Fab(ulous) covers

9 07 2009

More than their haircuts, the suits, the Ed Sullivan Show, the cover of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band or even “Beatlemania” in general, the Beatles, in my estimation, are known for writing an incredible amount of mind blowing original material.  Even early on in their recording careers, John and Paul, and to a much lesser extent George, put together enough original material to round out their first few albums and make a handful of chart-smashing singles.  They even had enough songs left over to give to up-and-comers like the Rolling Stones, Gerry and the Pacemakers, Peter and Gordon and Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas.

Still, from 1962 to 1964, the Beatles were still something of a cover band.  Instead of doing what many in the pop world did regularly, i.e. playing canned tunes written especially for them, the Fabs did what they did in their club days: they played the rock and roll they loved.

To say I’m a fan of their original material would be an understatement of staggering proportions.  But I really love a lot of their cover songs, too.   I’ve been listening to the Capitol Years Vol. 1 lately, really paying close attention to their execution of others’ music.  Perhaps I’m being unfair to the original recording artists — after all, how do you compete against the best band in the world, even with your own material? — but I love the way the Beatles treated most of that work.

This is my list of the 10 best Beatles cover, with the names of the songs’ writers.  I’ve culled this list only from original, official EMI/Capitol releases, set aside recordings from Hamburg or even the sanctioned BBC discs.

  • Slow Down – Larry Williams
  • Matchbox – Carl Perkins
  • Roll Over Beethoven — Chuck Berry
  • Leave My Kitten Alone – Little Willie John, Titus Turner, James McDougal
  • Twist & Shout -Phil Medly, Bert Russell
  • Long Tall Sally – Enotris Johnson, Robert Blackwell, Richard Penniman
  • Rock N’ Roll Music – Chuck Berry
  • Words of Love – Buddy Holly
  • Baby It’s You  –  Burt Bacharach, Mack David, Barney Williams
  • Anna (Go To Him) – Arthur Alexander




Great TV theme songs

20 04 2009

At nights when I can’t sleep, I think about ridiculous themes and topics.   The one that kept me up last night was great TV theme songs.  All these, in my opinion, are songs that are good independent of (or in spite of in some cases) the TV shows to which they were connected.

I’m thinking of these themes more as songs and less as nostalgia bits, but if you enjoy them because they take you down memory lane, that’s cool.

Barney Miller — Gotta love that fat, funky bass line.

Happy Days — No, I’m not talking about the theme song made the show.  That was a trite piece of garbage.  Some of you may not remember but for the first season of the show, Bill Haley’s “Rock Around the Clock,” an early rock masterpiece.  The clips in the show intro fit the spirit of the song, almost as if it were a video.

Batman — This song is one of the first songs kids try to learn when they get a guitar.  The show was campy, but cool.  The song has been covered by a number of bands, including respectable outfits like The Jam.

The Dukes of Hazzard — When I was 7, there wasn’t a cooler show on TV than the “Dukes of Hazzard.”  It was brilliant.  At 37 the show seems…well…embarrassing.  But theme song, sung by country legend Waylon Jennings, is still cool.  Had it not had such a strong connection to the show, it would have stood on its own as a solid country hit.

WKRP in Cincinnati (outro or closing theme) — That song rocked!  One of the best parts about it, though, was that the lyrics were completely and utterly uintelligable.  I’m not even sure they were sung in English.  Maybe they weren’t “lyrics” at all but simply grunts and groans.  This youtube video nails that.

Miami Vice — Because we were dorks, my good buddy, Mark, and I got together as many Friday evenings as we could for a year or two to watch “Miami Vice.”  Awesome stuff!  We so badly wanted to be Don Johnson that you could almost taste the mousse if you stood close enough to us.  Jan Hammer’s theme song was unquestionably cool…in our minds.  We drove around blasting it from the boom box on his front seat.  Man, we ate a lot of C batteries listening to that soundtrack.

The Munsters — I couldn’t tell you whether the deep brass instrument is some sort of tuba or a saxophone (maybe a tenor sax) but it make a one-of-a-kind sound.  The guitar was a brilliant bit of surf rock.  Too bad I couldn’t find a good copy of the original theme; this appears to be a remake.

Twilight Zone — Some of my funnest memories as a young kid were of staying up entirely too late to watch “Twilight Zone” re-runs with my Uncle Bob.  That show scared the crap out of me when I was a little guy, but it’s probably my all-time favorite TV series.  Everyone knows the eerie theme song.  It’s the little tune we hum or whistle when someone does or says something completely bizarre. I love it so much, I’m giving you the show intro, with Rod Serling’s voice over, and the theme music (instrumental.)





