100 best covers: #80 Teenage Fanclub “Nothing to be done”

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One quick glance at my best tunes of 1990 and 1991 lists and you’ll likely notice I tended towards British music in that decade. It got worse when Nirvana’s explosion meant that the American (and Canadian, to a slightly lesser extent) music industry looked to grunge for the template to all things ‘Alternative’. So in the world before the internet, of course, it made sense that I would find my way to the British music magazines that managed their way to the shelves across the Atlantic and that I would constantly peruse these pages in search of new bands to explore. My favourite of these magazines was the now-defunct “Select”, champion of all things Britpop.

“Select” was also known for the cassette tape compilations that it would include with certain issues. Personally, I was always surprised when I’d find a copy that had somehow survived the voyage with the cassette still attached so it would invariably join me on my return home. One such cassette that I remember, mostly because it is still in a shoebox along with other preserved cassettes in my basement, was the 1995 compilation titled “Exclusives”. It was so called because the songs or versions thereof were only supposed to be available on this tape. It included tracks by Spiritualized, Boo Radleys, U2, EMF, and this cover by Teenage Fanclub.

Of course, at the time I didn’t know it was a cover. I had never heard of The Pastels, the highly influential Scottish indie rock band who did the original. I just loved the laid back groove of the Teenage Fanclub track that came out just one month before their fourth album, “Grand prix”, the crisp production and jangling acoustic giving a foreshadowing impression of what to expect when the new CD was to hit my carousel. And I couldn’t possibly know that the female vocalist tracing barbs with Francis MacDonald on the recording was Katrina Mitchell, a then member of the band being covered.

The original appeared as the opening track on The Pastel’s sophomore record, 1989’s “Sittin’ pretty”, and is more raw sounding than the Fannies cover, vocals even more lazy and guitars raunchy and keys plunking. It sounds a lot like Teenage Fanclub, themselves, sounded like in their early days, not far-fetched given the two bands’ shared geography. And I don’t know if the bands always knew each other or they met due to the recording of this cover but the collaborations didn’t end here. All of MacDonald, Norman Blake, and Gerard Love would lend a hand on later Pastels records.

Anyway, despite enjoying the original, my preference here is the cover and I think it is not just because I heard it first. The aforementioned vocals in the original were performed by founding Pastels members Stephen McRobbie and Annabel Wright (Katrina Mitchell had not yet joined the band when it was recorded) and though fun, they lack the melody of the cover. The Fannies’ version is also slightly more cheerful and playful.

What about you folks? Pastels fans? What’s it to be – the original or the cover?

The cover:

The original:

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

Best tunes of 2011: #18 The Pains of Being Pure at Heart “Heart in your heartbreak”

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For a while in the early 2010s, I was completely enamoured with twee and indie pop. Something about the precious quirkiness and often upbeat sound really appealed to me at that time. In my attempts to track down everything I could and trace my way back through the genre, I found my way to the label Slumberland Records. And well, my mass consumption of all the bands on their roster led me to The Pains of Being Pure at Heart.

The group was formed in 2007 by Kip Berman and a bunch of friends while living and working in New York after college. Their first two albums were released by the original lineup of Berman, Alex Naidus, Peggy Wang, and Kurt Feldman but after that, the band disintegrated some and nowadays, it is Berman’s solo project.

The second album released under the Pains moniker was 2011’s “Belong”, the final release on Slumberland, and was produced and mixed by Flood and Alan Moulder, two very well known names in the alt rock world. It was a critical darling, mixing the precious feelings of twee with reverb drenched shoegaze noise.

“Heart in your heartbreak” was one of the singles released in advance of said album. It’s got a peppy beat and and post-punk bassline. You can feel in the Eighties style, singalong chorus, a cheeriness covering up a high school sadness and teen angst that we can all identify with.

“She was the heart in your heartbreak
She was the miss in your mistake
And no matter what you take
You’re never going to forget”

It is a song for winter, for gathering yourself up in your coziest, heavy sweater with a hot mugga and remembering the warmth of summer, when love seemed possible and all dreams were alive, instead of sleeping under piles of snow. Yeah, “Heart in your heartbreak” is certainly the cause for wistful smiles and plenty of yearnings of yesterday.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 2011 list, click here.

Best tunes of 2001: #17 Camera Obscura “Eighties fan”

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I stumbled upon Camera Obscura while on the internets and saw their name in connection with Belle And Sebastian, a band I’ve been into quite heavy for years. I listened to their second album, 2003’s “Underachievers try harder”, first and worked backwards.

You can definitely here the B&S influence on the Glasgow-based indie pop band’s debut, “Biggest bluest hi-fi”, especially since it was produced by Stuart Murdoch, but they definitely are their own band. Led by the delicate to the point of crumbling vocals of Tracyanne Campbell, Camera Obscura’s is even more retro sounding, harkening back to girl groups crying over broken hearts in the 60s.

“You say your life will be the death of you
Tell me, do you wash your hair in honeydew
And long for all of them to fall in love with you
But they never do”

“Eighties fan” starts off with a drum beat you’re sure you’ve before a hundred times, hinting at something upbeat, but Camera Obscura doesn’t go there. Instead, they run up crying to their bedroom and slam the door. They put something sad on the turntable and crank the volume, ignoring the shouts of their mother below. They pull out the tiny bottle of vodka that an older teenager had procured for them and sip lightly but still coughing and sputtering. There curse the name of their more attractive and hipper older sister for catching the eye of their cute boy they had a crush on and cry, tears streaming everywhere. And… well… you get the picture.

An incredible first single off the debut album that started it all.

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