Saturday, September 5, 2009

Beatles Covers: Dear Prudence

Ramsey Lewis: Dear Prudence


Thought I'd take us out this week with something mellow, and nothing better serves the purpose than a selection from Mother Nature's Son, ivory-tickling jazzman Ramsey Lewis' instrumental take on the White Album.

The tune builds, to be sure -- this isn't lite jazz by a long shot. But wordless, divorced and diverted from the child's message of wonder and hope which the original frames through its praise of day and beauty, the melody takes on a late-night longing all its own. A fitting end to a mixtape of Beatles covers, or our own week's foray into the theme.

Beatles Covers: The Lonely Hearts Club Edition

Salamander Crossing: Things We Said Today


I posted a Salamander Crossing track about six months ago - nothing says Beatles like the banjo (just kidding!... but that is Tony Furtado sitting in). I do love this bluegrass version with accompanying fiddle... and a small snippet of I've Just Seen a Face ("falling, yes I am falling") - pay attention during the instrumental break after the bridge or you'll miss it...

The Nields: Lovely Rita


The Nields are another group I've introduced to this forum - what's not to love about this part-psychedelic/part-rock/all-fun bouncy tune about a meter maid, featuring Dar Williams in the background chorus? (rhetorical question)...

Earth Wind & Fire: Got to Get You Into My Life


Before I begin writing a post, I always go into Star Maker Machine's back catalog to make sure I'm not duplicating a previously-chosen musical entry - in this case, I found the song had already been used, and stunningly written about by BoyHowdy... but, since the link is dead, figured this would be the perfect occasion to re-up... :-)

Beatles Covers: Hey Jude

Mutato Muzika Orchestra: Hey Jude


Among the most surprising developments of the last 20 years to any child of the early 80's who fancied himself a post-punker is the ascendancy of Danny Elfman and Mark Mothersbaugh as two of the preeminent film and television composers in the world.

They both deserve their status though. From the excellent The Royal Tanenbaums soundtrack, this is Mothersbaugh's arrangement of Hey Jude. It's an instrumental, and it doesn't deviate much at all from the original, but I still think it's really cool.

Beatles Covers: I'm So Tired

Elliott Smith: I'm So Tired

[Can't be purchased]

Elliott Smith covered The Beatles all the time in his live shows. I never got to see him before he died, unfortunately. I think he still had a lot of great music left in him.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Beatles Covers: The Long and Winding Road

Aretha Franklin: The Long And Winding Road


There are some artists whose songs are often improved by coverage, or at least stretched beyond their original bounds – Dylan or John Prine, for example, write damn good songs, and their performance is something special indeed, but their broken voice and delivery just aren't versatile enough to preempt the plethora of nuanced interpretations which bring new and gorgeous diversity to their respective songbooks, often evoking a fuller range of emotions which were harder to hear in the growled original. There's nothing wrong with that. It's just how it is.

The Beatles, on the other hand, are hard to out-Beatle. From the manic crash-and-cry of Helter Skelter to the delicacy of Blackbird or Julia to the pomp and circumstance of Penny Lane, the boys had a knack for finding just the right tone for a myriad of narratives. As such, Beatles coverage is a wonderful thing – I've posted some good ones myself in the last week or two, and enjoyed thoroughly the gems which my fellow Starmakers have posted before me this week – but in most cases, it's hard to argue that the version is truly an improvement on the original.

Still, once in a while a singer manages to make a Beatles song even better, and it's hard to beat the aching, longing soul that Aretha pours into what I've always considered one of the weaker, dare-I-say sappier tracks from the Fab Four canon. Atlantic Records producer and “godfather of soul” Jerry Wexler provides a perfectly balanced swirl of early seventies keyboard sound and punctuated rhythm that functions as a startlingly effective tether for Aretha's raw emotional power, too. The result: perfection. Lead me to your door, indeed.

Beatles Covers: Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)

The Nudes: Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)


I have mentioned The Nudes before and, upon re-reading my entry, I see that I even gave a heads-up to BoyHowdy as to this Beatles cover - now here I am posting it myself!

I love the Middle Eastern sound of the percussion, cadence and strings (echoing George Harrison's sitar in the original) - the harmonies add an extra layer of mysticism and mystery...

There are some fascinating backstories and references on the song's Wikipedia page, including many possibilities as to what the lyrics mean as well as the definition of Norwegian wood - all I know is that it's a Beatles tune that never fails to make me feel good... or even better, depending on my mood...

Beatles Covers: For No One

Rickie Lee Jones: For No One


Rickie Lee Jones burst upon the scene in 1979, riding Chuck E’s in Love up the charts. She then proceeded, over the course of her next several albums, to establish herself as a remarkable songwriter. Then, out of nowhere, she released Pop-Pop, an album of all covers. Somewhat of a shock to those of us who had followed her career to that point, the album wound up emphasizing her skills as an arranger and interpreter.

Since then, Jones has periodically interrupted her songwriting showcases to release further albums of all covers. The one released in 2000 was called It’s Like This, and it included this version of For No One. Jones gives the song a spare arrangement, mostly piano with some organ for color, and the songwriting shines through. Jones’ version eloquently conveys the loneliness of the lyric.

