100 best covers: #76 Weezer “The weight”

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A year or two ago, a teenaged girl started a social media campaign on Twitter calling for American 90s alt-rock icons Weezer to cover Toto’s hit from the 1980s, “Africa.” Six months later, the band relented, releasing their almost note-perfect cover, and because of it, have seen something of a resurgence, scoring their first big hit since 2009. Of course, the success of this one-off cover inspired a whole side album to be released in tandem with an album of new material. That so-called “Teal album”, an album full of covers of 80s tunes (among others), was released electronically in January of this year and pressed to teal coloured vinyl for Record Store Day. This release got people wondering if it was all some big joke but I didn’t think so. Weezer has always been retro leaning, always having fun, and never one to shy away from recording covers. One such cover was included as a bonus track on the UK release of their 2008 album, one of their many self-titled long players, nicknamed for the cover’s colour, which in this case was Red.

Canadian-American rock collective, The Band, released the original version of “The weight” in 1968 as part of their classic album, “Music from the big pink”. It is considered by many to be one of the best, most influential rock songs ever recorded. It is by now looked at as a standard and has been covered so many times, by so many artists, that it might as well be as such. Thus, I won’t even bother asking my usual question of “which do you prefer?”, though I give you full permission to debate the issue in the comments section if you so choose.

As great as I feel the original is in this case, Weezer’s cover might have it beat in one category: that being, the length of the recording. I always felt the groove could’ve been played out much longer in the original and I imagine it must’ve been every time The Band performed it live. It just has that awesome jam vibe. Both Weezer’s and Travis’s cover (another version I quite enjoy and that you can check out here), seem to slow it down a beat and drag another 30 seconds or so out of it. The Weezer cover starts out sounding much like the original with the rough pull on the acoustic but then, the raunchy guitars kick in, replacing the rag-timey piano of the original, and the blues turns to rock.

Purists might sneer but I really like it. And that’s all I’m going to say about that.

The cover:

The original:

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

Best tunes of 2002: #28 The Jeevas “Once upon a time in America”

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Crispian Mills is the son of Walt Disney child actress (and Miss Bliss from “Saved by the Bell”), Hayley Mills. He also happens to be the frontman of a psychedelic pop rock outfit called Kula Shaker that came to prominence in the late 1990s. Like pretty much any band from England that had a vaguely alternative pop/rock sound at the time, Kula Shaker was lumped in under the BritPop umbrella. Mills split up the group after only two albums in 1999 with a mind of going it solo but finally re-formed the group in 2005 after a handful of unsuccessful musical endeavours.

The Jeevas was the closest project during this time that Mills had put together to find a sense a stability. Formed as a trio, with two former members of the band Straw, the group actually released two full-length albums in 2002 and 2003, matching the output of Kula Shaker by that point. They are largely forgotten these days, rightly or wrongly, but I always thought they had a few high moments that were worth mentioning at the beginning of the 21st century.

I couldn’t tell you now how I first heard of the group and came upon their debut album, “1-2-3-4”. I was definitely active in looking for new music on the internet in those days, by both new and old favourite bands. Living in North America, I never did hear a lot about Kula Shaker’s dissolution and since I loved their first two records, I was probably searching for news of the group and its frontman on the regular. I definitely remember recognizing the sound in The Jeevas’ music upon first listen. It was kind of like Kula Shaker but without all the traditional Indian instruments, a mimicking of psych rock of the 60s and 70s and Mills’ furthuring his Lennon-like vocals.

There was something about “Once upon a time in America” that stuck for me amongst rest of the songs on “1-2-3-4”. It just popped with all the energy of a live performance out in the hot sun. I’ve never really paid much attention to what Crispian Mills is singing about here but sometimes, that doesn’t necessarily matter. The guitars cavorted between crisply bouncy and messy noise, the drums pound and crash, and Mills just lays it out there. If these three ever made it big, this could’ve been their stadium anthem.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 2002 list, click here.

Best tunes of 2011: #11 I Break Horses “Winter beats”

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Shoegaze was a subgenre I loved way back in the day (though I likely joined the train just as it was coming to a skidding and screaming stop) so when I started to hear bands incorporating that sound into their music in the mid- to late-2000s, I got pretty excited. And though I never thought much of the term ‘nugaze’, I definitely latched on to a lot these revivalists, of which I Break Horses is but one fine example.

From what I’ve read, the Swedish duo of Maria Lindén and Fredrik Balck named themselves after a Bill Callahan/Smog song. Other than that piece of trivia, there’s little else to be found about them, other than the obvious: the names of their two albums, they haven’t released new material in quite a few years, etc. However, I can say that the debut album “Hearts” is a thing of real beauty and around the time it came out, I couldn’t say enough about it. Yeah, I did my damnedest to spread the word. When I got the chance to see them the year following its release, during their tour as support to M83, I jumped at it and tried to convince all of my friends to join me. Unfortunately, this was an uphill task since the majority of my concert-going buddies were going to the same Spiritualized show as I was on the day prior. It was their loss because my second concert in as many nights was just as good as the first.

“Winter beats”, the opening track on “Hearts”, is a thrilling piece of music. It takes the roar and rage of My Bloody Valentine and ups the synth quotient, looping washes and frenetic drum machine crashes, and effects morphed vocals. Oh my. Yes. It is a roaring animal of a thing, flashing strobes, smoke machines, and lasers all over the place, while two silhouettes are up on stage, perhaps one is male and the other female, but you are unsure. Indeed, they are only just barely visible through the smoke and mirrors. You could almost swear the song was conjured up from the ephemera by a machine. Or a ghost. Or an alien.

You could almost swear it might very nearly swallow you up whole. But there are worse fates, I’d wager.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 2011 list, click here.