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

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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.

100 best covers: #67 The Sundays “Wild horses”

<< #68    |    #66 >>

I’m not really a huge Rolling Stones fan. However…

However, there are some of their tunes that I really like, mostly from their very early days. I purchased a copy of their compilation “Hot rocks 1964-1971” on cassette tape back when I was in high school and listened to it quite a bit on my Walkman. So I definitely recognized this cover by The Sundays when I first heard it. I distinctly remember being in the car, not far from home in Bowmanville, the town in which I spent my formative years. I was listening to the new music preview on CFNY on the car stereo and they were having some sort of cover song special. I particularly remember this fact because they also played another great cover song, one that will figure in later on this list so I won’t mention it here.

This cover by The Sundays was actually my introduction to the band. I really enjoyed the sound, which I would much, much later identify as dream pop, and thus, made a point of remembering their name. Still, it was a while before I made the connection between them and their big single, “Here’s where the story ends”, which I’d heard many times on the radio and now easily count as favourite by them. To this day, The Sundays are one of those bands that make me smile every time I hear them, even despite their often sad melodies.

Interestingly, their cover of The Rolling Stones’ “Wild horses” feels a bit more upbeat than the original, the acoustic strumming a bit more peppy than the sad lethargy and pining for home felt in Keith Richards’ electric accoutrements. Mick the balladeer was always enjoyable to me and on their original, he’s all very late night and tired, the mood slow burning and sobering, right to the bitter end, which closes up right around the six minute mark. The Sundays recorded their cover almost twenty years later and rather than a late night booze can, theirs evokes a vacuous chamber where all sound wavers and melts. All except for Harriet Wheeler’s vocals, which, instead, dance on a cloud, the quiet whispers and the plaintive and aching vocals, all call out into the wilderness, scream out to you for an embrace.

Do I prefer the cover or the original? Tough call, that one. Both are evocative of their time and place and energy. What do you think?

Cover:

The original:

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

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

<< #69    |    #67 >>

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.