100 best covers: #80 Teenage Fanclub “Nothing to be done”

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One quick glance at my best tunes of 1990 and 1991 lists and you’ll likely notice I tended towards British music in that decade. It got worse when Nirvana’s explosion meant that the American (and Canadian, to a slightly lesser extent) music industry looked to grunge for the template to all things ‘Alternative’. So in the world before the internet, of course, it made sense that I would find my way to the British music magazines that managed their way to the shelves across the Atlantic and that I would constantly peruse these pages in search of new bands to explore. My favourite of these magazines was the now-defunct “Select”, champion of all things Britpop.

“Select” was also known for the cassette tape compilations that it would include with certain issues. Personally, I was always surprised when I’d find a copy that had somehow survived the voyage with the cassette still attached so it would invariably join me on my return home. One such cassette that I remember, mostly because it is still in a shoebox along with other preserved cassettes in my basement, was the 1995 compilation titled “Exclusives”. It was so called because the songs or versions thereof were only supposed to be available on this tape. It included tracks by Spiritualized, Boo Radleys, U2, EMF, and this cover by Teenage Fanclub.

Of course, at the time I didn’t know it was a cover. I had never heard of The Pastels, the highly influential Scottish indie rock band who did the original. I just loved the laid back groove of the Teenage Fanclub track that came out just one month before their fourth album, “Grand prix”, the crisp production and jangling acoustic giving a foreshadowing impression of what to expect when the new CD was to hit my carousel. And I couldn’t possibly know that the female vocalist tracing barbs with Francis MacDonald on the recording was Katrina Mitchell, a then member of the band being covered.

The original appeared as the opening track on The Pastel’s sophomore record, 1989’s “Sittin’ pretty”, and is more raw sounding than the Fannies cover, vocals even more lazy and guitars raunchy and keys plunking. It sounds a lot like Teenage Fanclub, themselves, sounded like in their early days, not far-fetched given the two bands’ shared geography. And I don’t know if the bands always knew each other or they met due to the recording of this cover but the collaborations didn’t end here. All of MacDonald, Norman Blake, and Gerard Love would lend a hand on later Pastels records.

Anyway, despite enjoying the original, my preference here is the cover and I think it is not just because I heard it first. The aforementioned vocals in the original were performed by founding Pastels members Stephen McRobbie and Annabel Wright (Katrina Mitchell had not yet joined the band when it was recorded) and though fun, they lack the melody of the cover. The Fannies’ version is also slightly more cheerful and playful.

What about you folks? Pastels fans? What’s it to be – the original or the cover?

The cover:

The original:

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

Best tunes of 2011: #16 Young Galaxy “Peripheral visionaries”

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2011 marked something of a shift for Montreal’s Young Galaxy.

The musical project had formed six years earlier on the west coast as a duo: Stephen Ramsay and Catherine McCandless. They moved operations to Montreal shortly afterwards and beefed up their membership to record their first two albums. The 2007 self-titled debut was very much guitar-based, dream pop in the vein of Luna and Spiritualized and its successor, 2009’s “Invisible republic”, added a touch of post-punk to darken things up a bit. Though both were very, very good, neither album gained a lot of traction with the buying public.

For the third record, Ramsay and McCandless recorded it in Montreal with Stephen Kamp on bass and then, when it was finished, they shipped it off to Sweden, giving Studio’s Dan Lissvik free rein to make it over. It was released on Paper Bag Records in February of 2011 and on first listen, Lissvik’s touch was salient and indelible. The music was still rooted in dream pop and built upon the shared vocals of its two principals but the sound was more dance-inflected and somehow bigger in range. It also allowed more space for the McCandless’s beautiful vocals to grow. Indeed, it was here that she first began to emerge as frontwoman, taking on the lion’s share of the singing responsibilities.

“Peripheral visionaries” is track six from “Shapeshifting”. Ramsay and McCandless call and response on the ‘verses’ and come together for the ‘choruses’. And I put those in air quotes because the song doesn’t feel like it fits traditional song structure. It just sort of moves along in its own universe. Pulsing and swaying like an organic and ghostly thing built out of mechanical parts. The vocals even sound roboticized through most of the song, that is, up to the point where they come together at the end in an ecstatic and joyous chant: “We have seen tears from the eyes of God.” It’s a thing of beauty.

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

Best tunes of 2001: #2 The Charlatans “A man needs to be told”

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Here we are, right near the top of the heap of 2001, and we have an awesome track off the seventh album by The Charlatans, a band considered also-rans of the Madchester era, more than a decade earlier. Yeah, and now they are now considered “survivors”.

Indeed, the group originally formed in 1989 and still continue to tour and release new albums, their latest being album number thirteen, “Different days”, in 2017, though only one member, Martin Blunt, still remains from their very early days. They weren’t from the Manchester area proper and yet they were originally lumped in with the likes of The Stone Roses and The Happy Mondays, more because of their blending of 60s rock sound with that of acid house culture. Their longevity can partly be attributed to their infusing different sounds to each of their albums, not necessarily to always blend in with their environment as some writers have suggested but to keep things fresh.

Released in our year of focus, “Wonderland” was the second album without original keyboard and organ wizard, Rob Collins, who had tragically died a few years earlier in a car crash and who had leant the band their trademark Hammond backbone. His replacement, Tony Rogers, fills in wonderfully but his mark isn’t the most indelible here. Instead, it’s frontman Tim Burgess that shows us a whole new set of colours by spending most of the album in falsetto, brushing the already soul and R&B-tunes with a swathe of Mayfield.

The highlight of the whole album, though, has got to be “A man needs to be told”. In fact, the tune ranks up there with my favourite of their tunes, even though my preference of their sounds is still that of their first couple of albums. It’s so damned laidback and groovy. Yeah, I just used that word. Groovy. Blunt’s funky bass line just booms along, answered in flourishes and tinkling bursts of piano. Jon Brooke’s drumming is spot on, understated but shimmering, right up to the end where the beat picks up substantially. And yeah, that’s none other than Canada’s own, Daniel Lanois adding his pedal steel to the mix, making the whole thing more dreamy. Burgess.

Ready to play it again? Let’s do it.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 2001 list, click here.