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100 best covers: #52 Depeche Mode “Route 66”

<< #53    |    #51 >>

I was pretty bummed a few weeks ago when I first caught wind of the news that Depeche Mode founding member Andrew Fletcher had passed away. It was merely incidental that I was just gearing up to write this very post. In light of the news, I pondered writing up something more specific towards giving due to the group’s quiet member but the one that purportedly held the whole thing together. In the end, though, I decided to continue on with my original plan and to simply give thoughts on the tune at hand.

I first heard Depeche Mode’s cover of “Route 66” care of my old friend John, many, many moons ago. In fact, it was right around the time that I was just getting into the band, just shortly after the start of the 1990s. He was a bit of an obsessive, my friend John. He already had pretty much everything the group had released thus far on compact disc, which was actually quite a bit. This included the three singles box sets that they had just released and a handful of the latter day CD singles not included in those sets. I remember one evening in his living room, he pulled out his extensive collection and spread it out around us while he played choice clips on his parents’ sweet stereo set up, the volume knob creeping upwards and then sliding back down again at his parents’ behest. “Route 66” was one such choice tune.

This cover was originally recorded as road trip themed b-side for the “Behind the wheel” single. It was recorded in one day and mixed on the next. It incorporated elements of “Behind the wheel” and on some remixes of “Behind the wheel”, we get smatterings of “Route 66”. It was so beloved by everyone (include the record execs), that some were pushing for it to be released as a double A-side, it found a spot on the “Earth girls are easy” film soundtrack of 1988, and it was liberally used throughout Depeche Mode’s tour documentary “101” in 1989.

“Route 66” was originally written by American songwriter Bobby Troup in 1946 after a road trip he took with his wife from Pennsylvania to California and he incorporated the names of places they had passed along the way. The song’s original recording came by way of Nat King Cole and his trio and has become a classic rhythm and blues standard since then, covered by everyone from Bing Crosby to Chuck Berry to The Rolling Stones. So it’s no wonder that this one was familiar to me, stood out amongst the many other tracks John played for me on that night, and I asked in particular for the Beatmasters mix that combined this with “Behind the wheel” for an extended groove to be included on the mixed tape he later promised me.

I only heard the King Cole Trio original for the first time this week and though it sounds great, his voice and the classic jazz instrumentation, I cannot in good conscience choose it over Depeche Mode’s cover. Alan Wilder, Andrew Fletcher, Martin Gore, and David Graham made this song their own. The electronic and driving beats really evoke the speeds of highway driving and the bluesy riffs of electric guitar only only accentuate the feeling. Sweet stuff.

Cover:

The original:

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

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Best tunes of 1993: #17 The Verve “Slide away”

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Verve was an alternative rock band that was formed in Wigan, England in 1990 by Peter Salisbury, Simon Jones, Nick McCabe, and Richard Ashcroft. They started to amass a following early on with their engaging live shows that were explosions of psychedelic and shoegaze guitar miasma and boasted an unpredictable but golden-voiced frontman. They were forced to add the ‘The’ to the front of their name shortly after the release of their debut album, “A storm in heaven”, when they received notice from a certain American jazz label who had already been using the name for years.

It didn’t hurt the band’s burgeoning success any, though, and after the release of a second album, “A northern soul”, they were regularly hitting the UK singles charts. They broke up for the first time in 1995, only to re-form the following year and resurface with the album that would give them notoriety the world over. It was the single, “Bittersweet symphony”, that did it for them. Unfortunately, it didn’t make the band a cent at the time, given the oft-reported story of an ex-manager for The Rolling Stones claiming all royalties for the sample used as its backbone, a story that only found closure in 2019 when the songwriting credits were finally signed over in full to Richard Ashcroft. Sadly, this event likely contributed to the first (1999) of two more breakups by the band, the second (2008) of which has held fast up to now.

Oh, you’ve heard of this band? I’m not surprised.

Like many, I became a fan of The Verve with “Urban hymns” and that ubiquitous lead single. But I remember at the time thinking the band name familiar and was pretty certain I had an idea where from. So I went back and reviewed my cache of VHS tapes loaded with music videos recorded off the various shows on MuchMusic in the early 90s. And sure enough, it was there: “Slide away”.

“So take your time
I wonder if you’re here just to use my mind
Don’t take it slow
You know I’ve got a place to go”

In the video, the band is featured, very young looking, long-haired hippie freaks, tripping and freaking out in the desert and as intense as ‘Mad’ Richard looks, some brave soul picks up the motley hitchhikers and then, brings them to a town where they inexplicably have a gig booked in a brothel. As crazy as all this sounds and looks, it seems to make perfect sense to the band members in such obvious ecstatic states. Not the video you would expect for a single and yet, though the song didn’t garner them a lot of attention in the UK, it made a massive splash on the US indie rock charts.

That muscular bassline, those swirling guitars, and of course, the hazy and lazy vocals had such a great groove and won me over every time I watched that video. And when I rediscovered the group a few years later, I fell in love with song all over again.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 1993 list, click here.

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Tunes

Best tunes of 1993: #18 Saint Etienne “You’re in a bad way”

<< #19    |    #17 >>

I don’t remember exactly when I first heard Saint Etienne’s sophomore album, “So tough”, but I can definitely tell you that I fell in love with it in 1994, a whole year after its release.

I’ll try to elaborate.

My friend Tim recorded a copy of it to cassette tape for me. That much is true. I probably listened to it a few times after he first gave it to me but it really only fell into rotation on my walkman that second year of university. Don’t ask me why I switched back from discman to cassette tape player that year, though if I had to guess, it was probably because I was so impoverished that my only real entertainment came from making mixed tapes. I’m pretty sure I had the album on the other side of a C100 with Lush’s “Gala”, though I no longer have said tape so I can’t confirm or deny. What I can be certain of is the regularity with which visited my ears that year.

“So tough” is technically Saint Etienne’s sophomore LP, it could also be considered the debut by the band as a trio. They began as the duo of Bob Stanley and Pete Wiggs and had originally planned to employ a series of guest vocalists as needed. They settled on Sarah Cracknell as a permanent vocalist after working with her for one of the singles from the debut, 1991’s “Foxbase Alpha”. “So tough” was her coming out as third official band member and that’s her (a much younger version, of course) gracing the album’s cover.

All in all, “So tough” is as much an album about mood and ambience as it is about getting you out on the dance floor, and with all the sampled soundbites from older, esoteric films that provide segue ways between tunes, it almost feels like a soundtrack, a narrative to a trip of sorts. It certainly soundtracked a number of trips for me, long walks and bus rides. I remember the album keeping me warm on more than one occasion waiting, shivering for the bus that would rocket me down Steeles, away from my institution of higher learning, towards the basement apartment I was lodged in, just north of the ‘416’, near Dufferin Street. It was in that same basement apartment that I, quite by accident, caught an episode of Life on Venus Ave. and that whimsical, extraterrestrial VJ, Ziggy Lorenc, played the video for “You’re in a bad way”.

The album’s second single and sixth track certainly fit* with Ziggy’s love and sexuality funhouse vibe. It’s an obvious kick at 60s throwback bop and pop. It kicks off with a sample from the 1963 film “Billy Liar”: “A man could lose himself in London.” And despite the song’s bright and spritely joy, the lyrics address a man who’s been beset by the humdrum of life and has let it get him down. But have no fear, our good friend Sarah will save him (and us) with that golden voice of hers.

“You’re in a bad way
Every day seems just the same (every day)
Just dial my number
Or call my name”

*And yeah, so did the throwback video.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 1993 list, click here.