Tag Archive for cover Versions

I’m Hot and I’m Sticky Sweet…

Some days need a bit of Def Leppard. Some days do not.

Today, well, it’s one of the former.

Weirdly, I missed the period when Def Leppard was actually a big deal. Hysteria came out in 1987, which means I was both 9 years old and living in the middle of nowhere, far from the pop cultural embrace of TV and cinema and popular radio. I was far more likely to be reading books back in those days, getting exposed to music through my dad’s LP collection (although I wasn’t yet allowed to play records on my own) or the soundtracks to the handful of movies we saw when we came to Brisbane for the holidays.

Basically, I didn’t even really process that Def Leppard was a big deal until they became a lyrical riff in Bloodhound Gang’s Why is everyone picking on me in the mid-nineties. They weren’t a band by then, not really; they were a pop cultural reference that you either got or you didn’t. I didn’t. I’m not a child of the eighties, although I can play one on TV. Most of the parts of 80s music that I like, I came to much later, figuring out the parts I like via references in other media.

All art acquires baggage that affects its meaning. Music is always an interesting resource for considering this, since the presence of music videos and subsequent musical movements always effects the way a particular song is read. Take one look at a video clip and it’s nearly impossible to escape the various signifiers that mark Def Leppard as the stuff of the eighties: the hair, the jeans, the production. Seven years after Hysteria came out and became huge, Nirvana would kick off a musical movement that rendered everything that made 80’s metal fun vaguely absurd and crudely excessive.

It’s one of the reasons I love covers that recontextualize a song, letting you hear it fresh. Consider, for example, the version of the above put together by Emm Gryner and Buck 65:

Strip away all the aspects of the song that mark it as unrelentingly 80s and it actually becomes quite beautiful and haunting. It’s still the same song – slowed down, yes, and the riffs that hook you in are significantly less up-front, but they’re still there. And it’s one of those covers that makes me go back to the original and appreciate it a little more.

Sometimes it takes a few years for the context to get stripped away from the art. I could never have appreciated Def Leppard in the 90s. I was too young, too caught up in the spirit of the age, willing to disregard everything that was handed down from the 80s as a waste of time. And, truthfully, Def Leppard’s version of the song was never going to be my favourite, although looking back from the age of thirty-six I’m willing to acknowledge that it’s a damn fine pop song.

Hope your weekend rocks and rocks and hard.

The Things I Think About On New Years Day

ONE

It’s the first morning of 2013 and in the writing room, writing. Not even writing, really. More dragging myself back into a writing mindset after being not-a-writer for the bulk of last year. There are days – today is one of them – when the fact that I still do this amazes me.

I figured I’d kick this year off by telling you a story (it is, after all, what I do).

I want to start it with something like once upon a time I met a girl on a bus, but truthfully it’s not the kind of story you’d expect from that kind of opening. The way you starts a story sets up the ending, makes promises that need to be delivered, and I can’t deliver on that one.

So instead I’ll start it like this: when I was twenty and still at university, I learned not to tell people that I wanted to be a writer. And the way I learned this, truthfully, was through an awkward conversation I had on a bus during one of the interminably long trips you take on the Gold Coast when you try to get anywhere that isn’t a beach.

I don’t remember the girl terribly well, but I remember the conversation. She got onto the bus just before Miami Beach and sat in the seat before mine.

I want to say that I didn’t really notice her at first, ’cause that makes for a better narrative, but that probably isn’t true. I noticed girls when I was twenty. Not necessarily in a gratuitously objectifying kind of way, but more in the manner that lonely, geeky twenty-year old guys tend to notice them. That whole the world is full of women and I have no idea how to relate to them, but maybe if I observe them for long enough I’ll figure it out kind of thing. ‘Cause, apparently, treating them like human beings hadn’t really occurred to me yet.

What I remember is that it was eleven in the morning and she seemed…well, drunk, I guess. Or stoned. I don’t really know. Encounter enough people who are out of it on public transport and they blend together in your head. Public transport on the Gold Coast gives you ample opportunity to meet such people.

I ignored her, focusing on my book. We hadn’t even hit Mermaid Waters when she turned around and asked, “what you doing?”

“Reading,” I said, in that way that only young, serious readers can say it. The way where you invest as much please just fuck off and let me finish this chapter in the subtext as possible.

