100 best covers: #90 Rufus Wainwright “Across the universe”

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It feels like forever since I’ve done one of these 100 best covers posts. In fact, I had to look back in my archives to see how long ago it actually was and then, got caught up in listening to Dum Dum Girl’s cover of “There is a light that never goes out”, all over again. So we go from The Smiths to The Beatles, two iconic British bands from very different eras and just over two months in between.

“Across the universe” was a John Lennon composition, consisting of some of his very favourite lyrics. Interesting, then, that it was shelved for so long and finally appeared first on a charity compilation album and then, on “Let it be”, mostly because of the footage of it caught for the documentary film of the same name. There are a few versions of the song floating around out there, one with singing bird sound effects bookending the music and of course, the more popular one remixed by Phil Spector.

Rufus Wainwright is Canadian singer/songwriter who is the offspring of American folk singer Loudon Wainwright III and Canadian folk singer Kate McGarrigle and the older brother of Martha Wainwright. His cover of “Across the universe” came about after the release of his second album, 2001’s “Poses”, and he was approached by Sean Penn to record a version of the Beatles song for his film, “I am Sam”. The initial plan was to use the original Beatles versions for the film and its soundtrack but the filmmakers were unable to obtain the rights for all the songs. Apparently though, the filming had been done using the originals already so the covers had to be recorded using the same time signatures.

Rufus Wainwright’s cover may be in the same time signature but his version is all him. Where The Beatles’ original is all psychedelic, spiritual, and soaring over a technicolor world, using all the studio bells and whistles, Wainwright’s is a mostly stripped down affair. It’s guitar layered on guitar and his vocal tracks layered upon each other. And those Wainwright vocals are the key, playing somewhere between opera, show tune, and glam rock, taking on a life of their own and bringing with them the inherent sadness of the song. Quite beautiful really.

The cover:

The original:

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

Vinyl love: Spirit Of The West “Go figure”

(Vinyl Love is a series of posts that quite simply lists, describes, and displays the pieces in my growing vinyl collection. You can bet that each record was given a spin during the drafting of each corresponding post.)

Artist: Spirit Of The West
Album Title: Go figure
Year released: 1991
Details: Original German pressing, signed, numbered, includes a signed certificate from the band, recent band photo (also signed)

The skinny: This album was my first introduction to the band that I would grow to love and the CD copy I had of it followed me from high school into university and beyond. The Canadian folk rock group that spawned the alternate Canadian anthem, “Home for a rest”, ventured into alt-rock territory with “Go figure”, enlisting drummer Vince Ditrich to fill out their sound. (I’ve been dying to track down any of their albums for my vinyl collection so snapping this up from their website when they put it up for sale two weeks ago was a no-brainer.)

Standout track: “D for Democracy”

Vinyl love: Rachel Zeffira “The deserters” (+ “Here on in” b/w “To here knows when”)

(Vinyl Love is a series of posts that quite simply lists, describes, and displays the pieces in my growing vinyl collection. You can bet that each record was given a spin during the drafting of each corresponding post.)

Artist: Rachel Zeffira
Album Title: The deserters
Year released: 2012
Details: Black vinyl, poster, included 7″ single “Here on in” b/w “To here knows when”

The skinny: With The Horrors’ Faris Badwan, Rachel Zeffira makes up the other half of Cat’s Eyes, but here she strikes out on her own with her solo debut. Mixing her classical and operatic training with dream pop makes for some haunting and beautiful music: a little Kate Bush, a little Cocteau Twins.

Standout track: “Here on in”