Dig Those Groovy Tunes!

the only sound that's left after the ambulances go

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.

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Today’s post has been brought to you by LJ Lawrence and his fantastic facial hair of DOOM! June 6, 2010

Yup, this is totally the background on my laptop right now. Because LJ's new mustache is just THAT awesome.

Having lately viewed some recent images and videos of The Dead Weather (you know, that band I was all psyched about around the time I started this blog and since have written oodles and oodles of posts on of varying degrees of relevance?  Yeah, they’re back with a new album already.  And, amazingly, I have yet to get my hands on it), I couldn’t help but notice the manly new growth of hair on bassist Little Jack “LJ” Lawrence’s once-boyish face.  And since LJ, up until now, has probably changed the least in appearance out of all the people who’ve been in bands with Jack White (including Jack White himself, who seems to change his hairstyle every time a new album comes out.  Lately he seems to be sporting a vaguely girlish Alvin-Lee-at-Woodstock kinda ‘do — that is, if Alvin Lee decided to go goth at Woodstock, highly unlikely considering goth did not exist as a fashion statement until around the time The Cure came out, unless you want to count proto-goths like Alice Cooper and Sally Field.  Now, where was I?  Oh, yeah, LJ), and since I was just waiting for an excuse to dedicate an entire post to the world’s most adorkable bassist (who also happens to have some of the most gorgeous hair I have ever seen and I must find out what kind of shampoo and/or conditioner he uses), I decided what they hey?  So tonight, I celebrate my love for Little Jack.  As well as the power a mere mustache has to make what used to be one of the most innocuous-looking musicians ever to collaborate with Jack White (yes, even Meg would look almost hostile next to the pre-whiskered LJ) look downright sinister.  Like some absinthe-drinking evil genius who may or may not also be a vampire and/or warlock…  

For comparison, here are two music videos featuring LJ.  The first is an old video from one of LJ’s previous bands (as far as bands go, LJ is quite possibly the only artist in either The Dead Weather or The Raconteurs who is more prolific than Mr. White), The Greenhornes, where the nerdy-awesome bassist is clean-shaven and joins his bandmates to spread joy and peace and retro-delic swirls of color.  In the latter video, the latest from The Dead Weather, brief glimpses can be seen of LJ (although the video is dominated by frontpersons Alison Mosshart and Jack White) with his newfound whiskers of terror!  And naturally, this video is much darker.  Is this perhaps because of LJ Lawrence’s sudden aversion to the ol’ razor?  Probably not.  But that’s not going to keep me from pretending to theorize that LJ’s facial hair or lack thereof determines the degree of darkness in the videos he appears in (a theory which I know full well can be very easily refuted by the videos for The Raconteurs’ “Broken Boy Soldier” — no mustache, but still a plenty creepy video, esp. since I’m pretty sure Floria Sigismondi, the director of the “Broken Boy Soldier” vid also direced “Die By the Drop” — and Blanche’s very death-centric “Someday” — which not only features Little Jack with no facial hair, but also features him playing the banjo — how ominous could that possibly be?  The answer:  very).  Because I love making up weird theories like that in my spare time…you should hear my latest one about The Eagles’ “Hotel California” being a result of the song’s writer being possessed by the spirit of Shirley Jackson…except I actually almost believe that one myself.  Seriously, go and read “A Visit” and tell me “Hotel California” isn’t some sort of spiritual successor…but anyway, back to the LJ and the mustache business…  

By the way, it seems as though LJ now has not only a mustache, but a full-fledged goatee…check it out…  

 

Video of the Week: “St. Valentine’s Day Massacre” by Cocktail Slippers February 14, 2010

I’m not, by any stretch of the imagination, a fan of Valentine’s Day.  The candy’s pretty good, but I was never comfortable with the sappiness of the holiday or the idea that expensive jewelry is supposed to be a symbol of one’s love (when in actuality it’s just a boast of one’s status.  “Look, Lovey, I bought you some shiney rocks!  Don’t you love how rich I am?!”).  But enough of my radical views.  A couple weeks ago, I discovered something Valentine’s Day related that doesn’t totally suck:  “St. Valentine’s Day Massacre” by Cocktail Slippers, a pop-rock quintet from Norway.  The song is pretty awesome on its own, but the video, which features the five girls dressed as 1920s gangsters (no doubt a reference to the song’s title — otherwise, the song has seemingly no connection to the 1929 incident that may have been the basis for “The Night Chicago Died”) is just as awesome.  And whether you celebrate St. Valentine’s Day or not, I hope you enjoy this video for what it is:  a rockin’ video for a rockin’ song.

