Tag Archives: music appreciation post

Music Monday: Cover songs!

I find cover songs, on the whole, super-interesting; many of them are slices of various musicians and bands at their worst or most outright bizarre (see Nickelback’s cover of “Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting” by Elton John) or their best (see below). Love ’em or hate ’em, covers seem to be a perennially-discussed topic amongst fans of music and popular culture. There is even a website devoted to covers.

This post collects just a few of my favorites, because a post of all of my favorite covers would be entirely too long. Lyrics for each song are linked via the song title.

Garbage did an absolutely stunning version of “Candy Says,” originally by the Velvet Underground, a while back:

Next up is Tori Amos, about whom I should probably just write a whole blog entry because she is so prolific with cover songs (TAKE NOTE, me). Anyway, she covered a bunch of songs written by men about women for her 2001 album Strange Little Girls, but two of the arguably best tracks from those recording sessions did not actually make it onto the album.

After All” (David Bowie):

Only Women Bleed” (Alice Cooper):

This doesn’t mean that Strange Little Girls was a bad album, however. Check out her piano and voice cover of Joe Jackson’s “Real Men” — a searing indictment of traditional masculinity that is still pretty damn relevant in the present moment, even though it was recorded in the early 1980s:

Covers have also been a unique part of Tori’s live shows. I would be remiss not to include her absolutely gorgeous organ-and-voice version of Prince’s “Purple Rain,” recorded in 1996:

Then there’s her version of Radiohead’s “Karma Police,” performed on tour in 2005:

Speaking of Radiohead covers, roots/Americana musician Gillian Welch has been known to cover “Black Star” in concert; in many ways, her version surpasses the original:

Again surpassing the original (which may equal blasphemy to some Dylan fans, I know): Nina Simone sings Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are A-Changin’“:

I am including Antony and the Johnsons’ b-sided take on Beyonce’s “Crazy in Love” because it is so radically different from the original song (check those string arrangements), but still awesome:

Patti Smith’s album Twelve is a collection of covers; if you’ve ever wanted to hear Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” interpreted as a folk tune WITH BANJO, this is an album worth picking up:

And lastly, recently-departed R.E.M. once recorded an amazing cover of the Velvet Underground’s “Femme Fatale.” Michael Stipe’s quiet falsetto is, in many ways, an intense counterpoint to original VU vocalist Nico’s monotone:

Feel free, as always, to link your favorites in the comments.

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In which Roxy Music provides a much-needed Lesson For Us All

[Image description: A raven-haired man wearing a black velvet suit and white shirt leans against a wall.]

First: LOOK AT THIS STYLISH MAN, OTHERWISE KNOWN AS BRIAN FERRY. He is SO STYLISH. I wish I could be half as stylish as he is. I have a black velvet blazer hiding in my closet, which I have been known to break out when I, too, wish to be stylish in the way that only a rocker from the 1970s can be, but have not yet found a pair of velvet pants to complete the look.

Second: While writing some of this, I realized that it might be helpful to have some actual examples of precisely what I mean when I say that Roxy Music is an amazing band, so here is an entirely separate post in which I share some of my favorite songs of theirs.

My favorite bit of music trivia ever is Roxy Music-related**: band member Brian Eno did not know how to play the keyboard before he joined Roxy Music. For reasons as to why this is completely amazing, look no further than Wikipedia’s page on Eno. He has gone on to have a lengthy, influential and successful music career even though he once joined a band, as its keyboard player, without knowing how to play that instrument.

I love Roxy Music and Brian Ferry not just for the music, but because they remind me that I can have an impact with my own work that, though it will most definitely not appeal to everyone, may have some sort of impact on someone. I am an indescribably crappy guitar player (mostly because fibromyalgia-related hand and arm pain prevent me from banging out anything other than a few chords). I am not a great singer. I will never be Ani DiFranco. I will never be Patti Smith, nor PJ Harvey, nor Tori Amos, nor Alanis Morissette, nor Beth Ditto, nor Me’shell Ndegeocello. These people are all talented, I am a fan of each of them, and their success is well-deserved; however, I will probably never approach that level of success, as the work I do is not in the getting-up-onstage-and-singing-in-front-of-people field.

Hell, I have a blog. Which I write on, and which I take extremely seriously. I write and draw a lot of stuff on various topics — most of this work has not been published (yet), or shown to other people (yet), and almost none of it has been the center of controversy or much attention (barring my work on that one thing).