“What are you reading?” she asked, and I wish I could tell you. Really, all I’ve got are half-baked guesses. Anna Karenina, maybe, ’cause it’s about that time that I first tried to read the book. Or One Hundred Years of Solitude, which I was meant to read for uni that year, but didn’t actually finish for the better part of a decade and almost ruined Marquez for me forever. It’s entirely possible it was a Forgotten Realms tie in novel, ’cause at twenty I was equal parts Dungeons and Dragons geek and pretentious wanker, and I couldn’t really figure out which was really me.

Either way, she asked about the book. Whether I liked it. Why I was reading it. And somewhere along the line, despite all the please fuck off subtext I was cramming into every answer, I said something about studying creative writing at university.

And the girl’s eyes lit up, and I got that feeling of dread in the pit of my stomach. The one that tells you, in no uncertain terms, god fucking damn son, you just fucked up.

“You should give me your email address,” the girl said. “I’ve always been interested in writing.”

My argument that I was just a second-year uni student who didn’t actually know anything about writing did nothing to dissuade her. Nor did the fact that I hadn’t had anything published. She asked again for my email address, got weirdly intense about it, and the subtext in my half-off of the conversation moved from please fuck off to oh, dear god, what have I done?

So I gave her a fake email address, and she left me alone after that. She got off the bus at Pacific Fair and I went back to my book. Probably not the way I would have handled things today, but I’m older now. Wiser, perhaps. Better at knowing how to navigate the conversation that inevitably follows any usage of the word writer.

And really, I can’t quite tell you why it weirded me so badly, that whole awkward conversation. I have my suspicions, which may or may not be true, but I’m largely disconnected from the version of myself at twenty. I turn thirty-six this year. It all happened long ago.

What I know is this: I told people I was studying to be a teacher for the rest of the undergraduate. My parents were both teachers. It was a course of study I could fake pretty convincingly.

And I still hate buses. With a goddamn passion.

­­­­­TWO

I’ve been spamming the hell out of TZU’s cover of Heavy Heart in the lead-up to New Years. Partially it’s because it does everything a good cover should do – recontextualises the song, making you look at it in a new way. To my mind a good cover is like being invited to share a kind of glorious secret that changes the way you look at a small part of the world.

Plus, as always, I’m a fan of anything that revels in its own meta-text (if  you’ve never heard the original, which is one of the few You Am I songs I really like, I suggest checking it out; it’s a really different experience to TZU’s version)

The rest, though…

Well, let’s just say that I’m not immune to the allure of a New Year. I don’t really understand it as an evening to be celebrated, and I’ve continued my long trend of ignoring the hell out of the culturally mandated idea of partying up a storm as the clock strikes midnight. This year, I played games on my phone and came within a hair’s breadth of finishing my book, and dubbed this a totally worthwhile use of my evening.

But I really like the aspect of New Years where people start looking back and planning ahead, building some context around their experiences for the last twelve months. I like that there’s a empty space between Christmas and New Years where you can sit down and plan. I like the process of reviewing my year and figuring out what I’d like to do better.

I don’t get resolutions, but that’s just me. Figuring out what I’d like to do better is usually a lengthy process, filled with experimentation and putting a lot of thought into things. I usually finish the process around March, rather than settling on an arbitrary date.

One of the things I look for at this time of year, though, is talismans. Not in the magical sense, but things I can hold onto as loaded signifiers, representatives of a whole mess of things I’d like to remember. Music is a big part of that, usually. I’m all about picking theme-songs for certain periods of my life.

In my twenties it was usually The Buzzcock’s Ever Fallen in Love with Someone You Shouldn’t Have Fallen in Love With, but that’s been less of a problem these days. The default narrative of my thirties has largely been why the hell am I still doing this? Or, as I prefer to think of it, learning to embrace the ball pit principle of being an adult.

I’m struggling with that at the moment. 2012 was the first year where I was gainfully employed, working full-time at a job I enjoyed to the point where writing wasn’t my first priority. It kinda changed the way I looked at the world. It certainly changed the way I looked at money.

And so I keep listening to TZU’s rewrite of Heavy Heart, which moves away from the forlorn heartbreak of the You and I original and shines a little light on being in your thirties and still chasing art, in whatever form, while the people around you are getting married, having kids, settling down. And I cling to the song for that, and in particular for a single line they’ve thrown into the mix that wasn’t there in the original.