P.S.  I will try to post more often from now on, but since school comes first, I can’t promise anything.

P.P.S.  I love you.  You you you…

 

Jack White: The Discography (So Far) July 12, 2009

There are several reasons right now for me to post a (sorta) complete retrospective of Jack White’s albums (definition of “complete” depends on whether or not you count movie soundtracks he’s contributed to, guest appearances he may have made on other artists’ albums, or bands he was in prior to The White Stripes.  If you count any of those, this list is far from complete.  Sorry.  I kind of jumped on the Jack White bandwagon late and was not able to delve that deeply into his work.  So sue me).  One reason is that Jack White’s birthday was a couple of days ago (Thursday, to be exact).  Happy 34th, Jack.  Another reason is that his latest band, The Dead Weather, are coming out with their debut album, Horehound, later this month(and when I say “later this month,” I mean really really really soon.  Like in 2 or 3 days soon).  It’s about time, too.  I’ve been waiting for this thing since early March (actually, since around the same time this blog was started).  So in preparation for Horehound, and in honor of the birthday boy, I now present to you a detailed discography — in chronological order, mind you — of all the albums Jack’s released with The White Stripes and The Raconteurs.

 

The White Stripes

The White Stripes — The White Stripes (1999)

Way back in 1999, long before The White Stripes hit the mainstream, and shortly before lead singer/guitarist Jack White and drummer Meg White filed for the most amicable of divorces (though to this day they still claim to be siblings.  I’m sure they know they’re not fooling anyone anymore, but to be fair, maybe the whole reason why they got divorced was because their bond was too fraternal to last as a marriage.  So, for all intents and purposes, they have a brother-sister relationship), The White Stripes released their self-titled debut album.  Released when Mr. and Ms. White were still living in their hometown of Detroit, The White Stripes features a raw, savage sound best described as “punk blues” (it makes a lot more sense when you actually hear it), combining the structure and rhythm of blues music with the fast tempo and high volume of punk rock, while also embracing the minimalism that both genres share.  Minimalism is a key ingredient to The White Stripes’ credo, contributing to everything from the band’s primitive recording techniques to its very strict dress code (as The White Stripes, Jack and Meg are only ever seen wearing red, white, black, or any combination of those three colors), and though they’ve never abandoned their minimalist approach to music, on no album did they adhere to it more than on their very first album.

Recommended Tracks:  “Sugar Never Tasted So Good”; “Cannon”; “Broken Bricks”; “Screwdriver”; “I Fought Pirhanas”.

 

De Stijl

The White Stripes — De Stijl (2000)

The White Stripes’ sophomore album — named after an early-20th-century Dutch art movement (translation:  “the style”) that valued minimalism and geometric shapes — was released one year after the band’s debut album.  De Stijl saw the band dabbling in a more diverse range of genres, from the mid-1960s-pop-rock-sounding “You’re Pretty Good Looking (For a Girl)” to the bouncy piano tune “Apple Blossom”, to the country-tinged cover of bluesman Blind Willie McTell’s “Your Southern Can is Mine”.  Still, the punk blues sound that was so pervasive on The White Stripes still radiates heavily on De Stijl, most notably on songs like “Hello Operator”, “Let’s Build a Home”, and the band’s cover of Son House’s “Death Letter”.

Recommended Tracks:  “You’re Pretty Good Looking (For a Girl)”; “Hello Operator”; “Death Letter”; “Truth Doesn’t Make a Noise”; “A Boy’s Best Friend”; “Let’s Build a Home”.

 

White Blood Cells

The White Stripes — White Blood Cells (2001)