If I may be philosophical and mildly tedious for a minute: Roxy Music and Bryan Ferry’s work remind(s) me is that there is a whole lot of good in just being whatever you are and, simultaneously, not knowing what you are doing all of the time (like Brian Eno and the whole not-knowing-how-to-play-the-keyboard-thing), and that it is okay to be “okay” at something as long as you love it. You do not have to be the greatest and most original band/singer ever to make an impact.

And, paradoxically, that is part of what makes Roxy Music such a great band.

Your weirdness, your originality, and your style do not have to be constantly calculated down to the very millisecond, or planned out in infintesimal detail, or boasted about on Twitter every ten seconds. There is room for those things to just develop and grow by themselves, if you let them. I think many segments of the entertainment industry–and, unfortunately, a lot of “creative” types–tend to forget this. Of course, part of that is how the “business” works, but for those of us who aren’t in the industry (but who are still in the age of Twitter, MySpace, and Facebook wall updates with instantly-emailed notifications), this can be difficult to remember.

But, it is worth remembering.

**[That is, other than the rumor that Tori Amos has $100,000 worth of “hand insurance” in case her hands are ever irrevocably injured. I am sure there is a source for this somewhere on the internet, but I haven’t quite found it yet. If any Tori fans have a citation for said factoid that proves or disproves this rumor, please feel free to leave it in the comments so that I can continue being lazy in regards to internet research.]

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Why Roxy Music is awesome (as is Bryan Ferry)

This is part one of a two-part post on Roxy Music and Bryan Ferry, and why they are fabulous. The songs here are some of my favorites, and this post is intended to give readers/listeners a little preview as to this band’s total awesomeness. Take it away, random YouTube users!

“In Every Dream Home a Heartache” from For Your Pleasure (1972): This, unequivocally, is the song that made me a Roxy fan. There are so many layers here — like a delicious sandwich, if you will pardon the metaphor — and, more importantly, you do not have to know jack shit about music, songwriting, or composition to realize this. The lyrics, I think, essentially predicted suburbia’s dead end and/or souless McMansion-white-picket-fence-with-traditonal-heterosexual-marriage-big-SUV-and-2.5-children before those things even existed as specific Western cultural artifacts. I am sure that there is some sort of Technocultural Studies dissertation that could be written about this song (perhaps with a snappy, oh-so-postmodern title to go along with it?), but my relentless fannish devotion (among other things) prevents me from even considering taking on such a project.

“Mother of Pearl” from Stranded (1973): While it’s not my favorite Roxy song, it is a classic, and a good introduction to the band’s overall style.

“The Thrill of it All” from Country Life (1974): Ignore the retrogradely sexist cover art — and also dig the weirdness of that command coming from someone who has a degree in Women’s and Gender Studies (namely me). Country Life is my favorite Roxy album other than For Your Pleasure, and admitting this probably counts as blasphemy in some circles (as it was the group’s first album after Brian Eno left). But admit it, I must, because the album is so freaking good. And one verse (somewhat indirectly) alludes to a rather famous Dorothy Parker poem, so what’s not to love?

“Casanova” from Country Life (1974): This is my favorite Roxy song of all time. I can’t quite put into words how fantastic it is in every way possible; thus, I urge you to listen. The lyrics are brilliant; anyone who’s been graphically catcalled by gross dudes or unskillfully hit on by some creepy, drunken fraternity trust-fundie asshat at a bar will be able to relate. I would like to think that this is Bryan Ferry’s message to other dudes in which he says, “Guys, stop acting like such monkeys and/or thinking you’re totally suave, because you are actually the opposite of suave,” but my interpretation could be way off.

“Same Old Scene” from Flesh + Blood (1980): It’s from the ’80s! Otherwise known as that decade where some mostly drugged-out rich people made a lot of terrible music, and which is mostly invoked when hipsters want to be nostalgic for crap that they were too young to remember as crap! But please, do not worry, because “Same Old Scene” is an example of something good that came from that decade.

And if, after all of that, you need evidence that Bryan Ferry’s “still got it,” look no further than his many Bob Dylan covers, including “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright” (performance is in the first two minutes or so of the clip, and the rest consists of him talking about his album of Dylan covers, which is also interesting):

Better than the original, I think (again, blasphemy in certain circles). But then again, I am one of those weirdos who really likes his cover of “A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall,” (link goes to an absolutely incredible short film of Ferry’s version that must be seen to be believed), mostly because that cover is so bizarre that it ends up being wildly entertaining.

That concludes part one of my Roxy Music/Bryan Ferry post; part two will be posted soon.

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