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.

100 best covers: #62 Kula Shaker “Hush”

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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.

100 best covers: #63 Colin Meloy “Everyday is like sunday”

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Morrissey is quite the polarizing figure, perhaps one of the most polarizing in the modern rock era. Like many, I love the part he played leading The Smiths, much of his early solo work, and even some of the later music he released under his own name. However, with every comment and miscue and cancelled tour, it’s getting harder for me to separate the artist from his art. And knowing what I know of Colin Meloy, having an inkling on his political stances, and my general feeling that he is an excellent human being, I sometimes wonder what his own thoughts are on Morrissey, one of his heroes and huge influences on his own music. But perhaps that mental leap happened too quickly, so let me backtrack.

The year following the release of The Decemberists’ third album, “Picaresque”*, frontman Colin Meloy self-released his own first solo recording. It was a six-song EP of covers of songs, the first of a series of similar EPs, each shining a spotlight on one of his favourite artists, that Meloy would issue and sell only at his solo shows. These EPs were aptly called, in reverse order from the date of release: “Colin Meloy sings The Kinks”, “Colin Meloy sings Sam Cooke”, “Colin Meloy sings Shirley Collins”, and of course, “Colin Meloy sings Morrissey”.

The six songs on this last were made up mostly of B-sides or lesser known singles by the master of maudlin but the final track was a certain very well-known single. Indeed, “Every day is like sunday” was the second ever single released by Morrissey after the dissolution of The Smiths and appeared as the third track on his solo debut album. It is one of my own favourite tracks, out of all of his solo output, and yet I can’t seem to help but love Colin Meloy’s cover just that much more.

The original is quite polished, full band and sweet production, not that there’s anything wrong with that. On this song, however, where there is an inherent sadness and solitude and fear, I think Colin Meloy hammers the nail in further with his stripped down, solitary version. He starts the proceedings sounding lonely and forlorn, just strumming on the acoustic and instilling Morrissey’s lyrics with more passion and precision than his hero, and by the end, you can’t help but feel his angst and moral outrage at the situation hinted at in the lyrics.

Indeed, the lyrics feel almost prophetic now, given the current situation we all now find ourselves in, but really, they only ring true, and don’t feel touristic, if played through the lens of Colin Meloy’s cover.

Disagree with me, I dare you.

Cover:

The original:

*The now iconic album by the indie folk band is the one that would end up being their last as an honest-to-goodness indie band,

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