100 best covers: #68 Echo And The Bunnymen “People are strange”

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So this here’s another example of a cover that I heard first and with which I was quite familiar before finally hearing the original. Interestingly, though, both discoveries were the result of films from my youth and their soundtracks.

Echo & the Bunnymen’s cover of “People are strange” was featured on the soundtrack for the original “Lost boys” film, which came out in 1987. I remember watching it (against my parents’ wishes) as a teenager with my adopted older brother as soon as it was released to VHS. Was I scared? A bit. Okay, maybe a lot. A young Kiefer Sutherland was quite terrifying as a vampire. But I was a big fan of two Coreys back in the day and they were hilarious as the intrepid vampire hunters.

A few years after that, in 1991, the big film of the summer was Oliver Stone’s biopic, “The doors”, for which I was still just a tad too young to see in the theatres. I watched it on VHS, again, months later but the film had already done its work revitalizing the public’s interest in the 60s psych rock band and I fell in line, copying a friends copy of their ‘best of’ to cassette tape. It was here that I put the proverbial face and name to more than a few songs with which I was already familiar and discovered a few new favourites, including what I learned (the hard way) was the original version of “People are strange”.

I love Echo & The Bunnymen and this cover but I think I might give the edge to The Doors here. The latter’s musicianship, especially that of Ray Manzarek, often takes a back seat in the shadows of their infamous poet/frontman but it really is good stuff. The carnival/side show feel of the original “People are strange” is a lot of fun but the cover shades up on the sinister feel exponentially, which is not necessarily a bad thing (especially given the subject of the film on whose soundtrack it appears). Ian McCulloch’s vocals are more overtly darker than Morrison’s and the sound bleaker, yeah, the organs have more reverb (but really, Manzarek needed none of that).

Okay. I give up. Both versions are quite haunting… though for very different reasons. Thoughts?

Cover:

The original:

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

100 best covers: #69 Cornershop “Norwegian wood (This bird has flown)”

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Chances are pretty good that if you haven’t heard tell of Cornershop, you’ve likely heard their huge, worldwide hit, “Brimful of asha”, bolstered in large part by the fabulous remix by Norman “Fatboy Slim” Cook. The original version of that track appeared on Cornershop’s third album, 1997’s “When I was born for the 7th time”. The album was released just past the apex of the Britpop craze and though neither their sound, style, politics, or ethos necessarily matched up with others from the scene, they were still lumped in with that lot simply because they were there. It was likely thanks to their appearance in the British music magazines I was in the habit of purchasing when I had the coin, and the aforementioned ubiquitous hit, that I purchased the album on CD during my final days of university*. And though I did like a lot of its tracks, it took me a few years to really appreciate what Tjinder Singh and Ben Ayres were doing. There was so much going on here – psych, funk, rock, dance, ambient, and traditional Indian music – and the culmination of all this was summed up in this fun cover of The Beatles’ “Norwegian wood (This bird has flown)”.

The original, I’m guessing, needs no introduction. Recorded way back in 1965 for the album “Rubber soul”, “Norwegian wood” is widely considered to be one of the first instances of ‘Raga rock’ and was also highly influential on the burgeoning psych rock movement. The song was written by John Lennon, apparently about an extramarital affair, with contributions from Paul McCartney, its composition inspired by the folk ballads of Bob Dylan. But it all really came together when George Harrison added a touch of sitar, an instrument he had just recently discovered and had started to learn, and all of a sudden, we had our first Western rock song to feature the Indian traditional stringed instrument.

So, in fact, it’s quite compelling that Tjinder Singh, whose band name was a play on the stereotypical vision of Indian immigrants in England, would choose to cover this particular track. Reportedly approved by both Paul McCartney and Yoko Ono, his cover translated the words to Punjabi, upped the sitar focus, and in a sense, whether intended or not, reclaimed the use of the instrument and shone a spotlight on his heritage.

It’s never a fair game to try to rank a cover against a Beatles original but I definitely think Cornershop’s version of this track is worth your time. What are your thoughts?

Cover:

The original:

*”When I was born for the 7th time” eventually wormed its way deeply amongst my favourites of 1997, one of the greatest years for music (in my opinion), and landed on my top ten when I counted them down a couple of years ago.

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

100 best covers: #70 Great Lake Swimmers “What was going through my head”

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Five years ago, Nettwork Records celebrated their 30th anniversary as a going concern. As a part of the festivities, they released a compilation album called “Cover to cover”, which featured current label artists covering songs from its storied past. If you look at the list of songs by artists as varied as Skinny Puppy, Coldplay, Passenger, and Sarah McLachlan, you can almost trace the label’s history from indie upstart on the west coast of Canada to apparent music savants picking up on the early days of the Canadian alternative rock scene, striking gold there, and then finding itself as an international mover and shaker. And looking at the list of the artists covering these tracks, you can see the label looking back towards those early roots and mining the best of current new Canadian indie.

Our cover song today is the penultimate track on this compilation and is a true example of CanCon brilliance. The original version of “What was going through my head” was the third single released off “Now and again”, The Grapes of Wrath’s* biggest album, a huge hit here on the Canadian radio airwaves. They were so big here I can’t imagine anyone not knowing this track but my understanding is that they are one of those CanCon bands that didn’t really travel well internationally. They were led by the songwriting duo of Tom Hooper and Kevin Kane and were almost as well known for their long, thick and wavy hair as they were for their vocal harmonies. The original track is heavy on the acoustic strumming, all jangle pop like and easy on the ears, and the synths here were a new addition to the band’s straightforward drums and bassline. Listening to the track for what must be the millionth time, it’s easy for me to see why Hooper and Kane always reminded me of Simon and Garfunkel with their plaintiff and haunting deliveries.

Great Lake Swimmers are a Toronto-based indie folk outfit led by Tony Dekker, who definitely sound more Iron and Wine than Lumineers. I’ve been listening to them for a long time and have always dug the low key and quiet vibe of their tunes. This cover actually first appeared as a bonus track on the deluxe version of their 2012 album, “New wild everywhere”, their most upbeat and commercially successful release to date. Their take on “What was going through my head” is faithful to the original, dutifully, doing the classic proud. It is slower in pace, as one might expect, and a shade longer than the original’s sub-three minutes. Dekker’s soft touch on vocals gets his harmonies care of Miranda Mulholland, who also adds a lovely touch on the violin to replace the keyboards of the original. And yeah, this is the Great Lake Swimmers so we’ve also got banjo and upright bass in the mix. It’s oh so organic.

And if the original wasn’t such a big part of my teen years, I could almost say this cover is better than the original. But it was, so I can’t.

Cover:

The original:

* Incidentally, The Grapes of Wrath’s first ever release, a self-titled EP, was also Nettwerk Records’ debut release.

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