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100 best covers: #52 Depeche Mode “Route 66”

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I was pretty bummed a few weeks ago when I first caught wind of the news that Depeche Mode founding member Andrew Fletcher had passed away. It was merely incidental that I was just gearing up to write this very post. In light of the news, I pondered writing up something more specific towards giving due to the group’s quiet member but the one that purportedly held the whole thing together. In the end, though, I decided to continue on with my original plan and to simply give thoughts on the tune at hand.

I first heard Depeche Mode’s cover of “Route 66” care of my old friend John, many, many moons ago. In fact, it was right around the time that I was just getting into the band, just shortly after the start of the 1990s. He was a bit of an obsessive, my friend John. He already had pretty much everything the group had released thus far on compact disc, which was actually quite a bit. This included the three singles box sets that they had just released and a handful of the latter day CD singles not included in those sets. I remember one evening in his living room, he pulled out his extensive collection and spread it out around us while he played choice clips on his parents’ sweet stereo set up, the volume knob creeping upwards and then sliding back down again at his parents’ behest. “Route 66” was one such choice tune.

This cover was originally recorded as road trip themed b-side for the “Behind the wheel” single. It was recorded in one day and mixed on the next. It incorporated elements of “Behind the wheel” and on some remixes of “Behind the wheel”, we get smatterings of “Route 66”. It was so beloved by everyone (include the record execs), that some were pushing for it to be released as a double A-side, it found a spot on the “Earth girls are easy” film soundtrack of 1988, and it was liberally used throughout Depeche Mode’s tour documentary “101” in 1989.

“Route 66” was originally written by American songwriter Bobby Troup in 1946 after a road trip he took with his wife from Pennsylvania to California and he incorporated the names of places they had passed along the way. The song’s original recording came by way of Nat King Cole and his trio and has become a classic rhythm and blues standard since then, covered by everyone from Bing Crosby to Chuck Berry to The Rolling Stones. So it’s no wonder that this one was familiar to me, stood out amongst the many other tracks John played for me on that night, and I asked in particular for the Beatmasters mix that combined this with “Behind the wheel” for an extended groove to be included on the mixed tape he later promised me.

I only heard the King Cole Trio original for the first time this week and though it sounds great, his voice and the classic jazz instrumentation, I cannot in good conscience choose it over Depeche Mode’s cover. Alan Wilder, Andrew Fletcher, Martin Gore, and David Graham made this song their own. The electronic and driving beats really evoke the speeds of highway driving and the bluesy riffs of electric guitar only only accentuate the feeling. Sweet stuff.

Cover:

The original:

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

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100 best covers: #53 Suede “Shipbuilding”

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I’ve already written bits about the Help Warchild album a couple of times for this series. Songs from this, my favourite ever compilation, have already appeared at number 100 and number 74 on this list and here we are again, this time with Suede’s cover of Elvis Costello’s “Shipbuilding”.

Of course, at the time, I had no idea this was a cover. Given how quickly the Help album was recorded and released*, the CD copy of the compilation that I purchased used from Penguin Music the year after its release had almost nothing in the way of liner and production notes. I was also still something of a newbie when it came to Suede. I had obviously heard of them, their eponymously titled glam rock debut, and had fallen hard for “My insatiable one” off the “So I married an axe murderer” soundtrack, as well as the “We are the pigs” single off their sophomore release “Dog man star”. Still, I was a few months shy of the full on love affair with their third record, “Coming up”.

I only discovered the original when I finally decided it was time to explore the work of Elvis Costello a decade or so later. It appeared on a Best Of compilation that I tracked down and recognized it immediately as track eight from Warchild. The music was originally written by Clive Langer for Robert Wyatt but unhappy with his own lyrics, he approached Costello to refine them. The song was a reaction to the Falklands war and played on the irony that shipbuilding towns would see a modicum of resurgence while its fighting age sons would be sent off to fight and perhaps die.

Costello’s original is a hip and jazzy number, emboldened by a trumpet solo by Chet Baker. The musicianship is tremendous and you can’t argue with those phenomenal lyrics** but there is something just a bit more suave and swank about Brett Anderson, no? In his and Suede’s hands, it’s a bit more of a rock ballad, heavy on the bass and the piano, and though the trumpet still appears, it’s more muted.

Yeah, I dig Elvis Costello. But I love Suede. I’m going with the cover here.

Cover:

The original:

*All within eight days!!!

**Elvis Costello himself has said that these were some of the best lyrics he had ever written

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

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100 best covers: #54 Gene “Town called Malice”

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During my fourth year at York University, there was a professor’s strike that stretched from March until May, putting a number of students’ academic years and graduation plans at risk. I was on a five year plan in a four year program, so it was no issue to me in that sense. Really, it just lengthened my year some. However, it did have the added benefit of lulling me into boredom in early spring and got me out searching for a summer job earlier than I would’ve done otherwise. I ended up finding a position in a tool rental shop, a job that I surprisingly fell in love with, that kept me gainfully employed for the remainder of my university studies, and turned into my first post-graduation full-time job.

I was trained by a guy named Angelo that was probably a few years older than myself but spending quite a bit of time together in the store, we grew into a sort of friendship. He also really liked music and though he favoured what I considered to be classic rock, he was always very open to different sounds and exploring new bands. In fact, he always open to all sorts of new ideas and new experiences and we had a lot of great conversations. We have obviously lost touch, since I left the tool rental company and Toronto over two decades ago, but I still have the copy of “The very best of The Jam” CD he purchased for my birthday on behalf of him and our other co-worker, Marco.

We must’ve talked about the British punk-rock trio at some point during that summer of 1997 but I’m sure I wasn’t able to contribute much at the time, perhaps just that Paul Weller was their lead singer and that my friend Andrew Rodriguez was a big fan. The gift* was super appreciated, though, and I spent quite a bit of time with the disc that fall, becoming a convert of the group in the process. So a couple of years later when a tribute album called “Fire & skill” was released, I didn’t hesitate to pick it up. Of course, it didn’t hurt that it featured covers by a bunch of Britpop survivors, like Reef, Heavy Stereo, a song by each of Oasis’s Gallagher brothers (Liam working with Ocean Colour Scene’s Steve Cradock), and Gene.

Long time fans and influenced by The Jam, Gene chose for their entry on this compilation a faithful cover of “Town called malice”, which, incidentally, was one of the few songs I knew of The Jam before hearing the aforementioned compilation. The original appeared on The Jam’s sixth and final studio album, “The gift”, and is three minute northern soul groove wrapped around Paul Weller’s teenaged kicks around his hometown and man, does that rhythm section get you dancing. The cover is slightly fuller sounding, with raunchier guitars, and it’s fun, Martin Rossiter’s vocals always sounding a bit on the side of Morrissey and has you wondering what The Smiths might have done with this song. And though with the extended moments and cleaner production, it doesn’t quite feel as immediate and as honest as the original, it’s still great.

Indeed, I like both versions a lot (and don’t get me wrong, I do love me some Gene) but I’m going with The Jam on this battle.

Cover:

The original:

*Pardon the pun

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