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100 best covers: #52 Depeche Mode “Route 66”

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I was pretty bummed a few weeks ago when I first caught wind of the news that Depeche Mode founding member Andrew Fletcher had passed away. It was merely incidental that I was just gearing up to write this very post. In light of the news, I pondered writing up something more specific towards giving due to the group’s quiet member but the one that purportedly held the whole thing together. In the end, though, I decided to continue on with my original plan and to simply give thoughts on the tune at hand.

I first heard Depeche Mode’s cover of “Route 66” care of my old friend John, many, many moons ago. In fact, it was right around the time that I was just getting into the band, just shortly after the start of the 1990s. He was a bit of an obsessive, my friend John. He already had pretty much everything the group had released thus far on compact disc, which was actually quite a bit. This included the three singles box sets that they had just released and a handful of the latter day CD singles not included in those sets. I remember one evening in his living room, he pulled out his extensive collection and spread it out around us while he played choice clips on his parents’ sweet stereo set up, the volume knob creeping upwards and then sliding back down again at his parents’ behest. “Route 66” was one such choice tune.

This cover was originally recorded as road trip themed b-side for the “Behind the wheel” single. It was recorded in one day and mixed on the next. It incorporated elements of “Behind the wheel” and on some remixes of “Behind the wheel”, we get smatterings of “Route 66”. It was so beloved by everyone (include the record execs), that some were pushing for it to be released as a double A-side, it found a spot on the “Earth girls are easy” film soundtrack of 1988, and it was liberally used throughout Depeche Mode’s tour documentary “101” in 1989.

“Route 66” was originally written by American songwriter Bobby Troup in 1946 after a road trip he took with his wife from Pennsylvania to California and he incorporated the names of places they had passed along the way. The song’s original recording came by way of Nat King Cole and his trio and has become a classic rhythm and blues standard since then, covered by everyone from Bing Crosby to Chuck Berry to The Rolling Stones. So it’s no wonder that this one was familiar to me, stood out amongst the many other tracks John played for me on that night, and I asked in particular for the Beatmasters mix that combined this with “Behind the wheel” for an extended groove to be included on the mixed tape he later promised me.

I only heard the King Cole Trio original for the first time this week and though it sounds great, his voice and the classic jazz instrumentation, I cannot in good conscience choose it over Depeche Mode’s cover. Alan Wilder, Andrew Fletcher, Martin Gore, and David Graham made this song their own. The electronic and driving beats really evoke the speeds of highway driving and the bluesy riffs of electric guitar only only accentuate the feeling. Sweet stuff.

Cover:

The original:

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

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Best tunes of 2003: #23 Sloan “The rest of my life”

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“One thing I know about the rest of my life
I know that I’ll be living it in Canada
I know I said I’ll share the rest of my days
But I was only going through a phase”

In spite of myself, I became a fan of Canadian alt-rockers, Sloan, in the mid-90s, especially with the release of their 1996 album, “One chord to another”. Like many Canadian rock fans, I was seduced by their jangly pop hooks, Beach Boy harmonies, and the brilliance of their three pronged attack of songwriters. Hits like “Coax me”, “People in the sky”, “The good in everyone”, “The lines you amend”, and “Everything you’ve done wrong” were universally acclaimed and loved, and I count myself among the many that still consider these timeless classics.

Shortly after 1997, though, I stopped buying their albums for a while and was really only familiar with their radio singles. I was aware of their continued success and indeed, still adore many of the tracks released around this time. But when I started to wean myself off of commercial radio in the early 2000s, I began to lose track of Toronto-based quartet.

Then, one day, at some point in 2005, my wife Victoria* was humming a song around our apartment and I asked her what it was.

“You don’t recognize it?”

“No,” I laughed. This was a game that played out between us often when she got a song in her head. She rarely knew the name of it or who performed it and I could never unpack her attempt at the melody. This time, though, she actually knew who it was. Or, she thought she did.

“It’s one of your bands. Suede. Or is it Sloan?”