Beatles Covers: Strawberry Fields Forever

Los Fabulosos Cadillacs (con Deborah Harry): Strawberry Fields Forever


In '95 Los Fabulosos Cadillacs, an Argentine Band, released Rey Azucar (Spanish for King Sugar). Produced by Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth of Talking Heads, the album included guest appearances by Mick Jones and Deborah Harry. Here then is a reggae version, sung in Spanish, of Strawberry Fields Forever, con Deborah Harry.

Guest post by Bert

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Beatles Covers: Don't Let Me Down

Dillard & Clark: Don't Let Me Down


Doug Dillard (from the Dillards) and Gene Clark (from the Byrds) joined forces for two pioneering country-rock albums in the late sixties. "Don't Let Me Down" is from the second, Through the Morning, Through the Night. The raw singing on the original is replaced with full folk-country harmonies, but the music still has an edge to it--check out the bass solo during the instrumental break.

It doesn't matter which version I listen to, the insistent refrain plants itself in my brain for the next 24-48 hours. And that's a good thing.

Beatles Covers: Mother Nature's Son

John Denver Mother Nature's Son


Mother Nature's Son has been covered by at least six other artists that I'm aware of, but I always imagine John Denver hearing it for the first time and thinking, "Dang! I should have written that song!"

Paul wrote Mother Nature's Son in response to a particular lecture by the Maharisi Yogi while The Beatles were in India. Lennon wrote the unreleased Child Of Nature following the same lecture (you may recognize the melody, which he reused on the Imagine album).

This has always been one of my favorite songs, and in spite of all of the covers, I think McCartney's version is the best version by far.

Beatles Covers: Yellow Submarine

Chris Eckman: Yellow Submarine


The Walkabouts are a Seattle based band. Chris Eckman, songwriter and Carla Torgerson, vocalist form the nucleus. In 2006 a Beatles cover album was released in the U.K. entitled Mojo: Revolver Reloaded. Yellow Submarine was covered by Chris Eckman. I find this to be a pleasant voyage.

Guest post by Bert

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Beatles Covers: A Hard Day's Night

Otis Redding: A Hard Day's Night


This live performance comes from Good to Me: Live at the Whiskey a Go Go, Vol. 2. It was recorded back in 1966, when Otis was at the height of his powers. While the original Beatles version of "A Hard Day's Night" concentrates its energies on the youthful exuberance of seeing your girl after a long day of work, Otis' gritter version puts more emphasis on the long day of work. And you can feel it.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Beatles Covers: All My Loving

Suzy Bogguss and Chet Atkins: All My Loving


It's a little bit country, it's a little bit rock and roll - I don't even recall how this CD came into my possession but, upon googling, I find that Come Together: America Salutes the Beatles was released in 1995 and has quite an impressive line-up of engineers, singers and musicians...

Most of it is, in my opinion, fairly forgettable, with many of the tracks sounding similar to the original rather than attempting to re-invent - however, this cover by Suzy and Chet feels invested with love, playfulness and flair, taking an already-catchy song to another level in a completely different genre...

Beatles Covers: I Will

Tuck & Patti: I Will


The Beatles became known for their arrangements and their innovative production techniques, especially in the later phase of their career. But strip all of that away, and you are left with the brilliance of the songwriting. This plays to Tuck & Patti’s strengths. They find the best written songs they can, and arrange them for voice and guitar. That’s it. So naturally, they are drawn to the music of The Beatles. I Will is a fine example of how this works. Aside from a great song, there are two elements that must be present. These spare arrangements leave neither the singer, (Patti Cathcart), or the guitar player, (Tuck Andress), a place to hide. So they must be first rate, and they are. Tuck & Patti give a jazz lilt to everything they do, and it really works here.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Beatles Covers: Help

Deep Purple: Help


Back in 1983, I was a expanding my musical world outward from the Beatles and into...heavy metal. Not sure how that happened, but it did. I blame it on "Helter Skelter".

One day I was at a local discount store, rummaging through their bin of discount cassettes. Remember those? Coming of age in the Walkman era, cassettes were my preferred format for listening to music until CDs (remember those?) became ubiquitous. I used to love digging through those bargain bins!

But I digress. So I was rummaging through the discount cassettes, and I came across an album by Deep Purple. Newly converted to the headbanging cause, I knew that Deep Purple were a band I needed to have. So I bought the cassette, which was called Shades of Deep Purple. When I popped it in my cheap Walkman knockoff, I realized right away that this was not quite the same band as the one that recorded the ur-riff "Smoke On the Water". This was psychedelic. Some of it was quite catchy.

I did some research, and discovered it was their debut album, from 1968, and they had a different singer (and a different bassist) than the band that recorded all those '70s classics. Despite my initial disappointment however, I ended up falling in love with the album.

The early Purple were indeed a psychedelic band, in the mold of Vanilla Fudge. They often recorded long, drawn-out psychedelicized covers. (They also recorded shorted bursts of psych-pop, like their cover of Joe South's "Hush", which was the big hit from this album.) On Shades of..., they applied the Fudge formula to John Lennon's most famous cry for help. Hearing the lyrics slowed down was an eye opener.

They recorded three albums with this lineup, before bringing in Ian Gillian's leather lungs for In Rock. To my ears, Shades of... is the only one of the three that still holds up.

Or maybe it just like the memories of my younger self the album evokes. I'm definitely listening to it through nostalgia-colored glasses.