It’s the life I chose, not the life that chose me.

I forget that all too often. I don’t want to do that anymore.

THREE

Actually, I lied about not having resolutions. I have three, although they’re less resolutions and more a thesis statement for the coming year, and they’re pretty much the same conclusion I come to every year:

1) Art Matters

2) People Matter

3) Change the fucking world.

Simple things to write. Hardest things in the fucking world to remember. Some days I do better living up to it than others.

FOUR

So, yes, this has been a long post. Sorry about that. If you’ve read/scrolled down this far, let me give you the short version.

Happy New Year, you crazy fuckers. Here’s hoping you rocked in the new year in whatever form of celebration you prefer, whether it be fireworks, insane parties, computer games, or getting a good night’s sleep.

It’s been a long, quiet 2012 in many respects, and I’m really glad you’re still here.

Now lets go rock 2013 in whatever manner we choose to rock it.

For what it’s worth…

…I still maintain that this is the sexiest two minutes and seventeen seconds to ever exist in music.

If you can resist dancing while you listen to it, you’re a better person than I.

The second-sexiest thing ever done in music is Nouvelle Vague’s cover of Guns of Brixton. I’ll leave it up to you to figure out what this says about my psyche.

Twenty-Six Hours of Melancholy

A Sweet and Pensive Sadness

When I was in my second year of university we studied Hotel Sorrento, a play by the Australian playwright Hannie Rayson that was later turned into a film. One of the themes running through the play – one of many – was an exploration of melancholy, and two lines in particular remained with me some fifteen years after I first read it.

The first was a female character asserting that men do not feel melancholy, that it’s a particularly female emotion. The second was the definition: a sweet and pensive sadness.

A sweet and pensive sadness.

I mean, fuck, how do you go past that, eh? It’s a beautifully expressed idea when you hear it at nineteen, and I was immediately smitten. I don’t remember how it happened, or where it happened, but I fell and I fell hard, in a very, melancholy, fuck yeah, that’s the stuff for me kind of way.

I still have my copy of the Hotel Sorrento script, long after I’ve thrown out or given away the vast majority of the play-scripts I studied at university. I haven’t read it in over a decade, but it comforts me to know it’s around.

Whose Going to Drive You Home?

When I was in my second year of university — or perhaps my third — I discovered the Paradise Motel. They’d done a cover of The Car’s Whose Going to Drive You Home, transforming a preppy pop hit into four and a half minutes of string-laden heart-ache and darkness, and it got played on the Triple J a couple of times despite the fact that the cover is one of the least radio-friendly songs I can imagine once you get past the surprise that is recognizing the song they’re covering.

Still, it was beautiful. I don’t know what I was doing the first time I heard it, but odds are I stopped. I still stop when the Paradise Motel version of Drive comes on my MP3 player, because it’s that kind of song.

It’s hard to describe the effect of the cover if you’ve never heard it. It starts with slow strings, perhaps some kind synthesizer or keyboard underscoring it. There’s nothing pop about it at all – instead it’s got the slow, aching pace associated with a sound track, the kind of thing that plays when the movie reaches its penultimate moment of profundity.

It’s twenty-five seconds into the song before you get the first line, delivered in Merida Sussex’s throaty whisper: whose going to tell you when…it’s too late…whose going to tell you things… aren’t so great…you can’t go on…thinking nothing’s wrong.

Whose going to drive you home…tonight.

I mean, Jesus. The whole damn cover captured something that’d been at the heart of the Cars hit the whole damn time: a sweet and pensive sadness.

I fell and I fell hard.

Pit Stops

I’m not exactly sure when, or if, I’ll post this. I started writing this because I’ve blown out my internet bandwidth only two weeks into the month, dropping me down to the snail-like speed that comes from exceeding your limitations, so blogging and other internet-related activities have become somewhat untenable. I wouldn’t be writing this at all except that I’m stuck, unable to progress on the current story, and my brain is making insistent noises about the lack of blogging that’s happened in recent weeks.

Right now it’s twelve thirty at night and I’m wittering away on Fritz the Laptop, putting down words because it’s the putting-down-words time of the evening and there’s no other words coming. It’s been raining, on and off, for most of the evening. The air crisp and cold, but not in a vile and bone-chilling way, just in that pleasant late-winter way that says spring is coming but it isn’t quite here yet. I’ve turned off all the lights and dragged Fritz to bed, working by the pale glow of the screen.