She always got those two mixed up, even though they sound nothing alike. Nevertheless, over we went to my desktop computer and I gamely started cycling through all the Suede and Sloan songs that I knew. However, none of them fit the bill. After a while, I ran out of Suede songs released before their 2003 breakup and I started going through Sloan songs that I’d heard of but with which I wasn’t too familiar. Finally, I landed upon a track called “The rest of my life” and this was it.

The channel call opening, the jaunty drum beat, the early Beatles’ pop simplicity, the singalong and the over-the-head hand-clapping chorus. Penned and led on vocals by Chris Murphy, “The rest of my life” was the first single to be released off of Sloan’s seventh album, “Action pact”, the group’s concerted and last ditch effort to break into the States. It’s a feat they likely never satisfactorily accomplished but they did manage to start reeling this particular music fan back into the fold.

And it’s all because of this song introduced to me by Victoria: “Someone with whom I’ll spend the rest of my days…”

*Back then, though, she was still just my girlfriend, partner, and best friend, marriage was still a few years off.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 2003 list, click here.

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Best tunes of 2012: #2 Blur “Under the westway”

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As some of the more frequent visitors to this blog may already be aware, I’m something of a Blur fan and have been since the beginning.

I borrowed a copy of their debut album “Leisure” shortly after its release and dubbed it to a C90 cassette tape*, one which I darned near wore through. Their next two albums, “Modern life is rubbish” (1993) and “Parklife” (1994), were amongst the first CDs I would ever buy and I pretty much ate up everything they served thereafter. Even though Blur’s seventh album, “Think tank”, was my least favourite to that point, I was still very saddened at the news of the hiatus they announced in 2004.

They kissed and made up** at the end of 2008 and played a number of huge shows throughout 2009. Then, for the 2010 edition of Record Store Day, they issued a brand new 7” inch single called “Fool’s day”, which was distinctive for being the first recording to include the work of guitarist Graham Coxon in almost a decade.

Then, in February 2012, the band were deservedly recognized for their “Outstanding contribution to music” at the Brit awards. I don’t typically watch awards shows so I found out about it a few days later and while reading up on it and watching video clips on YouTube, I learned some even more exciting news. Apparently, Damon Albarn and Graham Coxon had performed a three-song set at a Brits pre-show put on in support of War Child, two nights earlier, that included a brand new song called, “Under the westway”. It was so new that Damon was reading the lyrics from a sheet of paper because the song ‘had a lot of words’. I remember tracking down a shaky fan filmed video of this performance. Then, I watched it more than a few times, easily enough to fall for this new piano-heavy number, a tune that reminded me somewhat of a David Bowie ballad. Needless to say, I liked what I heard and began to hope that there was more new material where that came from.

I started seeing ambiguous tweets from the Blur camp a few months later. When they finally came clean, Blur announced that they would be releasing two brand new tracks, the aforementioned, “Under the westway” and another called “The puritan”, on July 2nd. To add to the excitement (like I needed more), Blur was to perform both songs, live, at a ‘secret location’, and stream them over the Internet, the first song at 6:15pm and the second at 7:15pm BST. Immediately afterwards, the songs were made available for download on iTunes with a special edition, double A side, 7″ single to be released later. It was all a brilliant ploy by a band that pre-dated the ‘Internet’, embracing technology and the brave new world of music.

But it wasn’t just all fireworks and no substance. Both of these were great tunes, especially “Under the westway”, which ranks up there with my all-time favourite tunes by the band.

It’s sad but glorious. Old veteran soldiers of Britpop and London town, looking down at it all, the smouldering wreckage, the changing times, the ghostly memories. It’s like they’re revisiting home and realizing they can’t go back, only forward, and though it hurts, they sit down and write a song about it all.

“For the way I feel about you
Paradise not lost, it’s in you
On a permanent basis
I apologize
But I am going to sing”

It is seamless and easy and perfect. And I can just listen to it over and over and over.

*On the other side of which was recorded Chapterhouse’s debut “Whirlpool”.

**Not literally, of course.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 2012 list, click here.