100 best covers: #69 Cornershop “Norwegian wood (This bird has flown)”

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Chances are pretty good that if you haven’t heard tell of Cornershop, you’ve likely heard their huge, worldwide hit, “Brimful of asha”, bolstered in large part by the fabulous remix by Norman “Fatboy Slim” Cook. The original version of that track appeared on Cornershop’s third album, 1997’s “When I was born for the 7th time”. The album was released just past the apex of the Britpop craze and though neither their sound, style, politics, or ethos necessarily matched up with others from the scene, they were still lumped in with that lot simply because they were there. It was likely thanks to their appearance in the British music magazines I was in the habit of purchasing when I had the coin, and the aforementioned ubiquitous hit, that I purchased the album on CD during my final days of university*. And though I did like a lot of its tracks, it took me a few years to really appreciate what Tjinder Singh and Ben Ayres were doing. There was so much going on here – psych, funk, rock, dance, ambient, and traditional Indian music – and the culmination of all this was summed up in this fun cover of The Beatles’ “Norwegian wood (This bird has flown)”.

The original, I’m guessing, needs no introduction. Recorded way back in 1965 for the album “Rubber soul”, “Norwegian wood” is widely considered to be one of the first instances of ‘Raga rock’ and was also highly influential on the burgeoning psych rock movement. The song was written by John Lennon, apparently about an extramarital affair, with contributions from Paul McCartney, its composition inspired by the folk ballads of Bob Dylan. But it all really came together when George Harrison added a touch of sitar, an instrument he had just recently discovered and had started to learn, and all of a sudden, we had our first Western rock song to feature the Indian traditional stringed instrument.

So, in fact, it’s quite compelling that Tjinder Singh, whose band name was a play on the stereotypical vision of Indian immigrants in England, would choose to cover this particular track. Reportedly approved by both Paul McCartney and Yoko Ono, his cover translated the words to Punjabi, upped the sitar focus, and in a sense, whether intended or not, reclaimed the use of the instrument and shone a spotlight on his heritage.

It’s never a fair game to try to rank a cover against a Beatles original but I definitely think Cornershop’s version of this track is worth your time. What are your thoughts?

Cover:

The original:

*”When I was born for the 7th time” eventually wormed its way deeply amongst my favourites of 1997, one of the greatest years for music (in my opinion), and landed on my top ten when I counted them down a couple of years ago.

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

100 best covers: #90 Rufus Wainwright “Across the universe”

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It feels like forever since I’ve done one of these 100 best covers posts. In fact, I had to look back in my archives to see how long ago it actually was and then, got caught up in listening to Dum Dum Girl’s cover of “There is a light that never goes out”, all over again. So we go from The Smiths to The Beatles, two iconic British bands from very different eras and just over two months in between.

“Across the universe” was a John Lennon composition, consisting of some of his very favourite lyrics. Interesting, then, that it was shelved for so long and finally appeared first on a charity compilation album and then, on “Let it be”, mostly because of the footage of it caught for the documentary film of the same name. There are a few versions of the song floating around out there, one with singing bird sound effects bookending the music and of course, the more popular one remixed by Phil Spector.

Rufus Wainwright is Canadian singer/songwriter who is the offspring of American folk singer Loudon Wainwright III and Canadian folk singer Kate McGarrigle and the older brother of Martha Wainwright. His cover of “Across the universe” came about after the release of his second album, 2001’s “Poses”, and he was approached by Sean Penn to record a version of the Beatles song for his film, “I am Sam”. The initial plan was to use the original Beatles versions for the film and its soundtrack but the filmmakers were unable to obtain the rights for all the songs. Apparently though, the filming had been done using the originals already so the covers had to be recorded using the same time signatures.

Rufus Wainwright’s cover may be in the same time signature but his version is all him. Where The Beatles’ original is all psychedelic, spiritual, and soaring over a technicolor world, using all the studio bells and whistles, Wainwright’s is a mostly stripped down affair. It’s guitar layered on guitar and his vocal tracks layered upon each other. And those Wainwright vocals are the key, playing somewhere between opera, show tune, and glam rock, taking on a life of their own and bringing with them the inherent sadness of the song. Quite beautiful really.

The cover:

The original:

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

Vinyl love: The Beatles “Abbey road”

(Vinyl Love is a series of posts that quite simply lists, describes, and displays the pieces in my growing vinyl collection. You can bet that each record was given a spin during the drafting of each corresponding post.)


Artist: The Beatles
Album Title: Abbey road
Year released: 1969
Year reissued: 2012
Details: black vinyl, 180 gram, stereo remaster

The skinny: The eleventh and final studio album by The Beatles has some very fine moments, despite what must have been a difficult recording session.

Standout track: “Here comes the sun”