This is the album that launched the Stripes into the stratosphere of stardom, and all it took was one minute and 55 seconds of energetic retro-rock and the lego-filled video that went withit.  I’m talking about The White Stripes’ very first hit single — “Fell in Love With a Girl”.  A mere four years after Jack and Meg formed their candy-colored musical duo, they’d made the big time.  Soon to follow would be MTV apperances, speculations revolving around the nature of the pair’s relationship (one minute the public buys the idea that they’re brother and sister — I mean, heck, they look like they could be siblings! — and the next minute their divorce papers are circulating around the internet…someone has some ‘splaining to do), and the inclusion of “We’re Going to Be Friends” (in my humble opinion, the greatest song ever released by The White Stripes, and quite possibly the greatest song Jack White has ever written.  So far, that is) in the opening credits of the love-it-or-hate-it (I happened to love it.  Though I didn’t love those of my peers who quoted it ad nauseam.  Way to ruin a good film, guys) teen cult film Napoleon Dynamite.  The band’s sound was remarkably different on White Blood Cells than on their previous two albums, relying less on the punk blues sound and more heavily on straight-up garage rock.  However, in spite of the slight change in style, White Blood Cells is no less ecclectic a collection than De Stijl, gathering influence from country (“Hotel Yorba”), 1970s hard rock (“Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground”), 1970s soft rock (“The Same Boy You’ve Always Known”), folk (“We’re Going to be Friends”), scat (“Little Room”), mid-1960s proto-punk (“Fell in Love With a Girl”) and Citizen Kane (“The Union Forever”).

Recommended Tracks:  “Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground”; “Fell in Love With a Girl”; “The Union Forever”; “The Same Boy You’ve Always Known”; “We’re Going to Be Friends”; “I Can’t Wait”; “I Can Learn”.

 

Elephant

The White Stripes — Elephant (2003)

If White Blood Cells was the springboard from which The White Stripes leapt into stardom, Elephant was the huge splash they made when they landed in it.  Elephant features the riff-driven “Seven Nation Army”, which remains the Stripes’ biggest hit to this day.  And that’s just the beginning of the impact Elephant made on the band’s career.  Elephant won the Stripes their first two Grammy awards in 2004 (Best Alternative Album; Best Rock Song for “Seven Nation Army”).  Also on Elephant is “The Hardest Button to Button”, the video for which was parodied a couple years later on an episode The Simpsons in which The White Stripes themselves made a brief cameo.  Once Elephant was let loose, the Stripes were practically unstoppable.  Pretty soon they had a week-long gig on Late Night with Conan O’Brien, and Jack White started doing crazy celebrity things like appearing as a minor character in a war epic, dating an actress or two, getting into a tussle with a former protegee, making occasional onstage appearances at Bob Dylan concerts, and collecting taxidermy (oh, wait — he was already doing that).  But anyway, back to what’s really important about Elephant:  the music.  The White Stripes’ fourthalbum saw them returning to their blues-rock roots with songs like “Black Math”, “In the Cold, Cold Night” (featuring Meg White’s first ever lead vocal), and the unbearably sexy “Ball and Biscuit”.  Yet the Stripes also continued to experiment with a variety of different styles.  “Seven Nation Army”, though undoubtedly a rock song, has a beat that can be easily danced to (Mom, if you’re reading this, please spare me the Dick Clark reference), while “There’s No Home for You Here” features multi-tracked vocal harmonies that sound like a weird hybrid of The Beatles and Queen.

Recommended Tracks:  “Seven Nation Army”; “Black Math”; “I Just Don’t Know What to Do With Myself”; “In the Cold, Cold Night”; “You’ve Got Her in Your Pocket”; “Ball and Biscuit”; “The Hardest Button to Button”.

 

Get Behind Me Satan

The White Stripes — Get Behind Me Satan (2005)

Sometime around 2005, Jack White evidently felt the need to unleash his inner Leon Russell.  Thus, he grew some facial hair, developed a strong attachment to wide-brimmed hats, and released the piano-heavy Get Behind Me Satan.  In spite of the album’s title and cover art, Jack White’s quasi-gothic appearance at the time, and the dark quality of the album’s first single, “Blue Orchid”, as well as the eerie video that went with it, Get Behind Me Satan contains some of the lightest, most pop-oriented material The White Stripes have yet produced.  Though, in my opinion, Get Behind Me Satan is altogether a relatively weak album (especially when it had the misfortune of following Elephant), it does contain some of Jack White’s most beautiful, introspective songs, with “Ugly as I Seem” and “I’m Lonely (But I Ain’t That Lonely Yet)”.

Recommended Tracks:  “My Doorbell”; “Forever for Her (Is Over for Me)”; “Little Ghost”; “The Denial Twist”; “As Ugly as I Seem”; “I’m Lonely (But I Ain’t That Lonely Yet”.

