100 best covers: #49 Rymes With Orange “Itchycoo park”

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This one might be a bit more obscure for those of you outside of Canada. Still, I gotta say: while searching for the YouTube videos to include with this particular post, I was pleasantly taken on a small jaunt through nostalgia with the one posted by the band themselves for the cover version of today’s song. There’s a small clip at the beginning from the old MuchMusic alternative video show, The Wedge, including the musical intro segment and then, Simon Evans, the VJ who hosted the show, introducing the band and music video in that bumbling way he had.

If memory serves, I actually watched that particular episode of The Wedge on one weekday afternoon at some point in 1993 and this very same bumbling intro was how I came upon this group and this cover. I remember thinking at the time that Rymes with Orange was a great band name* (and still do) and I loved their sound because it was so obviously influenced by the baggy Madchester aesthetic, of which I was quite enamoured. I started looking for their debut album (“Peel”) whenever I was out at the music stores but had to settle for a CD single copy of “Marvin”, one of the album’s three singles, that included 6 or 7 mixes of it, plus this very same cover of “Itchycoo park”.

Rymes with Orange was an alternative rock band that formed in 1991 in Vancouver BC by guitarist Rob Lulic, keyboardist Bob D’Eith, and drummer Alex Dias after a number of their previous bands had formed and folded. Various members came and went in the early days but things really started to come together when they settled on UK-born Lyndon Johnson for lead vocals and moved their sound towards the aforementioned Manchester-influenced dance rock. Their 1992 debut garnered them some success and to build upon that they embraced a harder edge for their sophomore album, 1994’s “Trapped in the machine”. They managed a few alternative radio hits here and a couple tracks that I enjoyed but I lost track of the group in the years that followed**. I still love this cover though.

The original “Itchycoo Park” was written and first performed by English Rock band The Small Faces back in 1967. It was released as a standalone single and went on to be one of the group’s biggest hits. I personally don’t know a lot about the group but do love this song and will eventually explore their catalogue further. Theirs is a laidback, psychedelic rendition calling to mind a lazy Sunday or idyllic jaunt in nature. Either way, the sun is shining and everything is perfect. The Rymes with Orange cover builds on the psychedelia of the original but ups the tempo and adds a flash mob dance routine to the equation.

I refuse to pick a preferred version in this case.


The original:

*The following year while at a Wonder Stuff concert I saw someone wearing one of Rymes with Orange’s concert Tees and it was just as brilliantly emblazoned with the words “Rhymes with f*ck all”.

**Apparently, the group had been off again, on again through to the late 2000s and had a reunion of sorts back in 2017.

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


Eighties’ best 100 redux: #97 The Box “L’affaire Dumoutier (Say to me)” (1985)

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My parents must’ve gotten tired of waking me up in time to go to school at some point a few years before high school because, one Christmas, I received as a gift my very own clock/radio. These are probably not in use as much these days with today’s youth, possibly opting instead for setting an alarm on their smartphones. However, it’s a gift I grew to love, not long after I got over the shock of unwrapping something other than games or chocolates or clothing. With the novelty of it, I plugged it in right away and placed it within arm’s reach of my single bed. I set the time and an alarm time around 7am and then, started playing with the other functions. I turned on the radio and found CFTR, an old AM radio station that has long since gone talk radio but at the time was playing current hits, and I likely didn’t touch the dial for quite a few years.

It was this clock/radio that started a habit that I didn’t break myself of until I moved in with my girlfriend, now wife, a decade and a half later. I discovered the sleep function and fell asleep to the sweet sounds of music every night, some nights I would have had to extend the sleep past the standard hour when it took longer. This is where I discovered a lot of music in my youth, some of which are still favourites and some appear on this list, including this song.

I definitely remember hearing “L’affaire Dumoutier (say to me)” quite often in the evenings while falling asleep or as the alarm went off in the mornings*. I didn’t know the name of it at the time, nor did I know who performed the song, I wouldn’t discover either of these until much, much later, during a period in the early 2000s when I started using the powers of the internet for good and ill and to reconnect with the long-lost favourites of my youth.