An example of trying too hard

23 02 2009

There is little else better in popular music than mind-bending lyrics.  Writers that can paint beautiful pictures with words always catch my ear, even if I don’t necessarily care for their music.

Lyrics really are works of art.  The question is whether or not any given set of lyrics are bad or good art (which is obviously largely a matter of taste.)

I’m turned off by lyrics that are too ambitious, that strain to pound home a message or that are too saturated with imagery.  It’s nearly impossible to quantify something like that.  It’s more of a matter of “I know it when I hear it.”

An example I keep running across is “The Glory of the Atom” by Ani DiFranco.  Just on paper, the lyrics are quite clever.  But they are preachy and arrogant, almost smarmy.  They are almost too artsy, if that can be said.  I can’t explain it better than to say the song drives me bonkers because the lyrics are just too much to take.  It’s like looking at a painting made of all neon colors.  The image might be beautiful, but one can only look so long before one’s eyes start to hurt.

Judge for yourself.





Video Flashback: Frida’s “I Know There’s Something Going On”

3 02 2009

6th grade.  My tennis shoe-roller skates were packed and ready to roll.  Jimmy, who was already a ladies’ man at 12, showed me how to feather my hair and helped me clean up as best as I could.  He had Jordache Jeans and a cool Members Only shirt and jacket.   I was probably wearing worn corduroys and a USMC t-shirt, the same outfit I wore 3 times a week.

We headed down to Skateland West in Westland, Michigan, for an afternoon of roller skating.  I suppose I was interested enough in girls that I wanted their attention, but I think I was more impressed in what Jimmy would think of me should a girl show some interest.  If I hadn’t been going there with Jimmy, my focus would have probably been on skating, which I liked.

Videos were still something of a novelty at that time.  No one in our town had cable so MTV had not reached us.  We saw videos on a big projection screen when we went skating.  The video that stands out on this particular trip was “I Know There’s Something Going On” by Frida, born Anni-Frid Lyngstad, the raven-haired former one-fourth of Abba.

I was pretty innocent in those days, but I was alert enough to catch the sexual undertones of the song.  The video seemed kind of risque, though I wouldn’t have used that word as an 11 year old.  Whether it was the song, the video or both, that few minutes in time nearly 30 years ago seered into my brain.

I saw the video once (until years later when I found it on youtube) and heard the song dozens of times on the radio.  It was (or seemed to be) a big hit at the time, but it’s not one of those songs that has found its way into the rotation of stations that play 80’s music.   Maybe this blog will start a revival. *wink*





The best Beatles songs you’ve never heard (sort of)

6 01 2009

beatlesbarWith the release of the Anthology series over a decade ago, dozens of Beatles songs that were found almost exclusively on bootlegs were made available to the public (with vastly improved sound quality.)  Nearly 40 years since their split, there’s not much left that people, especially fanatics, haven’t heard.

There are a bunch of songs, though, that you never hear on the radio or that you wouldn’t know unless you had Anthology 1-3 or Live at the BBC.  Let’s face it, the average person that really likes the Beatles has never heard some of these “deep cuts.”

Leave My Kitten Alone (Anthology 1)

Cry For a Shadow (instrumental on Tony Sheridan record and Anthology 1)

Too Much Monkey Business (Chuck Berry cover, Live at the BBC)

I’ll Be on My Way (Live at the BBC)

Youngblood (Live at the BBC)

Memphis (Chuck Berry cover, Live at the BBC)

Bad To Me (I’ve only heard this on a vinyl bootleg, Vinyl to the Core)

Lonesome Tears In My Eyes (Live at the BBC)

Sheik of Araby (Anthology 1 from their Decca Records audition)

Ain’t She Sweet (Anthology 1 from their recording with Tony Sheridan)

If You Got Trouble (Anthology 2)

That Means A Lot (Anthology 2)

Strawberry Fields Forever (Take 7 & edit from Anthology 2)

Got To Get You Into My Life (“somehow, someway”)(Anthology 2)

Helter Skelter (bluesy version from Anthology 3)

While My Guitar Gently Weeps (acoustic from Anthology 3).  I like this one much better than the White Album version.

