Ya know why? ‘Cause just a few minutes ago this morning, I tuned into Q104.3 just as my favorite song ever, “Whiter Shade of Pale” by Procol Harum was beginning. Aaaaaaahhhhhh…good tunes…
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. 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 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;” 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? 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, 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; 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”; 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?” 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.
 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.
 Or, in this case, a familiar group’s unfamiliar rendition of a somewhat familiar song by another familiar group.
 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.
 David Lee “Just a Facsimile Gigolo” Roth, I’m looking at you.
 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.
 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.
 See also “Cum on Feel the Noize”; “Tainted Love”; “House of the Rising Sun”; “I Shot the Sheriff”; “All Along the Watchtower.”
 See also Kris Kristofferson; Carol King; Bob Dylan.
So something kinda awesome happened on Q104.3 this morning. September 21, 2011
Former Monkee Micky Dolenz was the guest on Jim Kerr’s morning show. Just thought I’d mention that. And congratulations, Jim Kerr, I no longer hold a grudge against you for that ridiculous “Strange News” story from a couple months ago. Especially since this morning I also heard you and Maria make fun of a similar “study”…something about how married men’s lives suck more because they’re married. Y’know, the same old crap a bunch of quacks have been trying to feed us for years. Thank you for totally not even pretending to take such a “finding” seriously. And thank you also for having someone as awesome as Micky freakin’ Dolenz on your show.
Top Ten Queen Videos September 12, 2011
Okay, so I know I’m a day (or two) late. It was hard work narrowing down so many awesome videos to the ten best, not to mention putting them in order. But here it is, the top ten Queen videos.
10. “It’s a Hard Life” (The Works, 1984)
We start off here with a video that is inexplicable and camp-tacular (even by Queen’s standards). This may not be the band’s most popular video (in fact, at least one or two of the band’s members openly despise this video), but in my personal opinion, its weirdness is what makes it so charming. Looking like the mutant love child of a Shakespeare comedy and that one scene from Labyrinth, we see Freddie Mercury prancing around in what is almost certainly the weirdest outfit he’s ever worn (and for a man who’s not exactly known for dressing conservatively, that’s really saying something) and wearing a really strange wig in some scenes for no apparent reason, and Brian May playing a wicked solo on a skull. Also, look closely for John Deacon walking around with his noble steed, a stuffed unicorn head on a long wooden stick.
9. “The Invisible Man” (The Miracle, 1989)
There’s only one thing that pisses me off about this video, and that’s this: no matter how much time I waste playing video games, not once have I ever gotten to the point where Queen emerge from my closet and dance around my room. Talk about false advertising! The kid in this video is basically the luckiest kid ever (the only possible exceptions being the kids in the video for “The Miracle”). He even gets to wear John Deacon’s badass cowboy hat. Lucky! And yes, the song sounds eerily similar to the theme from Ghostbusters. Let us speak no more of this.
8. “Liar” (Queen, 1973)
If you need any more convincing that “Bohemian Rhapsody” was not, as is sometimes falsely claimed, the first music video ever, at least know this: it wasn’t even Queen’s first. “Liar” stands out from most of the videos in this list in that it is a simple performance video. There’s no storyline, no characters outside of the band, nothing but the band performing on a brightly lighted stage that probably isn’t in front of a real audience. Even the outfits are pretty low-key for a band that could have been considered part of the “glam rock” scene that was emerging in England around that time. Still, stripped of the gimmicks they’d come to be known for both onstage and onscreen, Queen have an undeniably magnetic stage presence. Despite its length of six and a half minutes and its simplicity, the video for “Liar” never bores.
7. “Princes of the Universe” (A Kind of Magic, 1985)
Don’t ask me why, but movie tie-in music videos generally annoy me, especially when the totally awesome song was written for a possibly-not-so-awesome movie, thereby making it so that there isn’t a non-movie-tie-in version of the video that I can watch instead. However, I’m going to make an exception for “Princes of the Universe,” a song that was written for Highlander and which, to my knowledge, doesn’t have a video that leaves out all those movie clips. I haven’t even seen Highlander (but I do want to, for precisely three reasons, the Queen-filled soundtrack being one of them. The other two, by the way, are Clancy Brown and kilts. But mostly Clancy Brown). Doesn’t matter. The fact is, movie tie-in or not, this is one of the most epic music videos ever. If anything, the connection with the movie makes the video all the more epic, because of the way it includes the band in the action of the movie, placing the band in the same setting as what I’m guessing is a pretty important scene in the movie. There’s even a brief moment of interaction between Freddie and the film’s hero. If that’s not epic, I don’t know what is. As an added bonus, I don’t think anyone ever looked cooler with the wind blowing through his hair than Brian May.