The Box was formed by Jean-Marc Pisapia in Montreal in 1981, a year after he left Men Without Hats**, and they released four full-length studio albums before disbanding a decade later. Little did I know that they were actually quite successful in the late 80s and had a string of hit singles on Canadian radio, many of which I actually knew and loved. I only discovered this last fact recently when I saw them advertised as touring here in Ontario with Chalk Circle, another classic Canadian alternative band, and decided to investigate songs other than “L’affaire Dumoutier”.

Although I can say now that I am more of a true fan of their work, this one is still my favourite. Based on a real news item that Pisapia had read that had haunted him, the song deals with mental illness and its dangers, a murder committed when its perpetrator was not in his right mind. The sound of the song is also haunting, the gonging of church bells interspersed with police sirens in the fog, the verses spoken as news reportage, including interviews and statements, both in English and French, and though I couldn’t understand it all when I was younger, I knew something dark was at play. Of course, the chorus as a counterpoint is a singalong and infinitely hummable, which I did at various points in my life whenever the song came back to me.

Original Eighties best 100 position: n/a

Favourite lyric:  “Non coupable! Pour cause d’aliénation mentale…” My French wasn’t strong enough for me to understand what this meant at the time but I still loved how this was spoken with such finality to end the song. Now that I can understand it, I appreciate it even more.

Where are they now?: Jean-Marc Pisapia revived the band back in 2004 with himself being the only original member. This new incarnation has since released two albums, an EP, and a bunch of singles and has toured quite regularly.

*Because, of course, I used to opt for radio rather alarm sound to wake me up.

**Another Canadian new wave group of whom some of you may have heard.

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


Best tunes of 2003: #21 The Weakerthans “One great city!”

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“And up above us all, leaning into sky
A golden business boy will watch the North End die
And sing I love this town
Then let his arcing wrecking ball proclaim
I hate Winnipeg”

The last time I was in Winnipeg was in 2010. It was my third visit to the central Canadian town but the first time for pleasure. My wife and I went there to visit friends of ours who we had met in Ottawa but who had moved back home a few years prior. It just so happened that our visit coincided with the annual folk festival held in Birds Hill Provincial Park, just outside of the city, and it didn’t take much to convince our friends to bring us out to experience it.

We attended two afternoon songwriting showcase workshops, one of which was on ‘writing about home’, featured the likes of Jon and Roy and The Swell season, and was led by Winnipeg’s unofficial poet laureate and Weakerthans frontman, John K. Samson. The festival organizers couldn’t have picked a better moderator for such a topic, given The Weakerthans’ penchant and talent for highlighting the best and the worst of life in Canada, especially from their particular section of it.

“One great city!”, track number ten on the group’s third full-length album, “Reconstruction site”, is a prime example. The title is taken from Winnipeg’s former town motto and this, set against the song refrain of “I hate Winnipeg”, belies a certain love/hate relationship that Samson, and likely, most of the city’s residents, have with the place that they live. The instrumentation is simple enough. The sound of two sets of hands plucking away at two acoustic guitars, the pacing even and insistent. They share the space equally with Samson’s vocals, instantly recognizable as Canadian, sounding like a cross between Neil Young and Gord Downey.

But that’s not to say Samson is not his own man. Indeed, it’s his songwriting and lyricism that has won over so many hearts to the Weakerthans’ cause. His three minute portrait is shown through the spotted and smudged glasses of a dollar store clerk and the grimy windshield of a city bus and its driver. It is echoed in the stomping feet of commuters in the underpass. It invokes the storied name of long broken up bands and folded NHL teams (though this latter has since returned) and the wistful and beautiful sadness of historic buildings abandoned and boarded up. It is a rom/com in the absurdist vein of Wes Anderson or Charlie Kaufman. It is a faded and creased polaroid in the pocket of both Winnipeggers that long for home and those who have never been there but hear in Samson’s words stories of their own hometown.

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