100 best covers: #71 Pixies “I can’t forget”

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Leonard Cohen was a great songwriter. He was a poet that wrote poems and those poems became songs when he decided to sing them, instead of just read them aloud.

Of course, when you write excellent songs, you’ll have numerous other excellent bands and solo artists lining up to cover your work. And some of them might even transcend your original versions in popularity and commercial success. Such as it is with Leonard Cohen, who has been covered many times over, and even had just the one of his songs covered thousands of times (I’m sure you can guess of which song I speak). If you ask my wife, though, she’ll tell you that Mr. Cohen is tops on the list of artists that should never be covered and that no one can come close to touching his versions. Conversely, my friend Tim has said to me on more than one occasion that he likes Leonard Cohen’s songs, but only when someone else performs them.

And I’m pretty near certain that these words were first uttered by him whilst listening to the 1991 tribute album, “I’m your fan”. This excellent 18-song compilation was put together French music magazine, “Les Inrockuptibles”. The album’s title is a play on Cohen’s 1988 album, “I’m your man”, and its track listing included varied versions of Cohen tunes by artists such as Echo & The Bunnymen’s Ian McCulloch, House of Love, Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, Lloyd Cole, John Cale, James, R.E.M., and of course, this excellent cover by the Pixies.

Recorded in the same year as “Trompe le monde”, their final album before dissolution, the Pixies’ version of “I can’t forget” was unsurprisingly more upbeat and hard-hitting than the original. Indeed, it could almost be mistaken for one of their own tunes, if it had only been a bit more weird and off-kilter. Cohen’s original was recorded a mere three years earlier for the aforementioned album, “I’m your man”, and while all of its songs were great – classics now – it took me a while to get over its production and instrumentation, which were synth heavy and definitely of their time and place.

Sorry Victoria. I think I’d take the heavy guitars, faster rhythm, and Frank Black’s yelp and Kim Deal’s chiming backup over the easier listening marimba synth-programmed hangover, even if it does include Cohen’s inimitable, rich sing-speak vocals.

What about you? What are your thoughts?

Cover:

The original:

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

100 best covers: #72 Cat Power “Stuck inside of Mobile with the Memphis blues again”

<< #73    |    #71 >>

Just over a couple of years ago, I participated in a collaborative blog posting extravaganza, for which a number of bloggers around the world all posted words on the same day on Bob Dylan, a theme decided upon in advance. It was a fun exercise, albeit somewhat outside of this particular blog’s normally scheduled programming, and it was interesting to see how all these different writer’s chose to treat the chosen theme. In my case, I opted to write about the 2007 film “I’m not there”, an unorthodox biopic on the iconic singer/songwriter that chose to portray him using four different actors and telling bits about his life using multiple story lines. Of course, given my blog’s music bent, I spoke at length about the soundtrack as well, which is a super long (perhaps too long) double LP made up of covers, rather than the originals, by various artists across the musical spectrum. And perhaps both of these, the film and soundtrack, were as contrarian and confounding as Bob Dylan can be himself.

One of the three tracks I pointed out as amongst my favourites on the soundtrack was this cover by Cat Power of “Stuck inside of Mobile with the Memphis blues again”. Though to be honest, it’s definitely less about the artist performing it than it is the song itself. I know next to nothing about the American singer/songwriter but she definitely stands up to the gauntlet laid down by Dylan on this track. Hers is just shy of the seven and half minute mark of Dylan’s original but her honey smooth vocals keep the energy and the feel true to the original. Both versions bounce and jive along and bring a smile to my face every time. I actually fell in love with Dylan’s original just shy a decade earlier when I heard it on another soundtrack, the one for the very excellent screen adaptation of the Hunter S. Thompson classic, “Fear and loathing in Las Vegas”.

It’s just one of those songs that could go on for ever as far as I’m concerned, even if either singer just devolved into gibberish. And well, I can’t actually decide which version I like better on this one. Thoughts?

Cover:

The original:

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

100 best covers: #73 (a tie!) The Wonder Stuff / Morrissey “That’s entertainment”

<< #74    |    #72 >>

What’s this? A tie?

This is not something you’ll see too often in my lists because it feels like a bit of a cheat. If you’re going to rank things, do so with conviction is what I say. However, in the case of these two covers, they will be forever inextricably linked and it would be near impossible for me to place one over the other.

I’ve already mentioned somewhere in these pages that I was pretty heavily into The Wonder Stuff in the early 1990s, especially in grade 13 (or OAC, as we called it at the time in Ontario, Canada). In January 1992, the Stuffies released the single, “Welcome to the cheap seats”, as a double EP and I duly purchased it on cassette. One of the eight tracks was their cover of The Jam classic, “That’s entertainment”. I wasn’t super familiar with the original but I loved the tune, along with the rest of the cassette, so I decided to share it with my friend Andrew Rodriguez, whom I knew was a fan of The Jam*. I offered him my Walkman on the bus ride home from school one afternoon and I watched his face as he listened but I couldn’t tell by the rapidly changing dramatic expressions whether he liked it or not. At the end, he took off the earphones, pressed stopped, and handed it back to me with: “It’s quite good actually. Quite faithful to the original. Definitely better than Morrissey’s cover.”

Then, Rodriguez went off about the original, waxing poetical about how Paul Weller wrote the song in about 10 minutes, probably drunk, probably on a bar napkin, but my mind was way behind him, still processing his last comment. Morrissey also covered this track? Why yes, JP, he did. In fact, it was done just the year prior and released as a B side to the single, “Sing your life”. It took some time for me to track this one down, I think. Things weren’t so easy before the Internet, you see. It was probably my friend John who had a CD copy of the aforementioned single and from whom I recorded a copy of this second cover to blank cassette.

Upon listening to both these covers, it is obvious that my friend Andrew was right about the fact that The Wonder Stuff cover was definitely closer in spirit to the original but that doesn’t necessarily make it better than Morrissey’s version. Say what you will about him these days, there was always something about Moz’s delivery. His version is slowed down, which lengthens the song by a whole minute, allowing us time to thoroughly process Paul Weller’s words and reflections on the crazy world happening all around him. The Wonder Stuff take the song on as it is, adding their own folk-punk-influenced pop sound and Miles Hunt’s easy snarl.

Waking up at 6 A.M. on a cool warm morning
Opening the windows and breathing in petrol
An amateur band rehearsing in a nearby yard
Watching the telly and thinking ’bout your holidays
That’s entertainment

Are either of these better than the original? Probably not. But I love them anyway.

Cover #1:

Cover #2:

The original:

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

* I’ve since realized that Andrew Rodriguez is quite possibly the world’s biggest Paul Weller fan (or maybe just Canada’s biggest). He’s been promising a Top Five Tunes post about The Jam for a couple of years now. Maybe next year…