6. “Save Me” (The Game, 1980)
The video for “Save Me” is as gorgeous and moving as the tender love song it illustrates. Half live-action performance video, and half animated narrative, this is perhaps Queen’s most beautiful video. I’m at a loss to describe this video further than the fact that it features a dove motif (I’m a sucker for bird symbolism. Actually, I’m a sucker for birds in general), so I’ll say no more about it and let the video speak for itself.
5. “Bohemian Rhapsody” (A Night at the Opera, 1975)
Seriously, did you think I’d be able to list the top ten Queen videos without including this song? While not my favorite Queen video by a long-shot (though still, within the spectrum of music videos in general, it ranks pretty darn high), “Bohemian Rhapsody” is undoubtedly the most influential, to the point that some people are still under the impression that it was the first music video ever. If you’ve been paying attention to this blog (or even to this particular post), you’ll know this assumption to be false, yet the very fact that this is a widely-held belief shows how much of an impact the “Bohemian Rhapsody” has had on the history of music and the art of music video. And perhaps, while not the first music video ever made (remember, Bob Dylan had 10 years on them), it may be one of the first music videos that truly mattered; that proved that the music video was an art form in and of itself and not just a creative way to promote a record.
4. “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” (The Game, 1979)
When I showed a friend of mine this video about a month ago, her response was that it was “like a bisexual version of Grease.” I couldn’t have described it better myself, but I’ll try: to me, this is one of the all-time sexiest videos ever. Sure, it’s kinda goofy and looks like it was made on a budget of $150 and maybe a blowjob here and there, but that doesn’t matter. Why? Because…Freddie Mercury. Leather. Superfluous close-up of Freddie’s leather-clad ass. Brian May in awesome shades. Freddie Mercury getting his shirt ripped off by his co-ed posse of backup dancers. Roger Taylor without a shirt. Freddie Mercury doing what could be described as pole-dancing. Oh, and did I mention Freddie flippin’ Mercury? As a side note, is it just me, or does Freddie kind of look like Jakob Dylan in this video?
3. “One Vision” (A Kind of Magic, 1985)
Okay, this one starts out a little weird, with the warped voices and the wobbly still from the “Bohemian Rhapsody” video, but once you get past that, this is one fun video. Filmed around the same time as the band’s legendary performance at Live Aid (note the logo on Brian May’s white t-shirt), the video shows the band recording the song and having one heck of a fun time in the process. I get the impression that someone decided to put cameras in the studio, start recording, and just let the band do whatever the heck they felt like. Turns out, they’re really silly boys. Also, Brian really should have worn black tank tops more often. Because of the sexy.
2. “I’m Going Slightly Mad” (Innuendo, 1991)
The video for “I’m Going Slightly Mad” is delightful. More delightful, in fact, than it has any right to be, considering the tragic reality surrounding both the song and the video. Released mere months before his death, Freddie Mercury wrote this song about his experience with AIDS-induced dementia. By the time the video was filmed, the singer’s illness necessitated the use of heavy makeup and black-and-white film to disguise his condition. This same use of makeup and monochrome, however, is part of what makes this video so charming and quirky, which only makes it more tragic when one remembers that all that charm and quirk are coming from a man who’s months away from his death bed, and knows it. In spite of all that, however, this video made me laugh the first time I saw it, and continues to make me smile. It’s heartwarming to know that Freddie could still act goofy and irreverent even as his life was coming to a close. This, along with all the weird goings-on in this video — Freddie’s banana wig, John Deacon as an unenthusiastic jester, and let’s not forget REAL LIVE PENGUINS (!!) along with Brian May in a penguin suit — make this one of my very favorites.
1. “I Want to Break Free” (The Works, 1984)
This is by far the greatest Queen video of all time. For lots of reasons, but if for nothing else, for the cross-dressing. Which is apparently a reference to a long-running British soap opera called Coronation Street. Which I’ve never seen, but I believe it. What I don’t believe is that this video is actually marked as “age-restricted” on YouTube. What the hell, YouTube? Buncha homophobes need to get the hell over themselves. They’re the ones who’ll have a bad influence on the children. But anyway, enjoy the video. Unless you’re one of those homophobes. If you are, get your ignorant ass off of my blog and never darken my door again.
Bonus: “The Great Pretender”(1987)
And here’s a little something from Freddie’s solo career: his take on a classic by doo-wop group The Platters. Features clips and re-enactments of his previous videos as both a member of Queen and as a solo artist, some of which are on this very list. But mostly I decided to put this here because of the cross-dressing. ‘Cause I’m kinda into that. And because this video not only gives us a chance to see Freddie in drag once again, but also Roger Taylor. And there was much rejoicing (coming from me, anyway).
