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100 best covers: #59 Placebo “Bigmouth strikes again”

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One Sunday night in January, very shortly after New Year’s day in 1997, I ventured downtown Toronto to meet up with my friend Darrell from my Prose fiction workshop. I’m pretty sure the place was called Lion’s Bar and I am reasonably sure it was on College street somewhere near Kensington market but I now couldn’t tell you for sure. I remember the bar being in a basement and that it was a relatively small space but what I remember the most was that the music was awesome. Of course, that was why we were there.

The DJ that night was a friend of Darrell’s and I knew him, but only as a nodding acquaintance, mostly from a couple years of seeing him and requesting songs while he manned the decks on Saturday nights at one of York University’s college pubs. It was this same DJ that drove both Darrell and me back up to North York afterwards, long after last call, rather than subject us to the joys of the night bus. Once at his car, he handed us both promo copies of Catherine Wheel’s “Like cats and dogs” from his trunk and then played for us an advance copy James’s upcoming album “Whiplash” on his car stereo on the way home. But I am digressing here…

At some point that evening, I was on the dance floor taking a swig from my bottle of Labatt 50 just as whatever song it was that I was dancing to came to an end. It was replaced by a familiar guitar strum intro but one that was slightly edgier. Still, I placed it as “Bigmouth strikes again” and got back into dancing mode. By the time the vocals kicked in and instead of Morrissey’s plaintive warble, a Richard O’Brien-like sinister sneer chimed in, I knew that this was more than a different mix or take of the original Smiths track. And this brought a smile to my face, a smile that only widened and broke into outright laughter when the “hearing aid” lyric was modernized to “Walkman” and “Discman” for a bit of brazen hipness. This version was harder, noisier, and most definitely more glammed up than the original and that extra thirty seconds in length and increased tempo had this particular dancer slightly sweatier by the end. At its closing notes, I hurried over to the DJ to ask after the artist, which I repeated to myself over a number of times and even procured a pen to scrawl it on the inside of my cigarette pack because I no longer trusted my drunken brain to retain it.

Just over a year later, my ears pricked up when I heard the same band announced over the radio with a brand new song called “Pure morning”, which I loved immediately and this song ended up being a big hit for Placebo. I later came across the “Bigmouth strikes again” cover on the bonus disc that came with the deluxe edition of their 2003 album, “Sleeping with ghosts”, and I was immediately transported back to that very fun evening. And I experience the same sort of joy every time I hear this song now.

Is the Placebo cover better than The Smiths’ original? I can’t say that it is. But it’s probably just as fun to dance to.

Cover:

The original:

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

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100 best covers: #60 Gnarls Barkley “Gone daddy gone”

<< #61    |    #59 >>

I’m sure that all of you recall a little ditty called “Crazy” by Gnarls Barkley. I distinctly remember seeing the video for it for the first time late one Friday night in 2006 on The Wedge and being drawn in and mesmerized by the Rorschach style ink blots that formed and re-formed images of the performers and such. And man, was that song catchy. I immediately went on the hunt for the album on which it appeared, “St. Elsewhere”, and learned that Gnarls Barkley was the duo of R&B wonder vocalist CeeLo Green and Midas touch uberproducer Brian Burton (aka Danger Mouse). Of course, “Crazy” went ubiquitous and intergalactic as a hit but the rest of the album was quite excellent too – a compelling collection of genre-bending and genre-defying tracks – and produced two more singles, the last being the double A-side release of “Who cares?” and this very song, a cover of Violent Femmes’ “Gone daddy gone”*

Now, to close these posts, I typically give my opinion (and solicit your own) on whether I prefer the original or the cover but I am going to get this out of the way right now. Though the cover is quite excellent, I am going with the original here. It appears as track nine on the iconic self-titled debut album by the Milwaukee based trio. It is just over three minutes of punk and folk mashup and with a jazz-type song structure, including not one but two xylophone solos performed by bassist Brian Ritchie. In fact, I love how each performer takes their turn in the solo spotlight in such a short barn-burner and no one misses a beat.

It is amazing though and a testament to the range of music influences that surged through “St. Elsewhere” that CeeLo and Brian chose to cover a lesser known Violent Femmes tune from over thirty years prior and did so, faithfully. The cover is thirty seconds shorter and using digital sounds rather than organic instruments, managed to even speed it up some. It introduced a whole new audience to a great track and like many successful covers, the new audience fell for it, not necessarily even aware of its origins. And man, does that CeeLo have a voice!

Thoughts?

Cover:

The original:

*Interestingly, Violent Femmes’ original is also a cover of sorts, including a complete lyrical verse of Willie Dixon‘s “I just want to make love to you”. Hence, the shared writing credit.

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

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100 best covers: #61 Nick Cave “Disco 2000”

<< #62    |    #60 >>

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.