100 best covers: #83 The Farm “Don’t you want me”

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Here’s a cover for the list that I realize might not be my most popular pick. I’m well aware that it is purely about nostalgia and time and place. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

When I was very young, I had a vinyl collection, mostly 45s, and mostly records connected with storybooks from the Walt Disney and Sesame Street family. I don’t know what age I was, but definitely before ten years old, I received my first “real” music record from one of my cool aunts, probably my Aunt Kathy. It was, as you might have guessed, the 7” single of Human League’s “Don’t you want me”, backed with “Seconds”. Of course, I didn’t know then that it was the fourth single to be released off the synth pop group’s third album, heck, I didn’t even know what synth pop was, but I played it all the time, along with its B-side, and danced around my little bedroom like a maniac.

Just under a decade or so later, I had just graduated high school and was wondering what to do with my life. I was quite deep into music, this new alternative stuff, mostly of the baggy, madchester persuasion, and one of my favourite albums of the moment was “Spartacus”, the debut album by The Farm. My friend Andrew Rodriguez got a copy of the sophomore release, “Love see no colour”, for Christmas, which he promptly recorded for me. I won’t lie. I was a bit disappointed with the first few songs but then, there were some higher moments, and then, six songs in was a cover of this song from my youth. I fell in love with it all over again. I only later learned that the cover was originally recorded for an NME-related compilation called “Ruby Trax” a few years later when I picked it up in a used CD store on McCaul street in Toronto.

Despite being recorded almost a decade apart, the two versions are not all that far apart in sound. The Human League’s “Don’t you want me” is definitely more synth heavy and mechanical and The Farm’s cover has more guitar work and some synth flourish to plug the gaps left by the austere original. Nevertheless, both are quite dated sounding today. Again, definitely time and place. And if I hadn’t been there for both originally, this post might not have happened at all.


The cover:

The original:

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


Best tunes of 1991: #28 EMF “Unbelievable”

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What do you call it again when an artist or band writes a song that becomes the biggest thing they ever do, overshadows their entire body of work, and becomes the only song they are remembered for? Oh yeah…

Well, in the case of EMF’s “Unbelievable”, it just happened to be the first single that the Gloucestershire dance group ever released. It was actually released in the UK in 1990 but didn’t hit North American shores until 1991, which is when I would have first heard it (hence it being in this 1991 list rather than for 1990). It found itself at or near the top of the charts in most countries and hit gold status in Australia, Canada, England, and the United States. All that means nothing though. You really know you’ve made it when ‘Weird’ Al Yankovic takes notice of you. That prince of parody fit the song’s chorus lines, “The things you say, your purple prose just gives you away”, into his polka medley, “Polka your eyes out”, on his 1992 album, “Off the deep end”.

Yeah. That’s right.

Though “Unbelievable” sounds a bit dated today, it hit all the right notes in 1991. It took the acid house beats and psychedelic sounds of the baggy Manchester deeper into dance floor territory. I definitely heard it a few times at high school dances and mouthed along with the chorus lines while shuffling along in my own corner of the auditorium or gymnasium floor (whichever it was at the time). It is an unbelievable danceable groove, peppy drumming set against a slick bass line and plenty of fun samples, mostly notably, the Andrew ‘Dice’ Clay trademark “Ohhhh!!!!!” leading into every chorus.

Okay. So this song isn’t going to save the world but at least it might make us forget our troubles for three and a half minutes, while we’re sweating out the alcohol molecules underneath the disco ball.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 1991 list, click here.


Best tunes of 2001: #20 New Order “Crystal”

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Happy Monday. A dubious day to announce a comeback but we’ll do one nonetheless because it feels like my best songs lists have taken a back seat of late. And of course, comebacks don’t get any better than this song.

“Crystal” was the iconic New Wave band’s first single since the standalone, “Video 5 8 6”, in 1997. But more significantly, it was also the first single released off “Get ready”, New Order’s first studio album in eight years and the last to feature all of its original members. Shortly afterwards, keyboard player Gillian Gilbert would go on a second hiatus to take care of her and drummer Stephen Morris’s kids. And then, there was the famously acrimonious departure of standout bassist Peter Hook in 2007.

But in 2001, all the pistons were firing and New Order was welcomed back to the music world with open arms by fans and critics alike. “Crystal” (as well as the rest of the album) was some of the fastest, upbeat, jubilant, and guitar-driven material we had heard from a band that cut its teeth filling dance floors in the eighties with its synth heavy tunes. The keys and effects and danceable beats are still here but this feels like rock. And of course, when I first heard it, I recognized it as New Order but felt its differences deep within my soul. I loved it and immediately clamoured to hear the rest of the album. A good quality for a first single for sure.

As an aside, the video for the song is notable for inspiring the name of what is arguably one of the biggest bands in rock in the new millennia. Just have a look at the bass drum of the fictional band performing the song in the video and you’ll have a chuckle I’m sure. That is, if you’re not already smiling along with the song. Enjoy.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 2001 list, click here.