So I’ve decided to make this week a themed week, ‘Cause why not? September 6, 2011
And this week’s theme is Queen (yipes. Try saying that five times fast). For various reasons, the most obvious being that yesterday was Freddie Mercury’s birthday, but also because this year marks a number of other important anniversaries regarding Queen, including the 40th anniversary of the band’s genesis, and the 20th anniversary of Freddie Mercury’s death (*sob*). And also because I’ve been meaning to geek about Queen on this blog for the last month or so, as I’ve recently become über obsessed with the band (I’ve been a big Queen fan for most of my life, but until now I was only really aware of some of their more well-known material. And now I’ve got their first four albums on CD. With BONUS DISCS!). So yeah, this week, I celebrate my love for Queen.
So Google did something kinda awesome for Freddie’s birthday yesterday:
My favorite part is around 1:15, because if anyone ever had adorable mustachioed bicycle-riding bears in their royal menagerie, Freddie would have.
Why FM radio needs to put a sock in it and play some more damn music — It’s for your own good, guys… June 29, 2011
Satellite radio has spoiled me. I was first exposed to its influence two years ago, when my dad’s truck decided it didn’t love us anymore and so he got a brand spankin’ new one, while my mom also decided it was time she got herself a new set of wheels or something like that. Both vehicles are equipped with satellite radio. When we’re in the car, we get to listen to an almost endless stream of music with no commericials and little to no yakkin’ from the DJs. In the house, though, we’re stuck with AM and FM. Which is fine, most of the time, when the commercials aren’t hawking “male enhancement” junk and when the music-talk ratio is at least 60:40. But you know, as Sir Jagger says, you can’t always get what you want. Especially in the mornings. See, there’s apparently these things called morning shows which some stations insist on having. Turns out, Q104.3, a classic rock station which I (and countless others, if the station’s claims aren’t total lies) consider one of my favorites in the New York/tri-state area, is no different. Funny thing is, when radio stations — even halfway decent ones like Q104.3 — don’t spend enough time playing music, they’re allowed enough talking time to say some really stupid things.
I woke up early this morning, which is kind of a big deal for me. I decided I wanted some music on while I had my breakfast, so naturally I switched on Q104.3, and Jim Kerr’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Morning Show was on. I thought nothing of this at first, since at least they were playing some music in between the
shit-chat chit-chat, and maybe, being fellow classic rock fans, Jim and his co-host Shelli Sonstein (who for some reason does not share the show’s title with Jim, but I’ll let that slide for now) might say a few interesting tidbits about my favorite music and what-not. Instead they waste my precious seconds with something stupid and unoriginal called “Strange News” (it even has its own vapid theme song, which is basically Cream’s “Strange Brew” with the word “brew” replaced with news, sung by some Jack Bruce soundalike). Seriously, how many radio stations must plague our poor unsuspecting, half-awake psyches in the morning with this drivel? It barely qualifies as strange most of the time, and I wouldn’t exactly call it news so much as random events and studies that were just unusual enough for someone to care to report.
Actually, the first “Strange News” story this morning was kind of cool. It was about this store clerk or something whose trusty dog helped her prevent a robbery by biting the assailant in the crotch. Or something like that. The second “story” was prefaced by Jim saying something like, “And this should be some good news for the men whose girlfriends and wives always complain about how tough women have it.” Oh no, he didn’t. I can’t remember if I yelled “Shut your mouth!” at the radio out loud just then, or if I just thought it really, really loud. But what I do know is that the next thing out of Jim’s mouth was something along the lines of, “A recent study shows that men are more likely to get struck by lightning than women.” And that definitely had me yelling “That means nothing, assbag!” at the radio. Because you know what? That supposed “study” doesn’t prove anything, and what’s more, it pisses me off that Mr. Kerr apparently thinks it makes a valid argument for (heterosexual) men to use when their female significant others kvetch about how our patriarchial society is screwing us over (and by “us” I mean all of us, not just the women). I’m no scientist, but I can say with a great deal of confidence that this supposed “study” is either a) based on information gathered from past events that just so happen to be skewed one way as opposed to the other, and have no bearing or relevance whatsoever on the outcome of future human-electrical storm encounters, or b) says less about the “wonders of nature” than it does about the way men are socially encouraged to ignore their better judgement for the sake of pride in their “cajones” and so continue to work on the shed roof during a storm, thereby making themselves easier targets while women and “sissies” will generally flock to shelter.
