. In 1993, I was moving from cassette tapes into compact discs and vinyl for me was already in the past. So I didn’t find much cause to wander into the famous shop that often drew members of The Ramones whenever they passed through the ’shwa, especially given that I lived in a town 15km away and didn’t often have access to my own wheels.

But on that day, I jumped on the GO bus into Oshawa on the hunt for a specific CD that I couldn’t find anywhere, a CD which I will not name today because one of its songs will surely appear a little later in this list. Of course, I found what I was looking for immediately, picked it up, and then, went back to the A section and perused the rest of the store’s compact disc wares. I found plenty else that I wanted to buy in the hour and a half that I tarried but the other CD I left the store with was Primus’s “Pork soda”.

It was a purchase that I made without having heard any of the songs from it beforehand. I had fallen hard for “Jerry was a race car driver” and “Tommy the cat” off their previous album, “Sailing the seas of cheese”** and I loved the claymation pig head on the album’s cover***. I actually chose to slip this CD into my discman rather than my other purchase for the GO bus ride home later that afternoon and after a brief ditty of an introduction, was met soundly by “My name is mud.”

“My name is Mud
Not to be confused with Bill or Jack or Pete or Dennis
My name is Mud and it’s always been”

A loud twang on a bass string serves as the wake up call. This is Les Claypool’s show after all. Then, he jumps right in with a punishing bass line that’ll have you jumping up and banging your head right along, no matter how much hair you have on your head. The first couple of riffs almost feel like a drum beat themselves but then, Herb Alexander jumps in to destroy his kit with a rhythm that merely shadows Claypool’s bass. Finally, Ler Lalonde adds some dirty guitar flourishes that augment the noise and serves as a dichotomy to claustrophobic white space. Dark and light, noisy and quiet, sharp and soft, it’s all waves, hypnotic and nauseating, a sea of flying bodies – hands, arms, heads, legs – all a sweaty mass of moshing.

I don’t know if Mike Shulga ever heard of Les Claypool and his band, but I can’t help but think he would’ve approved of their originality.

*Oshawa is the city where I was born and grew up for the first ten years of my life.

**I’ve already told the story on these pages about how I purchased a copy of “Sailing the seas of cheese” used in a store in Toronto before going to see New Model Army at Lee’s Palace and then, promptly misplacing the album, along with Buffalo Tom’s “Let me come over”, at Bathurst subway station after the show.

***Who else remembers the days of buying albums based the awesomeness of the album covers?

For the rest of the Best tunes of 1993 list, click here.