 

Broken Boy Soldiers

The Raconteurs — Broken Boy Soldiers (2006)

In 2006, the music world was introduced to Jack White’s new band, The Raconteurs.  Joining forces with solo artist Brendan Benson and The Greenhornes’ Little Jack “LJ” Lawrence and Patrick Keeler, Jack and his new bandmates preferred not to call their supergroupa “side project”, but instead a “new band made up of old friends.”  Their retro-style brand of modern hard rock proved that The Raconteurs had potential for staying power and appealing to a wide audience.  Having three additional band members rather than just one also helped take some of the pressure off of Jack’s performance, as he got to share vocal and guitar duty with Benson.  The Raconteurs also gave Jack some room to play withsounds completely separate from The White Stripes’ material.  It is quite easy to distinguish a Raconteurs song from a White Stripes song, and there are many Raconteurs fans who prefer them to The White Stripes.  That fact alone is enough evidence to suggest that The Raconteurs were more than just a side project.  As for me, I enjoy bothbands about equally (though I lean a little more towards The White Stripes, if only because they have more material out).  Listen to both if you want to decide for yourself.

Recommended Tracks:  “Hands”; “Broken Boy Soldier”; “Together”; “Yellow Sun”; “Blue Veins”.

 

Icky Thump

The White Stripes — Icky Thump (2007)

To the relief of all the White Stripes fans who thought Jack had abandoned his soul sister so he could continue playing with the boys, Jack and Meg returned again with Icky Thump.  And for all we know, Mr. White may have needed that year off with another band to refuel his peppermint-flavored creative juices for The White Stripes.  Because Icky Thump is a darn fine album, and showcases a diversity of musical styles that spans further than the Stripes had ever dared to reach before.  Jack celebrates his Scottish heritage with the bagpipe-driven “Prickly Thorn, But Sweetly Worn” and “St. Andrew”.  And though The White Stripes have performed many covers before on previous albums, few — if any — are as unusual as their latin-flavored cover of Patti Page’s 1952 hit “Conquest”.  Yet, with the Stripes’ ever-increasing exploration of different styles on Icky Thump, there’s still plenty of room for the classic garage rock/punk blues sound that The White Stripes started out with, which can be heard on such songs as “Bone Broke”, “Little Cream Soda”, “Rag and Bone”, and “Catch Hell Blues”.

Recommended Tracks:  “You Don’t Know What Love Is (You Just Do as You’re Told)”; “300 M.P.H. Outpour Blues”; “Little Cream Soda”; “Rag and Bone”; “A Martyr for My Love for You”; “Catch Hell Blues”.

 

Consolers of the Lonely

The Raconteurs — Consolers of the Lonely (2008)

In 2008, The Raconteurs set out to prove that they weren’t just a one-album wonder.  And what a way to prove it.  This is the very album that made me a Jack White fan, and so will always hold a special place in my heart.  I was convinced that good rock and roll had gone down the tubes (and I don’t mean the London subway system — though I do remember seeing huge ads for Consolers on subway walls when I was in London last summer) until that fateful day in late January when I went out on a limb and decided to check these guys out (well, that and I needed a recent album to review for my reviewing and publishing class.  The same class responsible for me starting this blog, now that I think about it).  But enough about me.  This album is a prime example of how modern rock can still…well, rock.  The trick is to pay homage to older music, without adhering too firmly to any one genre.  Take, for example, “These Stones Will Shout”, which begins with a Cat Stevens/Donovan type of gentle folk, and gradually builds up to a powerful Zeppelinesque hard rock sound.  And that just barely scratches the surface of how awesome and diverse this album is.  Within the fourteen songs featured on Consolers, one can hear the essence of such genres as folk, blues, country, punk, bluegrass, 1970s metal, southern rock, hard rock, soft rock, and spaghetti-western-soundtrack-type-music (see “The Switch and the Spur”).  So please excuse my gushing; after all, this was the first album — the first anything, really — that I ever wrote a review for.  And before I go about paraphrasing the entire review I wrote for class, let me just finish by saying this:  Consolers of the Lonely was robbed of a Grammy.  Coldplay can stick their Rock Album of the Year award…uh…somewhere where it will be very painful to stick a small metallic gramophone.  Like…up their nose or something.  And that’s the end of my uncharacteristically biased rant.  My apologies to Coldplay and anyone who may be a huge Coldplay fan.

Recommended Tracks:  “Salute Your Solution”; “Old Enough”; ‘The Switch and the Spur”; “Hold Up”; “Top Yourself”; “These Stones Will Shout”; “Carolina Drama”.