100 best covers: #87 Amy Millan “I will follow you into the dark”

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…And speaking of Death Cab for Cutie… Here’s a cover by Stars vocalist Amy Milan of the standout single from Death Cab for Cutie’s fifth album, “Plans”.

The original was recorded by frontman Ben Gibbard by himself on guitar, using just the one microphone. The result is a quiet and lonely sounding number that is kind of morbid on first listen but is quite romantic upon further reflection. The idea that one loves the other so much that he or she would them even into death to keep them company is quite lovely. “I will follow you into the dark” didn’t originally chart very high as a single but has since become one of the band’s best-selling, still receives quite a bit of radio play, and has been covered many times over by various artists.

Canadian songstress Amy Millan covered it a mere four years after the original’s initial release for her second solo record, “Masters of the burial”. Hers is slightly longer than the original’s three minutes and markedly different in style and tone. A full band backs her. The use of banjo and lap steel giving it a decidedly old time country feel. Her soft touch on vocals is more upbeat than in Gibbard’s original but definitely lends the subject matter the weight it deserves.

“If Heaven and Hell decide that they both are satisfied
Illuminate the no’s on their vacancy signs
If there’s no one beside you when your soul embarks
Then I’ll follow you into the dark”

I am a fan of both of these. In fact, I refuse to pick a favourite. Thoughts?

The cover:

The original:

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

Best tunes of 1991: #23 Morrissey “Sing your life”

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Pretty much whenever I hear Morrissey, I can’t help but think of my old friend John, whom I grew up alongside. I vaguely remember when his family moved into the neighbourhood, a handful of houses around the corner. We were both very young. We were in Boy Scouts together and though we went to different elementary schools and high schools, we hung out quite a bit after school and on weekends. Much later, when I was in university, he moved to Toronto too. We were housemates for a couple of years but grew apart after we all gave up the apartment and went in our separate directions. I haven’t spoken to him in a long time but will always remember that he introduced me to Morrissey. And looking back, it is obvious now that he emulated the Moz in many ways, was definitely as theatrical and put upon the image of tortured soul.

It was the “Kill uncle” CD that John first lent me, Morrissey’s second solo album. And though “Mute witness” was the first song on it that caught my ear, the song I would rewind over and over again on my cassette recorded copy of the album, “Sing your life” would grow on me to become my favourite on the album. It would also become my wife, Victoria’s gateway to Morrissey when I put it on one of the many mixed tapes I made for her in our early years together. And well, what a great tune it is, albeit slightly unrepresentative of Morrissey’s other work, given its upbeat nature. He appears to be instructing us on how to write songs, hinting that it isn’t all that hard.

“Any fool can think of words that rhyme. Many others do. Why don’t you?”

The funny thing is that I don’t think he ever used this template for his own songwriting. He definitely doesn’t just list the things he loves and loathes. Indeed, “Sing your life” might very well be his most straightforward written song, as if he was attempting a light pop song. But even here, he’s a little jaded.

“And make no mistake, my friend. Your pointless life will end.”

And oh yes, before I go, I’d be remiss and Andrew Rodriguez would have my head if I didn’t mention the rockabilly version Morrissey recorded after the fact with a different set of musicians than appeared on the album. Both are great in my opinion. Cheers.

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

Best tunes of 2010: #10 Steve Mason “Boys outside”

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A belated merry Christmas to everyone out there! It’s Boxing Day here in Canada, a day where a great many people venture out into mall madness to take advantage of the ‘sales’. If you are one these (or if you aren’t), I share the following for your consideration:

Rob Gordon: I will now sell five copies of “The Three EPs” by The Beta Band.
Dick: Go for it.
[Rob plays the record]
Customer: Who is this?
Rob Gordon: The Beta Band.
Customer: It’s good.
Rob Gordon: I know.

The above exchange constitutes the breakdown of what is one of my favourite scenes in film history. And I’m reasonably sure that I’m not the only music geek that went out immediately after seeing “High fidelity” in the cinemas to also get a copy of The Beta Band’s “The three EPs”. (I’m talking about those of us that didn’t already have it in our collections, of course.) Yet try as I might, I was never, outside of a few tunes, ever able to get into the group. Unbelievably, I had better luck with The Aliens, the band made up of former Beta Band members, Gordon Anderson, John Maclean, and Robin Jones, and then, when former frontman Steve Mason released “Boys outside”, his first solo work put out under his real name, I was completely enamoured.

Just one of those things, I guess.

Some music writers have said that the album, “Boys outside”, sounds like The Beta Band replayed through a magical, adult alternative filter and I suppose that makes sense. It and its title track, which I love to pieces, feels infinitely more mature. It bears the weight of Mason’s financial and general life struggles, as well as his battles with depression. The bleak black austerity of the cover is certainly a reflection of all this, as is the often claustrophobic production.

“Boys outside“ is lilting guitars and breathtaking washes. It is Mason singing his pain, despair, and hope in a voice that was often overlooked in discussions about his old band’s worth. It is heartrending at its quiet moments and glorious at its apexes. It’s one of those songs I slip on when I want to be reminded of beauty in world.

And perhaps this post won’t sell five copies of Steve Mason’s “Boys outside” but maybe one or two. And I’d be happy with that.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 2010 list, click here.