100 best covers: #97 The Raveonettes “My boyfriend’s back”

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In October 2005, a video game called Stubbs the Zombie was unleashed upon the world. Being the world’s sorriest excuse for a gamer, it’s no surprise that I have neither seen nor played this game. (I should like to ask fellow blogger Sarca if she’s played and has thoughts on said game.) I assume it takes for its protagonist a zombie called Stubbs, given its title, but of its plot, I know nothing. I would posit, however, that it takes place in or about the 1950s or 1960s, having listened to its soundtrack. Yes, you heard that right. A soundtrack was made for this game (maybe this is a regular occurrence Sarca?) and it’s the music therein with which I am much more familiar.

Released on the same day as the game, the soundtrack boasts twelve covers of classics from the golden age of rock and roll and an original theme, all by indie artists that were popular in the mid-2000s. We have Cake performing “Strangers in the night”, Death Cab For Cutie doing “Earth angel”, and this lovely take on “My boyfriend’s back” by The Raveonettes.

The original number by The Angels is a bubble gum pop number from 1963 complete with handclaps and cheeky backup singers. It is kind of dark looking at it through today’s PC lenses, the singer threatening a guy with assault at the hands of her rather large boyfriend. It would seem that back in the day this guy would be seen as getting his just desserts since he had first harassed the girl for a date but once rebuffed (several times as it sounds), had spread rumours about her. But it’s all okay, you say, it’s a cheerful and fun song. They’re clapping their hands, fer chrissakes!

But then we listen to The Raveonettes’ cover, which also appears on their album from the same year, “Pretty in black”, and the mood is slightly different. Sure, it’s still boppy but the handclaps are replaced by electronic beats, the guitars are roughed up and raw, and Sharin Foo’s vocals are sassy, channelling Debbie Harry and almost insinuating that she doesn’t really need her boyfriend to defend her. It probably goes without saying that I enjoy this version better with all its noise and angst, while still hinting at the era of soda parlours and poodle dress, but I can certainly understand any nostalgic bliss directed at the original.

The cover:

The original:

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

 100 best covers: #98 Great Big Sea “End of the world”

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“It’s the end of the world as we know it…. and I feel fine.” What a great line and an incredible tune.

Chances are pretty good that you’ve heard R.E.M.’s original version. From their 1987 album “Document”, “End of the world” is considered one of the band’s best-known and best-loved songs and is definitely up there among my own personal faves by Michael Stipe and company.

Fast forward to 1997 and we have Newfoundland-based folk rock band, Great Big Sea, releasing a cover of said song for their third studio album, “Play”. If you’re not from Canada, it’s possible you’ve not heard this band but they were pretty big here in their home country. I say “were” because they’re broken up now but in their heyday in the 90s, the four-piece of Alan Doyle, Bob Hallett, Séan McCann, and Darrell Power put out a string of albums that were filled with high energy rock tunes with a Celtic folk bent and more than a few of these were perfect soundtracks for hoisting a pint or three. I didn’t like all of their songs, favouring those where their traditional background was more evident, but they had a talent for putting a rousing Celtic folk touch on the songs they were covering.

Great Big Sea’s version of “End of the world” is a full minute and a half shorter than the original. But don’t you go thinking that they cut out a verse or something. No. It’s all there. It may be unbelievable to you R.E.M. fans but they actually did it by speeding up the already frenetic pace set by Bill Berry’s drumming in the original. Fiddles are a-whir and the mandolin on a tear but it’s Alan Doyle’s valiant vocal effort here that really makes this song, sounding off each syllable of Michael Stipe’s lyrics with his own hoarse Newfoundland roar.

Both versions are great in their own right (though I still prefer the original) and both are ripe for a rowdy dance floor, but where R.E.M.’s is made for the pogo, Great Big Sea’s is one more prone to jigging. Oh and be careful, that dance floor is likely quite sticky from all the spilt beer. Carry on.

The cover:

The original:

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

100 best covers: #99 The Rural Alberta Advantage “Eye of the tiger”

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I’d be rather surprised if any one of you was to tell me they’d never heard the original version of “Eye of the tiger” by Survivor. It was the theme song for the third installment of the “Rocky” series (the one in which Stallone does battle with Mr. T!) and was released as a single the day after the film hit theatres. It is the American hard rock band’s biggest hit, attaining certified double platinum status and sitting atop the Billboard 100 charts for six weeks in 1982.

To say that this cover by Toronto-based indie rock trio, The Rural Alberta Advantage, is a bit less well-known is tongue-in-cheek hyperbole on my part. I first heard this performed live on a Spring evening back in 2011. I dragged my wife out to the now-defunct Ritual nightclub in downtown Ottawa to see this band I discovered at Bluesfest the previous summer. We were treated to a highly energetic and entertaining set, during which frontman Nils Edenloff was left alone on stage a couple times to perform a pair of covers, all acoustic like. The first of these was “Maybe tomorrow”, the “Littlest hobo” theme song (for Canadian fans of this classic TV show, you can check that one out here), and the other was this awesome cover of Survivor’s massive hit.

I think Victoria recognized it as “Eye of the tiger” before I did during the show but she definitely wasn’t as impressed as I was by the cover. She’s not really a fan of covers and she’s of the opinion that certain songs should just be left alone, this song being one of them. You see, she’s actually quite the fan of Survivor’s original version of “Eye of the tiger”. She describes it as one of those songs that always makes her want to move and has been a favourite of hers to put on mixes designed for working out. I can’t really argue with any of that but I think this cover is also special, mostly because it completely changes the mood of the original. Edenloff slows down the pace a tad and replaces the uppercut and left right hook combination on the muscular hard rock guitars with a quiet and lonely pluck on the acoustic. His voice is pained, almost wistful and tired where the original Survivor vocalist, Dave Bickler, was triumphant and full of adrenaline.

I’m not saying The Rural Alberta Advantage’s “Eye of the tiger” is better than the original but it feels to me like it actually has a bit more edge, kind of like it’s after the fight and the reality of all those rounds have set in. Have a spin of both and let me know what you think.

The cover:

The original:

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