Dig Those Groovy Tunes!

the only sound that's left after the ambulances go

Surely I’m Not the Only One Who’s Noticed… December 17, 2011

…that this year’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame inductees are a bunch of white dudes, Laura Nyro (R.I.P.), and Slash?  Here’s the list of the lucky few:

  • Beastie Boys
  • Donovan
  • Guns N’ Roses
  • Laura Nyro
  • Red Hot Chili Peppers
  • The Small Faces/The Faces
  • Freddie King (although he made the “early influences” category and not the main list of “performers” — i.e. the list of people actually deemed worthy of mention as inductees on the ray-dee-oh — so I don’t really know…but even with the inclusion of King, that gives us a grand total of three inductees this year who are not white dudes.  And only one of them — Slash — is alive to accept the honor)

Listen, I don’t deny that everyone inducted this year are great artists/groups, who all have at least one song that I enjoy (even the Red Hot Chili Peppers, who I respect as artists but never really got into personally, at least have “Under the Bridge”), and honestly, it’s about damn time Donovan made the list, especially since “Hurdy Gurdy Man” is basically what Led Zeppelin would have been if they’d had an elfin Scottish troubadour as their frontman rather than the virile golden god they ended up with.  But let’s take a look, for a second, at some of the nominees who didn’t get in this year…

  • The Cure
  • Eric B. and Rakim (who I admit I’d never heard of before, but according to the Hall of Fame’s website, they were a hugely influential hip-hop act from the mid-’80s.  Shows how much I know.)
  • Heart
  • Joan Jett and the Blackhearts (WTF — they’re not already in there yet?)
  • Rufus with Chaka Khan (Rufus being the name of the band Chaka got her start in.  Which I may have been made slightly aware of during an episode of Pop Up Video, but can’t remember.  Yet again, shows how much I know)
  • The Spinners
  • War (sing it with me now, “Low…ri…der…somethin’ somethin’ somethin’…doo-doo-doo-dadoo-doo-doo, dadoo-doo-doo-doo”)
  • Donna Summer

Yeah, so the list of nominees this year was not exactly lacking in diversity between races, sexes, and genres.  So it’s really quite odd that the select few who get to be inducted make up such a homogenous group.  It baffles me that acts like Heart, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, War (which is like a bazillion years old and definitely deserves some more recognition than “those guys who did the theme song for The George Lopez Show and whom Smash Mouth did a sub-par cover of”), and even Donna Summer (some arguments against Summer have been that “her music’s not rock ‘n’ roll, though”.  However, it’s clear that the Hall of Fame defines “rock ‘n’ roll” as “popular music from the birth of ‘true rock ‘n’ roll’ in the fifties onwards”, so Donna Summer’s inclusion would not be any less consistent with the Hall of Fame’s guidelines than, say, Madonna or the Jackson 5) have yet to make it into the Hall of Fame even when they’ve all been around quite a bit longer than Guns ‘n’ Roses, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, or the Beastie Boys (to be perfectly fair, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts as a band are only a few years older than GNR and RHCP, and are actually preceded by the Beastie Boys by at least one year.  However, Joan Jett’s career dates back to the mid-70s, and yet she’s completely absent thus far from the Hall of Fame.  So with or without the Blackhearts — who are those guys, anyway? — Joan Jett is way way way overdue for an induction, people).

Not that I don’t have more to say on the issue, but if I go any further I might never get this thing posted, and anyway this Hall of Fame thing is getting dangerously close to being old news now.  And frankly, I’m getting tired of making myself into a rage monster just thinking about the whole thing.  So for now, that’s all folks!

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New Regular Feature: Cover Story December 5, 2011

After a few months of serious writer’s block, inspiration struck me one morning a couple of weeks ago.  It came to me on the car ride to work, in the form of “Dandy” by Herman’s Hermits.[1]  I’ve heard The Kinks’ version of the same song at least a dozen times, it being a track on my much beloved Kinks compilation CD set The Ultimate Collection.  However, until that morning, I’d been completely unaware that Herman’s Hermits had also recorded a version.  This was kind of a big deal for me because, despite my being less than a quarter century old, I’ve been practically raised in a vacuum of pop, rock, and folk hits of the ’60s, so it’s not every day I encounter a previously undiscovered song[2] from that era.  And so it got me thinking.