The flat is still, my neighbors are blessedly quiet, and there’s a new Paradise Motel album playing. It’s titled Australian Ghost Stories and it came out in 2009, but somehow I managed to miss it until an unexpected pit-stop at the Logan JB Hi-Fi unearthed two new Paradise Motel albums that I’d never come across before.

This happened about a week ago. I was driving down to the Gold Coast and I’d forgotten to pack some CDs for the trip, which wasn’t a huge deal except for the fact that I’d lose radio reception about halfway through the hour-long trip and I’m not a fan of listening to the noises my car makes while I’m driving.

And so there was a pit-stop to pick up CDs, a rarity in my world these days, and in the back of my mind there was a nagging voice saying that a new Paradise Motel album was coming after a long, long delay.

Scenes from Movies That Never Got Made

It’s taken me seven days to get around to listening to the two albums. There’s a very simple reason for this: The Paradise Motel aren’t road-trip music. Their albums are lush soundscapes, almost cinematic in their approach. The vast majority of their songs make me imagine films that have never been made, slow-moving atmosphere pieces that are equal parts anarchy and beauty, with the Paradise Motel providing the pivotal track that appears in the penultimate moment of realization when the protagonists have lost all there is to lose.

These aren’t popular movies. They’re the awkward, under-funded pieces featuring stars like Johnny Depp who are there as a favour to the director, putting in the hours between more successful films (back before their successful films were things Chocolat rather than Pirates of the Caribbean). They aren’t films that are universally beloved, but they’re films that are fiercely loved by the small groups of people who enjoy them, inspiring the kind of passion that lasts for decades.

Every shot that the Paradise Motel is used for takes place between midnight and dawn. They are universally scenes featuring characters staring at empty beaches, or wandering drunk and lonely through empty Parisian streets, or engaging in sweet and pensive lovemaking that makes you wish you were more in love than you are right now.

There’s no way to listen to that kind of music when you’re driving down a highway at a hundred kilometers an hour. I paid ten bucks for a third CD – the Best of Roxy Music – and spent the trip singing along to Virginia Plain instead.

Flight Paths

So me and the Paradise Motel, that was love at first sight. Or hearting, whatever, you get the picture. That doesn’t mean it was easy to become a fan of the band. This was the days before the internet had solidified into its current form, before youtube and iTunes, possibly even before Napster was a thing and record stores started going the way of the dodo.

It took over a year to track down the Flight Paths album that contained the song. For starters, I’d managed to forget the name of the band after hearing the song the first time, so it became one of those things I kept listening out for on the radio, hoping like hell I hadn’t missed the back-announce telling me who it was.

Secondly, I lived on the Gold Coast, which was hardly a Mecca for independent music stores likely to stock Paradise Motel albums. Plus I was a uni student, which automatically meant I subsisted in the wage bracket known as ‘single, broke, living on two-minute-noodles, and utterly lacking in political capital’.

I found a copy of Flight Paths in a small, second-hand record store that resided in a Southport attic. It was a pretty cool place, all things considered; the same store that eventually sold me copies of Smiths LPs, a vinyl copy of the Love Will Tear Us Apart single, and more band t-shirts than I’m really comfortable admitting too. The fact that such a thing existed on the Gold Coast probably kept me living in the city for about twelve-months longer than I would have otherwise, ’cause by twenty-two I was largely sick of the place.

My copy of Flight Paths cost me $12. I didn’t have the money the first time I saw it there, but I cut back on cask wine for a week and scrounged together enough to get it the next time payday rolled around.

Then I took it home and listened to it, repetitively, for six weeks straight. It’s still the best $12 I ever spent on a CD.

6 Cover Versions Worth Tracking Down

I love a good cover version, especially when the artist finds a new spin. You could say it feeds directly into my own impulses to mash genres together and see what results, but musicians tend to be somewhat cooler in their experimentation. To whit, 6 cover versions I think everyone should listen to at least once:

If you’d prefer not to listen to the youtube playlist, I’ve broken ’em down one-by-one below.

