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100 best covers: #61 Nick Cave “Disco 2000”

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So here’s an interesting one.

Pulp released “Disco 2000” as a single in 1995, right at the height of their popularity, and of course, right around the apex of the Britpop extravaganza. Like many of their tunes, it tells a story from the point of view of our semi-unreliable narrator, Jarvis Cocker, an autobiographical tale whose names weren’t even changed to protect the guilty. Its subject matter and sound is inspired not only by contemporary dance clubs, but also of that oft-maligned genre from the 70s, as its title suggests, even tipping an emphatic nod to Laura Branigran’s “Gloria”, a hit song from that era. It is sweaty, laughing, and beer-soaked fun, with a wicked wink at misspent youth.

Seven years later, Pulp was releasing their final single before dissolving into the mist, though none of us really knew it at the time. “Bad cover version” was a play on the subject of this very series – the cover tune – and the video poked fun at BandAid style collective songs, enlisting lookalikes of the who’s who of pop music to sing the tune as a tribute to the band. For the b-sides of this single, Pulp found a couple of willing artists to cover two of their most popular tracks and one of these was Nick Cave to deliver us this rendition of “Disco 2000”.

Now Mr. Cave is known to most as a powerful and talented lyricist and songwriter, often spinning epic yarns, much like our friend Jarvis, but he also doesn’t shy away from covers and usually does an amazing job with them. For “Disco 2000”, he slows things right down into a languid waltz, stretching it and wringing out every ounce of pain. And this is why it’s so brilliant. Cave is an excellent sport, taking the task rather than himself seriously, almost creating a parody of himself in the process. Indeed, where the original is a nostalgic dance party, Cocker’s words in Cave’s hands become a late night at the whiskey bar, full of regret and tears.

Both versions are brilliant. As much as I love the original, I’m calling this one a draw.

Cover:

The original:

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

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100 best covers: #62 Kula Shaker “Hush”

<< #63    |    #61 >>

When I sat down to write this post, I was framing it as cover of a song by Deep Purple but then, I quickly learned that theirs was a cover as well. Indeed, the song was originally written by Joe South and was performed by his friend Billy Joe Royal in 1967, though Joe South himself recorded and released a version of it the following year. It is obviously a great tune. Royal’s original, as well as a cover the same year by Australian band, Somebody’s Image, the famed Deep Purple cover in 1968, and our feature today, the one by Kula Shaker in 1996, were all hits for their respective artists. You can’t argue with that.

You also can’t argue with that ear worm hook. The nonsensical lyrical line would be instantly recognizable to anyone: “Na na-na nah, na-na nah, na-na naaaah!” (If that doesn’t ring any bells, just press play on either of the embedded YouTube videos below.)

Billy Joe Royal’s original (as I just recently discovered) is a classic, soulful, rock tune, indicative of its time. It’s got plenty of layers – rumbling bass, horns, tambourines, dancing guitars, backing vocals – and yet, it feels quite insular due to its production. In fact, if you listen to the stereo version available on Spotify, the weird mix puts the tambourine at a higher level than the guitar at times. And at just under two and a half minutes in length, it pales in all ways to the heavy psychedelics in the four plus minute cover by Deep Purple, all whirling hammond organs and bongo drums and fun.

Even though theirs is shorter, you kind of feel that Kula Shaker was aiming for more of the same feel of the Deep Purple cover than that of the Billy Joe Royal original. Recorded as a stop gap single between their wildly successful debut album “K” at the end of the Britpop blaze of glory and their sophomore album that unfortunately came too late, Kula Shaker’s “Hush” was a rage of 60s psych rock that incorporated within it, a decidedly 90s alternative guitar rock sound. It didn’t mine the Indian spirituality and traditional eastern folk that was the band’s hallmark in the late 1990s, instead going for the jugular with straight ahead rock. It’s a driving drum beat, screaming organs, raging guitars, and Crispian Mills letting his voice breathe right out there with the best of them that have covered this song.

This may be an unpopular take but given how taken I was with Kula Shaker at the time, how could I not love this cover better than all the other versions I have heard? (The Deep Purple cover is a close second though…)

Cover:

The original:

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

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Tunes

Best tunes of 1992: #30 Shakespears Sister “Stay”

#29 >>

One list ends and another begins. And for 1992, we’re starting things off with “Stay”, the biggest and best known single by Shakespears Sister.

The duo was formed when Siobhan Fahey asked songwriting collaborator Marcella Detroit to join her solo project as a full-time gig. Fahey, a founding member of 80s girl group Bananarama, sang lead on the majority of the group’s songs with Detroit contributing backing vocals. “Stay”, the second single to be released off the group’s sophomore release, “Hormonally yours”, was the one anomaly. On this one track, Detroit sang the verses and chorus and Fahey added a darker tone with a combatative bridge. The results are a beautiful song that showcases the differences between their vocal styles, a push and pull, a tug and a scream. However, it was never meant to be released as a single, at least in the eyes of Fahey, which was reportedly the cause of tension between the two when “Stay” actually became a massive hit. It spent a number of consecutive weeks at the top of the UK singles chart and climbed quite high in many international charts as well.

I definitely remember my first exposure to the song being its music video, which got more than a bit of play on MuchMusic and not just on the top 30 countdown. The narrative of the video had a supernatural bent and was one that stuck with many people, the two vocalists representing different factions fighting over the fate of a comatose man, good and evil, light and dark, love and hate, life and death, and perhaps a case of art imitating life. Teenaged me had a crush on both women, a slightly heavier one on Detroit, but back then, I didn’t know about Fahey’s girl group pedigree.

Detroit acrimoniously left the group in 1993, effectively ending things, while Fahey continued on with her solo career. She resurrected the Shakespears Sister name and continued performing under it 2009. And just this year, a reconciliation was announced and Detroit was welcomed back into the fold. Tours have since been plotted out and a new album is in the works.

It’ll be interesting to see how long this lasts.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 1992 list, click here.