And as for Kerr’s moronic suggestion that men now have something to complain about, well, gee, it’s terrible that I cannot go around topless in the same areas men can, and oh, yeah, I’m still not guaranteed equal pay as a male co-worker at an equivalent job, but what am I complaining for? The menfolk have it so rough, what with being human lightning-rods and everything!
And yeah, this isn’t the first stupid thing I’ve ever heard on the radio. It isn’t even nearly the most stupid thing I’ve ever heard on the radio (actually, there may have been times I’ve heard songs more insipid than this. Not many, but a few). However, it’s little things like this, things that remind me that I’m not part of the target demographic, that really get my goat. I mean, isn’t it enough that I’m a fan of the music? I shouldn’t have to put up with this sexist bullshit between my moments of sweet sweet rock ‘n’ roll ecstacy, should I? (And yes, I’m fully aware that rock music, particularly classic rock, is not the most feminist-friendly genre out there. But most of the time the tasty grooves make up for the embarrassingly antiquated lyrics, when I can figure out what they’re saying at all. I’m lookin’ at you, Bobby Plant.) Because when radio hosts like Jim Kerr announce silly little “news” stories like that, all I hear is, “You silly woman, don’t you know girls aren’t supposed to like rock music?”
I realize now that this post has gone all over the place and probably doesn’t address all of the issues raised at the beginning. Oh well. The bottom line is, as both a feminist and a music fan, I think certain FM radio stations could appeal to a lot more people if they minimalized the talking and the commercials — and therefore the superfluous information that caters only to a small handful of listeners while alienating the rest — and give us more of what we’re really there for: the music.
P.S. Oh, and while you’re at it, Q104.3, you might want to re-think all those totally irrelevant “babes” pages on your website, please? Or at least add some pictures of menfolk not wearing too much, just so we can call it even? I doubt you’ll even see this post at all, but it would be a very thoughtful gesture (which is a nice way of saying “I shouldn’t even have to ask”).
I apologize for the delay, everyone. Due to circumstances beyond my control, I was unable to post anything for the past three weeks, but now I’m back with that Bob Dylan review I promised. And just in time for Dylan’s birthday, too!
Mr. Dylan’s career spans nearly fifty years, and if his latest release, Together Through Life, is any indication, he’s far from becoming a has-been. Though perhaps not quite as good as 1997’s Time Out of Mind or 2001’s “Love and Theft”, his latest album exceeds 2006’s Modern Times, if only slightly, and that album was by no means a subpar effort. The album starts off with the Latin-flavored “Beyond Here Lies Nothing”, followed by “Life is Hard”, which, in spite of its title, has an extremely laid-back sound reminiscent of “When the Deal Goes Down” and “Beyond the Horizon” from Modern Times. The third track, “My Wife’s Hometown”, tells of a wife from Hell — literally — and closes with some sinister cackles from Dylan. “If You Ever Go to Houston” is pretty, and told from the point of view of someone who lived a century or two ago, or at least that’s what I’m assuming from its reference to the Mexican War. “Forgetful Heart” is, alas, the most forgettable track on the album, though still enjoyable. “Jolene” is one of the standout tracks and, contrary to what I initially assumed, has nothing to do with the Dolly Parton classic of the same name. One of the things that makes “Jolene” so great is a catchy, upbeat guitar riff delivered by none other than Mike Campbell (of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers), who provides the entire album with his excellent guitar playing, as well as lovely Mediterranean-inspired mandolin work on “This Dream of You”. “Shake Shake Mama” is a raunchy blues number that will likely get you out of your seat and dancing. “I Feel a Change Coming On”, is, quite possibly, the best song Dylan has released in over a decade, and sounds like it would have fit perfectly on one of Dylan’s late-sixties or early-seventies albums, like Nashville Skyline, New Morning, or possibly even Planet Waves. Likewise, the final track, “It’s All Good”, a harsh satire on blind optimism, sounds almost like it could be an outtake from 1988’s Oh Mercy.
My only complaint with Together Through Life is this: this is a ten-track album, with none of the tracks being exorbitantly long (which is actually pretty unusual for Bob Dylan, who has released at least four songs that exceed eleven minutes), so I cannot fathom why the vinyl version of the album is a double disc set, with only two or three songs on each side. They could have easily fit all ten tracks on one disc, but noooooo, they had to go and waste plastic like that in these trying times, and make me get off my butt twice as many times to flip the record over. But since that’s my biggest complaint regarding Together Through Life, I’ll let these mild annoyances slide and just enjoy the album.
Together Through Life was released last month and is Bob Dylan’s 33rd studio album.