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

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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.

Best tunes of 2002: #13 Badly Drawn Boy “Something to talk about”

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In the early spring of 2000, I met up with my old roommate and university friend, Ryan, and we went to see a new John Cusack flick at the Bloor and Yonge cinemas in Toronto. We both came out of the theatre talking excitedly, both us having immensely enjoyed “High fidelity”. Over beers afterwards on some patio or other along Bloor street near the Annex, Ryan told me that he liked it just as much as the book by Nick Hornby, upon which it was based. I hadn’t known about the book and so shortly after that evening, I went out and bought it in trade paperback, promptly devoured it, and put it away on my shelf.

Fast forward about two and a half years, I was then living with my future wife Victoria in a basement apartment in the Vanier neighbourhood of Ottawa, something I never would have fathomed that evening over beers with Ryan. But there I was and given my meagre call centre salary and Victoria’s part-time hours while finishing up her Master’s degree, we were living a frugal existence to say the least. They say that necessity breeds ingenuity. I guess this is how I discovered that the Ottawa public library loaned out DVDs for free and how I managed to watch a lot of films I might not have otherwise seen (like “Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind”, for example).

On one of my many trips to the main branch downtown (where they had the best selection), I picked up a Hugh Grant rom-com called “About a boy”. I’ve always loved Hugh Grant in pretty much everything he’s done, despite the fact that there’s some truth to the critique that he’s always playing the same character with only slight variations. However, his role of Will in “About a boy” seemed to me then (and still does) the role Hugh Grant was born to play and the film was so much more than your normal rom-com fare. I remember sitting afterwards while the credits rolled and absently humming along with the music, not really knowing what hit me, and I noticed that it was based on a book by Nick Hornby. The name seemed vaguely familiar so I crossed the living room to my desktop computer, booted it up, and did a Google search. The connection was made, I ordered the Nick Hornby book from the library, finished it, and ordered another and another, until I had gotten through everything he had thus far written. Hornby has since become one of my favourite authors to read (though for some reason, I still can never remember his name).

The film “About a boy” (properly) introduced me to Nick Hornby but it also introduced me to English singer/songwriter, Damon Gough (aka Badly Drawn Boy). On the back of his wildly successful debut released two years beforehand*, the filmmakers asked Gough to score the film and his soundtrack is a mix soundbite-like jingles and fully-formed songs, all with the same laidback groove and hipster cool feel. “Something to talk about” is one of these latter and the second proper single released from the album. It’s got the strut and flow and attitude of the film’s main character. Indeed, you could easily imagine Gough walking down the street behind Will, performing this as his personal theme music, all decked out in knitted hat, shaggy hair, beard, and sunglasses. Subtle and hip and effortless. That is all.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 2002 list, click here.

*I spoke a bit about that debut when “Once around the block”, one of its singles, appeared on my Best tunes of 2000 list.

100 best covers: #72 Cat Power “Stuck inside of Mobile with the Memphis blues again”

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Just over a couple of years ago, I participated in a collaborative blog posting extravaganza, for which a number of bloggers around the world all posted words on the same day on Bob Dylan, a theme decided upon in advance. It was a fun exercise, albeit somewhat outside of this particular blog’s normally scheduled programming, and it was interesting to see how all these different writer’s chose to treat the chosen theme. In my case, I opted to write about the 2007 film “I’m not there”, an unorthodox biopic on the iconic singer/songwriter that chose to portray him using four different actors and telling bits about his life using multiple story lines. Of course, given my blog’s music bent, I spoke at length about the soundtrack as well, which is a super long (perhaps too long) double LP made up of covers, rather than the originals, by various artists across the musical spectrum. And perhaps both of these, the film and soundtrack, were as contrarian and confounding as Bob Dylan can be himself.

One of the three tracks I pointed out as amongst my favourites on the soundtrack was this cover by Cat Power of “Stuck inside of Mobile with the Memphis blues again”. Though to be honest, it’s definitely less about the artist performing it than it is the song itself. I know next to nothing about the American singer/songwriter but she definitely stands up to the gauntlet laid down by Dylan on this track. Hers is just shy of the seven and half minute mark of Dylan’s original but her honey smooth vocals keep the energy and the feel true to the original. Both versions bounce and jive along and bring a smile to my face every time. I actually fell in love with Dylan’s original just shy a decade earlier when I heard it on another soundtrack, the one for the very excellent screen adaptation of the Hunter S. Thompson classic, “Fear and loathing in Las Vegas”.

It’s just one of those songs that could go on for ever as far as I’m concerned, even if either singer just devolved into gibberish. And well, I can’t actually decide which version I like better on this one. Thoughts?

Cover:

The original:

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