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100 best covers: #51 The Wonder Stuff with Vic Reeves “Dizzy”

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I probably don’t need to say it again but I will anyways.

Back when I was in high school, right up to my first couple of years of university, I was a veritable Wonder Stuff nut. I loved everything they released and got super excited any time I ever heard them on alternative radio or when one of their videos popped up on MuchMusic’s “CityLimits” or “The Wedge” alternative video shows.

So when I read one day at some point in 1992 or 1993 that they were going to be featured on that same channel’s “Spotlight” show, I made sure to be ready and waiting with a blank videocassette tape and my VCR. The idea of a whole half hour of my favourite band’s music videos had me salivating in anticipation.

It was here that I got music video copies of pretty much all of The Wonder Stuff’s singles but the real treat for me was the final video. It was a cover of Tommy Roe’s “Dizzy”, a song I knew well from various road trips in my parents’ car. Of course, being from a small town in Canada, I had never heard tell of British comedian, Vic Reeves, nor his frequent collaborator, Bob Mortimer, so I did wonder at the jaunty gentleman taking on the lion’s share of the vocal duties in place of my erstwhile hero, Miles Hunt. The video had the band performing in front of stacks of washing machines while Hunt and Reeves played a little Wile E. Coyote and Roadrunner antics while vying for turns at the microphone. Needless to say, this was the portion of the cassette tape that I rewound and replayed the most. I would later procure another way to play and replay this song and give this videocassette a rest when I went and bought a CD copy of “If the Beatles had read Hunter”, the singles collection released a few months after the group had called it quits.

Roe’s 1969 original was a huge hit in both Europe and North America and has been covered a number of times over the years. As I mentioned above, I was already quite familiar with it because my father always had the radio tuned to the ‘oldies’ station in the car and I’m reasonably sure the song was on one of the TimeLife compilations my mother had on cassette. What I didn’t know when I was younger was that Roe had enlisted the help of the infamous session group, The Wrecking Crew, to provide the backing orchestration and Jimmie Haskell to do the string arrangements that the Stuffies’ fiddler Martin Bell would later kick up a notch and make his own. Indeed, I was surprised when after years of listening to the Vic Reeves and The Wonder Stuff cover, at how laid back and mellow the original was. In my mind, it was more upbeat, much like this punchy cover.

It may not surprise you at which version I’m going to go with here. The original to me just seems too crisp and clinical to these ears now. The cover is messier and dirtier, Gilks’s drumming is just that much funkier, and Reeves’ growl matches Hunt’s typical snarl, and it all just spells a heck of a lot of fun.

Cover:

The original:

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

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Eighties’ best 100 redux: #100 Happy Mondays “Wrote for luck (aka W.F.L.)” (1988, 1989)

#99 >>

So as of yesterday at noon EST, I’m off from work for just over two weeks, a break I am really looking forward to enjoying. I am also planning to take a similar amount of time as vacation away from these pages. Before I do, though, I wanted to get one last post in to start up a brand new series and it had to be done today.

Back on August 27, 2012, ten years ago today, I started up a new series on my old blog, Music Insanity, that counted down my top 100 favourite tunes from the 1980s and I’ve decided to revisit and revise said list (hence, the “redux”), starting today. I‘ll leave the preamble at that for now. To read a bit more on the the background, check here.

Starting things off at track #100, The Happy Mondays, and one of their seminal tunes, “Wrote for luck” (aka “W.F.L.”), are a band that I attribute more to the early 1990s than I do the 80s but they actually dug their proverbial roots in the dying days of the “Me” decade.

The Happy Mondays were at the forefront of the vibrant “Madchester” music scene that synthesized psychedelic rock with acid house and rave culture. Their music was rough and tumble but danceable and the Mondays were known for Shaun Ryder’s edgy vocals and their full-time dancer, Bez’s funky moves. They (or a fictionalized version of them) were featured in Michael Winterbottom’s excellent 2002 film “24 hour party people” (the title of which was taken from another Mondays song), a chronicle of the rise of Manchester as told from the point of view of Factory records founder, Tony Wilson. There’s no telling if the real Happy Mondays were as drug-crazed or as fanatic as the band portrayed in the film but my best guess is that Shaun Ryder and his crew partied like rock stars, especially given the legend that their coke and spending habits bankrupted the aforementioned Factory records before their long-promised fourth record could be released.