1) Drive, the Paradise Motel

There’s a strong possibility that the pang of pure melancholy I feel when I hear the opening guitar notes to the Paradise Motel’s Flight Paths album is a pure Pavlovian response to one of those albums that served as a soundtrack for three or four straight years of my life, and the real centerpiece of the album is the cover of the Car’s Drive. The Paradise Motel take what was a minor pop hit, slow it the fuck down, and imbue it with the kind of sorrow that’d have a small passel of emo kids huddled in a corner wondering why one needs guitars and black hair in order to appear miserable. No youtube clip for this one (correction; there’s now one linked above), but if you listen real carefully you can hear in the soundtrack of the He Died With a Felafel in His Hand movie (speaking of which, why don’t I own a copy of that film yet? Seriously?) or get lucky if you spend enough time poking around Last FM.

2) Crazy in Love, Antony and the Johnsons

There is some crazy kind of power in taking hideously poppy songs and slowing them down, discovering the sadness in them. The Paradise Motel does it above, the oft-mentioned Mad World cover from Donnie Darko does it as well, but none of it takes something quite as crazy as Beyonce and achieves the same affect as Antony on the Johnstons.

3) Pierre, The Dresden Dolls

I’m a sucker for the Dresden Dolls and they have a wide variety of very mighty covers out there, including Black Sabbath (War Pigs) and their version of Pretty In Pink, but their live DVD made me a huge fan of this Carol King cover. Largely, for once, thanks to the awesomeness that is Brian Viglione. Much as I love the Amanda-Fucking-Palmer solo stuff,  I find myself missing the male half of the Dresden Dolls more and more. I think it’s the facial expression that make this song.

4) I was Only Nineteen, The Herd

Somewhere along the line I became a Herd fan, and they’d become the band I’ve seen more often than any other. I’m not sure when that happened. I’m pretty sure this one will be lost on people who aren’t Australian and therefore missed the Red Gum original, and I know plenty of people who are all “ooo, sacrilege” that a hip-hop group has covered what is essentially one of the best-known Aussie protest songs, but when you see this being performed it starts making total sense that it needed to be covered and the Herd needed to do it.

5) Flame Trees, Sarah Blasco

Let me make something clear: I don’t like Cold Chisel. Not ironically, not unironically, not even a little. I have sung along to Khe Sanh only once in my lifetime (this is, in the eyes of many people I know, as un-Australian as you can get), and that was when I saw someone doing it as a cover. It’s not that Cold Chisel can’t write an okay song (Don Walker teamed with Tex Perkin’s is a musical combination that’s truly droolworthy), it’s just that Jimmy Barnes’ voice gives me the shits. Then Sarah Blasco comes along and does a nice, gentle cover of Flame Trees and I’m hooked.

6) Straight Outta Compton, Nina Gordon

A few years back Tori Amos put together a covers album called Strange Little Girls, built up around the concept of singing songs traditionally associated with men and seeing what happened when a woman sang it. It’s an impressive album, one of my favorites, but I think Nina Gordon’s cover of NWA’s Straight Outta Compton takes the cake when it comes to recontextualizing songs by the gender of the performer.

Honorable Mentions: Smells Like Teen Spirit, Tori Amos (good, but slipped out of contention due to much repetition and too many Tori Amos covers); Come As You Are, The Charlie Hunter Trio (Someone, somewhere, is spinning in their grave); Crazy Mary, Pearl Jam (woulda made the list, but so close to the original Victoria Williams Song); Ziggy Stardust, Bauhaus (see above, plus one day a bunch of goths will argue about who is sexier while performing this song – Bowie or Peter Murphy – and it will result in the end of the world); Love Will Tear Us Apart, Nouvelle Vague ( actually, they should be on the list above, but I ended up listing their entire catalogue of covers and couldn’t pick a favourite); actually, even now I need two spots for Nouvelle Vague, cause Too Drunk to Fuck has to be on the lists somewhere (really, French women channeling Jello Biafra to bossa nova? Sign me up – it’s the stuff of awesome).

Feel free to feed my cover-version addiction and tell me what I missed 🙂

Friday Youtubery

Proof that there are people out there who do murder-ballads era Nick Cave even better than, well, Nick Cave. If you want a real insight into how scary Tex Perkin’s truly is, try listening to the Elvis Costello version of the song first. One of these is a gentle ballad sung by a punk-rock balladeer. The other gave me nightmares for a week the first time I saw it on Rage.