Vinyl love: Various artists “Help: The album”

(Vinyl Love is a series of posts that quite simply lists, describes, and displays the pieces in my growing vinyl collection. You can bet that each record was given a spin during the drafting of each corresponding post.)

Artist: Various artists
Album Title: Help: The album
Year released: 1995
Year reissued: 2020
Details: 2 x LP, 25th anniversary reissue

The skinny: On September 4th, 1995, many of the biggest names in British rock went into studios across England and Ireland to record a brand new song to contribute to a charity compilation album in support of War Child. These recordings were all handed over to Brian Eno for mixing the next day and on September 9th, the resulting compilation album was released and went straight to number one on the UK album charts (for compilations). Late in August of this year, it was announced by War Child (and many of the contributing artists) that the album would be reissued on vinyl on September 9th, 2020, to celebrate its 25th anniversary and I was one of thousands that frantically went online to pre-order it. Yeah, the first run of 2020 copies completely sold out on the first day and they’ve since had to press a second run. The excitement was palpable the day I found it in my mailbox and walked home with it. In my humble opinion, this is the best the compilation album ever recorded. I distinctly remember when I purchased my first copy of it on CD from the now long defunct Penguin Music in Toronto and there was sticker providing the track listing affixed to the jewel case, so done because the artwork (done by The Stone Roses’ John Squire and Massive Attack’s 3D) was printed concurrently with album’s recording and couldn’t possibly include the finalized track list. My eyes must’ve bulged out of my head upon reading the wealth of my (at the time) favourite artists who appeared on the compilation: Blur, Oasis, Suede, Radiohead, The Boo Radleys, The Charlatans, Levellers, The Stone Roses, and more. The quick timeline on the album’s release meant that many of the songs were either original works in progress or covers of already established tracks. Indeed, two of the songs on this album have already appeared my 100 best covers list (at #100 and #74) and I feel like we might see at least one or two more make an appearance on that list. I still have that CD, though I played the hell out of it over the years, and now I have it my vinyl collection. And that makes me smile.

Standout track: “Come together” by The Smokin’ Mojo Filters (Paul McCartney, Noel Gallagher, and Paul Weller)

100 best covers: #65 Asobi Seksu “Then he kissed me”

<< #66    |    #64 >>

Asobi Seksu. The name may not ring any bells for you, which is a big shame. In a perfect world, it would have done. However, it was not to be.

Asobi Seksu was a New York-based band that had a rather fluid membership over the years, the only constants being the glue that held everything together: vocalist Yuki Chikudate and guitarist James Hanna. For me, this band was among the best and brightest that started the new shoegaze revival in the early 2000s, a revival that feels like it has gone on much longer than the original scene. I got into these guys back in 2006 with their wonderful sophomore release “Citrus”, falling in love with their Lush and MBV vibes, and voraciously consumed everything they produced thereafter. Unfortunately, they announced an indefinite hiatus back in 2013, a word they’ve kept, except for a one-off appearance opening for Slowdive in Boston in 2014 at that iconic band’s request. But who could say no to Slowdive, really?

Asobi Seksu released this apt cover of The Crystals’ 1963 hit song as a B-side for their non-album single “Stay awake” in 2007. Given my relatively limited exposure to the original, I think the cover is at least faithful to the spirit of Phil Spector’s production, albeit with perhaps thicker and fuzzier walls of sound and of course, Chikudate’s chiming vocals replacing the original R&B harmonies.

At a mere two minutes, though, this cover is like that oft-elusive and all-too-brief first kiss. Strange, timid, and awkward, but fully imbued with passion and sexual energy, and yes, questions of love. You’ve all been there. You know what I mean. The taste is more-ish, fleeting, just whetting the appetite for a bigger feast.

I’m not even going to ask the question because I don’t care about the answer. I’m going with the cover here. Repeat after me: Asobi Seksu. You’re welcome.

Cover:

The original:

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

100 best covers: #66 Lenny Kravitz “American woman”

<< #67    |    #65 >>

Music quiz aficionados would do well to check out the Sunday posts on fellow blogger Geoff’s blog, “1001 albums in 10 years”. As its title suggests, the blog’s normal programming involves its intrepid author sharing thoughts on the albums in the book, “1001 albums you must hear before you die”, as he tries to listen to each one within a ten year span. Over the past few years, he has added a fun, additional component in the form a quiz with five hints and chances to guess the artist of the week. Last week, said artist of the week was iconic Canadian rockers, The Guess Who, which I thought a bit fortuitous because it gave me a chance to plug his excellent work and at the same time, provide me a  lead into my next ‘100 best covers’ post.

“American woman” is one of the few tracks by The Guess Who whose songwriting credits are attributed to all of its members rather than just its principal songwriters, Randy Bachman and Burton Cummings. This is because the song was the result of an improvised jam during a soundcheck one night in Ontario, the original lyrics ad-libbed by Cummings and later edited, which the group was really ‘feeling’. It was seen by many at the time as an anti-Vietnam war song and an outsider’s view of the American approach to it but Cummings has maintained on many occasions that it is really about his preference for Canadian woman over those from our southern neighbours, a sentiment most likely a result of touring fatigue.

American musician, Lenny Kravitz covered this tune almost 30 years later, right at the height of his popularity, originally for the soundtrack of the second installment in the Austin Powers film series. His version was softer, slower, and mostly because of who he was, innately sexier than the original. I haven’t really been a fan of much of his work but this cover is an exception for me. A faithful homage to a classic, one that doesn’t try to outdo the original and knows its own limitations in its shadow. Both versions rock, sport incredible, though very different styles of vocals, and throw hammer down with guitars.

Thoughts or preferences? Always game to hear ’em.

Cover:

The original:

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