Cry Baby Cry (Anthology 3 version)

Mailman, Bring Me No More Blues (Anthology 3)

You Know My Name (Look up the Number) (either the Anthology version or the b-side)

This is hardly an exhaustive list.  But, to me, these are the best of the other Beatles songs or alternate takes.

Add to this list the entire Let it Be…Naked album, which is a major improvement over the Phil Spector-produced 1970 release (the one we’ve all known for decades.)





Oasis vs Bob Seger (or “Rock N’ Roll Star” vs “Turn the Page”)

6 01 2009

I live my life in the city
There’s no easy way out
The day’s moving just too fast for me

I need some time in the sunshine
Gotta slow it right down
The day’s moving just too fast for me
I live my life for the stars that shine
People say it’s just a waste of time
When they said I should feed my head
That to me was just a day in bed
I’ll take my car and drive real far
They’re not concerned about the way we are
In my mind my dreams are real
Now you concerned about the way I feel

Tonight I’m a rock n roll star 2x

I live my life in the city
There’s no easy way out
The day’s moving just too fast for me
I need some time in the sunshine
Gotta slow it right down
The day’s moving just too fast for me

I live my life for the stars to shine
The people say it’s just a waste of time
When they say I should feed me head
That to me it’s just a day in bed
I’ll take my car and drive real far
To where they’re not concerned about the way we are
In my mind my dreams are real
Now you’re concerned about the way I feel

Tonight I’m a rock n roll star
Tonight I’m a rock n roll star
Tonight I’m a rock n roll star

You’re not down with who I am
Look at you now, you’re all in my hands Tonight

Tonight I’m a rock n roll star
Tonight I’m a rock n roll star
Tonight I’m a rock n roll star

It’s just rock n roll…

On a long and lonesome highway east of Omaha
You can listen to the engine moanin’ out his one note song
You can think about the woman
Or the girl you knew the night before
But your thoughts will soon be wandering
The way they always do
When you’re ridin’ sixteen hours
And there’s nothin’ much to do
And you don’t feel much like ridin’,
You just wish the trip was through

Here I am
On the road again
There I am
Up on the stage
Here I go
Playin’ the star again
There I go
Turn the page

Well you walk into a restaurant,
Strung out from the road
And you feel the eyes upon you
As you’re shakin’ off the cold
You pretend it doesn’t bother you
But you just want to explode
Most times you can’t hear ’em talk,
Other times you can
All the same old cliches,
“Is that a woman or a man?”
And you always seem outnumbered,
You don’t dare make a stand

Here I am
On the road again
There I am
Up on the stage
Here I go
Playin’ the star again
There I go
Turn the page

Out there in the spotlight
You’re a million miles away
Every ounce of energy
You try to give away
As the sweat pours out your body
Like the music that you play
Later in the evening
As you lie awake in bed
With the echoes from the amplifiers
Ringin’ in your head
You smoke the day’s last cigarette,
Rememberin’ what she said

Here I am
On the road again
There I am
Up on the stage
Here I go
Playin’ the star again
There I go
Turn the page
Here I am
On the road again
There I am
Up on the stage
Here I go
Playin’ the star again
There I go
There I go

The contrasts between the way Noel Gallagher and Bob Seger describe their craft, and resulting success, is fascinating.

It’s pretty clear which artist seems to be having more fun and it’s certainly not Mr. Seger.  Who would want to be in a band if the pay off is feeling lonely, strung out, cold, sweaty and hating your fans?  Sounds like torture to me.  It’s a great song — a true classic — but it is utterly depressing.

The Gallaghers have always had it right.  They are rock stars and they love it.  They’re shameless about it.  You’ll get no apologies for success or stardom from them.  Noel recently told Q (magazine) this about “Rock N’ Roll Star”:

If I ever meet that man that tells me ‘Rock N’ Roll Star’ is fucking shit, he’s getting a kick in his arse.  The words and the sentiment to that song, that what it’s all about.

I remember bringing it down to the lads in the rehearsal studio and rehearsing it and rehearsing it until the first time we played it live.  There was a hush after it, and it wasn’t the hush of people going [bewildered], ‘What was that all about?’

No one had ever said it in a song before.  Tonight, I’m a rock n’ roll star.  There’s six people watching you right?  You’re anything but a rock n’ roll star.  But in your brain you are a rock n’ roll star.  I hear that song by chance on the radio or whatever and I just think, D’you know what, man?  It’s still got it for me.  It’s wide-eyed and wonderful.

Sign me up, Noel.  I’m gonna dig the guitar out of the basement and start playing again.