“Wrote for luck” comes courtesy of the band’s second album, 1988’s “Bummed”, produced by famed madman/producer, Martin Hannett, whose studio trickery gave the album its heavy, heavy bass. And though I think I may prefer the percussion forward remix by Vince Clarke (yes, that Vince Clarke) that was rereleased as a single the following year*, the album version is just as funky and dance club ready. Whenever I hear the tune, I always think of the millions of times I would race out onto our university pub dance floor and find Acid Head Scott** already out their screaming along and doing his best frenetic Bez impressions.

Listening to the song on my ear phones this week, I got to wondering how it didn’t place higher on the list and almost considered rearranging on the fly. Unlike a number of the songs that we may soon find on this list, “Wrote for luck” doesn’t feel like it’s aged a day.

This one goes out to Acid Head Scott and the rest of you old Baggy kids out there.

Original Eighties best 100 position: #93

Favourite lyric: “I wrote for luck, they sent me you /
I sent for juice, you give me poison” Tony Wilson once called Ryder the best poet since Yeats. I don’t know about that but it’s certainly a fun couplet to scream out on the dance floor.

Where are they now?: The Happy Mondays have gone through numerous breakups and reformations over the years. For their fourth kick at the can, the original and definite lineup reformed in 2012 with all kinds of lofty plans for their first new record in 20 years. Said record never materialized but they’ve toured regularly and did release one non-album single in 2015. Sadly, Paul Ryder, founding bassist and brother of frontman Shaun, died this past July.

*Mostly because I’d heard and loved this version first.

**Don’t ask me why we called him that. I have no SFW response.

For the rest of the Eighties’ best 100 redux list, click here.

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Best tunes of 1993: #15 Depeche Mode “I feel you”

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Ok. I know I’ve told this story before, at least a part of it, but I’m going to tell it again.

After I graduated high school, I took a year off, partly because I couldn’t afford the steep tuition fees for university and partly because I wasn’t ready. My parents knew it and deep down, I knew it too. It all worked out in the end but at the time, I was pretty sore about it.

The idea was that I would find work and save up. But there was a big flaw in the plan: finding a job in my small hometown was near impossible. I had found a job at a Becker’s Milk in October 1992 but that only lasted six weeks or so, through no fault of mine, and I was back pounding the pavement. I found a bit more luck the following spring when my high school drama teacher’s name on my reference list caught the eye of the owner of one of our town’s more reputable bar and grills. The King Street Bar & Grill, to be exact.

My first scheduled shift was a Thursday night, aka, Wing night, and after about an hour and a half of washing dishes, they finally got me doing some food prep. I was shown the correct way to locate the joints on a chicken wing, handed a big knife and cutting board, and was set to the task of separating the drumette from the wingette and disposing of the tip for three cases of wings. It was mindless and mundane work and if I didn’t love them so much, it might’ve put me off of wings for life.

Luckily for me, I had the radio nearby and the head cook for the night (whose name is forever lost to me) didn’t care if I changed the station, as long as I kept the wings coming. I quickly moved the dial from the country station to which it had been set and found Toronto’s alternative station, still called CFNY at that time. Now I may be remembering this part wrong* but I feel like they used to have a half hour new music show, on which they would test out new songs on the listening audience to see if they would fly in the regular music rotation. And I feel like one of the songs featured that evening was the latest, long awaited single by synth pop icons, Depeche Mode.

This was the age before the internet and I had yet to come across articles featuring the band in the music magazines** and David Gahan’s radically different, long-haired and bearded look. So I had no idea what I was in for when “I feel you” first came on and I was confronted with that screaming intro, followed by the bluesy guitar lick and drum line. The vocals were so obviously Gahan, though, and I fell for the tune from the beginning. I went out and bought the CD, “Songs of faith and devotion”, as soon as I was able, and welcomed the group’s new direction.

To this day, “I feel you” is still one of my favourite Mode tunes, and it came in at number three when I counted down my top five favourites of their 90s tracks. It is an explosion of sex and religion. It is an iconoclastic synth pop band paying tribute to rock without giving in to mass culture. It is a band thirteen years into their career, surviving crises and at the same time, finding a new path. It is heaven and hell at the same time. Hallelujah.

*Whether I am remembering this part right or not, what is indisputable, at least to myself, is that on this night, I heard this song for the very first time.

**This would come in the weeks that followed. First pay check in hand, I went out and purchased a copy of the latest Creem that featured them on the cover and voraciously read the article.

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