 

First of all, it got me thinking of the differences and similarities between the two versions.  For one thing, the Hermits version didn’t sound a whole heck of a lot different from the Kinks version, and yet the very subtlety of those differences only enhanced the feeling that two completely disparate moods were being expressed between the two.  Now I realize that part of this observation might be colored by my own understanding of The Kinks and Herman’s Hermits from the standpoint of someone who was born long after both bands ceased to be contemporary and whose views of each — i.e. Kinks =”rock” and Herman’s Hermits = “pop” — are therefore inevitably informed by modern-day popular opinion and the retrospective pigeonholing of once unclassified groups into newly invented and ever-narrowing categories or “subgenres.”  But to me, there’s a trace of venom in the Kinks version that the Hermits version seems to lack completely.  I’d even go as far to say that Herman’s Hermits aren’t capable of the acidity, of the subtle mean-spiritedness that’s so prevalent in The Kinks’ body of work.  The Hermits’ softer edge does not necessarily make an inferior version of “Dandy;”[3] if anything, it makes both versions more interesting, because why bother covering something someone else has done if you’re not going to put your own spin on it?[4]  Like I said, it might just be that Peter “Herman” Noone — or his musical persona, anyway — comes off as a much more benign and amiable person than Ray Davies does,[5] but to me, while the Hermits version comes off as the kind of playful taunting that could only a close friend of the eponymous good-natured playboy could get away with, Davies’ tone on the same song is anything but friendly; he can barely contain its contempt (or perhaps bitter envy?) for the womanizing ne’er-do-well.

 

 

 

So that’s what the Herman’s Hermits version of “Dandy” got me thinking a couple of weeks ago.  But that’s not all.  It also reminded me of all those times I’ve thought critically (or maybe even not so critically) about cover songs, and all the times I’ve wanted to geek about the subject on here but never really had enough incentive to do so.  I’ve toyed several times with the idea of compiling a top-ten list revolving around cover songs, such as “Top Ten Cover Songs You’ve Never Heard” or “Top Ten Cover Songs That are at Least as Good as the Original.”  I’ve ultimately rejected such ideas for numerous reasons:  the tedium of choosing just a select few songs that I deem worthy out of an innumerable and ever-growing entirety of cover songs;[6] the presumptuous nature of phrases like “that you’ve never heard” or even “that are at least as good as the original”; the fact that “little-known cover” just as often means “song that is well known but, unbeknownst to many, is not the original version”;[7] the whole tricky question of, “if Singer-Songwriter A writes a song, Group B records it, and then, years later, Singer-Songwriter A decides to record the song themself, who’s covering who?”[8]  You get the idea.  So I figured I’m gonna make this a regular, recurring feature on this blog instead.  ‘Cause I’ve got a lot to say about different interpretations of songs, and one blog post isn’t gonna be enough to say all I’ve gotta say.  Plus, this’ll give me a lot more to blog about on a regular basis.  Y’know, between the infrequent and ill-named Video of the Week posts; tirades against sexism, stupidity, bad radio, and what used to pass for music television; occasional Top-Ten lists involving long-defunct bands that no one my age has any excuse to know as much as I do about; and geekfests over Jack White/Noel Fielding/Muppets/etc.  Oh, yeah, and that apology to Kate Moss I’ve been meaning to write.

 

Oh, and feel free to post in the comments section.  I’d be happy to hear whatever suggestions my readers (readers?  What readers?) might have about what cover songs they’d like me to…well…cover here.  Or anything else you’d like to say, as long as it’s not nasty or immature (I’ll take criticism as long as it’s not name-call-y or irrational).  It gets lonely here sometimes.

 

Edit:  I couldn’t get the footnotes to work properly because I’m not sure how to link to another place in the same document.  So when you see a number between brackets, [like this], it means that there’s a correlating footnote at the bottom, but you’ll have to scroll down manually for now to read because I’m not tech-savvy enough.  I was hoping the footnotes would be a good alternative to the parenthetical asides that always seem to clutter up my posts, but I guess I’ll have to go back to posting like that for now.

 

[1]   And I know that this particular version was by Herman’s Hermits because it was on satellite radio and that little title screen thing told me so.

[2]   Or, in this case, a familiar group’s unfamiliar rendition of a somewhat familiar song by another familiar group.

[3]   I, for one, will always think of “Dandy” as a Kinks song.  But then, I’ll always think of “Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)” as a Cher song, which has spurred arguments with friends who swear by the Nancy Sinatra version.

[4]   David Lee “Just a Facsimile Gigolo” Roth, I’m looking at you.

[5]   To put things in perspective, I’m pretty sure Ray doesn’t get along too well with his own brother.  Who was also his bandmate.

[6]   Compiling a list of top studio albums or music videos of a band that’s long gone:  tricky, maybe, but manageable.  Trying to pick a tiny handful of end-all-be-all essential out of an eternally-expanding wellspring of material:  impossible and futile.

[7]   See also “Cum on Feel the Noize”; “Tainted Love”; “House of the Rising Sun”; “I Shot the Sheriff”; “All Along the Watchtower.”

[8]   See also Kris Kristofferson; Carol King; Bob Dylan.