“Make It Known” by Foxygen
“Make It Known” by Foxygen
Lets operate under the assumption that one 80s band had to come back twenty years later. It was a necessity, so all the late 80s babies who didn’t remember Reagan could embrace Flashdance necklines and side ponytails and screaming cheeseball lyrics at bars. I wish we’d put it up for a vote. (Now there’s an 80s party—round up your friends, a couple of podiums, and a gavel, and prepare to debate the finer points of Wham! and White Snake. Extra points for costumes, kamikaze shots for all!) If we had, my vote would be on legendary facial hair titans and talented punchlines of pop, Hall & Oates. (Do you hear that world? Now quit playing Journey, and making it possible for a band and a song to tire out twice.)
About a year ago, Joshua and I wrote a post about our Top 5 Worst Love Songs, and Joshua’s list featured the classic “Your Kiss Is On My List.” I groaned and giggled through the rest of the list but when I played that Hall and Oates gem, it stuck. It had that scary song magic, the kind that propels your finger forward to hit play over and over again, that runs the lyrics through your head and pushes them out of your mouth as you walk around the house. Sometimes that song magic is awesome and I manically play “Make It Known” by Foxygen 12 times a day until I know every crevice and cranny of it and can luxuriate in it and announce it to all music loving friends. And sometimes I know all the words to “Va-Va-Voom” by Nicki Minaj and shut up, it happens.
So lets say, like me, you’ve contracted songitis of the Hall & Oates persuasion. Lets say you want to play it from the rooftops, but maybe, just maybe, don’t want to blast the originals again and again like you’re the DJ for a strip mall dollar store. The bird and the bee have a solution for you.
Interpreting the Masters Volume 1: A Tribute to Daryl Hall and John Oates is an album of charming, respectful Hall & Oates covers. They maintain the catchiness but slightly update the originals with a more layered sound and a female vocalist (Inara George). The covers remain fairly true to the originals—there’s no cute trick here, they’re not stripped down or made acoustic, they could slink into any 80s mixtape and get along with their mixtape-mates. But they sound a little fresher, a little better, and a lot less like Hall & Oates proper, which is important when you find yourself playing their songs incessantly.
I’ve been hooked on their cover of “Rich Girl,” which popped up on a playlist last Sunday as I made coffee.
“What is this? I really like it,” my 80s-music-hating boyfriend said.
“A Case of You” by Joni Mitchell, cover by Prince
“Rich Girl” by The Bird and The Bee
“Little Green Bag” by George Baker Selection
“Make Out Club” by Unrest
Oh wait! Just kidding! I guess I actually love her. This isn’t even a guilty pleasure confession—I’m like the idiot boy in teen movies who never realized he was in love with his hot best friend because she was so busy supporting his dreams and wearing glasses. I think I’ve genuinely respected Britney Spears and liked Britney Spears for years and never realized it.
“Are you out of your mind?” my boyfriend asked this morning, after I barged into the bathroom while he was showering to say “Do you think Britney Spears might be a punk rock feminist icon and we never noticed it?” And you might agree with him—I won’t barge into your shower to convince you otherwise. But maybe, just maybe, before we broach the various elaborate Britney Spears theses unspooling in my mind, you might dip your toe in the B. Spears waters and check out what other artists have done with some of her hits.
“Womanizer” cover by Lily Allen
Does a British accent always class up the joint? Not always. But Lily Allen’s charming, inescapable British accent plus a piano, as well as stripping all the sleek, produced instrumentation in “Womanizer” and subbing in a jazzy, bare bones band? That’s a recipe for classy, one that you could throw most any song into with excellent results. Lily Allen seems like a fellow covers fan, and does quite a few: other favorites include her cover of “Naïve” by The Kooks (which I can no longer find—anyone have a good link?) and her cover of “Straight to Hell” by The Clash.
(Really unrelated to everything bit of Lily Allen trivia: Did you know her brother is Theon Greyjoy on Game of Thrones and her song “Alfie” is about him?)
“Gimme More” cover by Sia
“Gimme More” is a fine pop song, but no one remembers it for it’s radio play. A consummate performer with multiple iconic music videos under her belt, Britney Spears’ “Gimme More” video looked like a late night commercial for a phone sex line. Everything about it felt forced, from the midriff baring outfits (Spears, though still gorgeous, had joined basically every other woman on earth in not being able to look flawless in a leather crop top) to the beginners-hip-hop-class dance moves. Her droopy performance of “Gimme More” that year at the VMAs commanded a collective “Oh…honey” from living room audiences across the country. She was going through a lot and seemed exhausted; little did we know, she was sharing that in her catchy new single.
Sia captures the surprising sad, exhausted undercurrent of this song. She slows it down and delivers it with a hoarse, weary voice. It’s a cover that illuminates the original song: How exhausting to have a crowd demand “gimme gimme more,” how true to Spears life at the time when she was paparazzi bait, her every mental health misstep breathlessly reported by blogs and tabloids. When you listen to the Sia version, you realize that half the song is a manic repetition of the plea from an unknown crowd for more, more, more from Spears. Is it any wonder her next song would ask again and again “Do you want a piece of me?”
“Oops! I Did It Again” cover by Richard Thompson
This isn’t a joke cover, and that’s why I love it. It would’ve been so easy for it to be a pat on the head, “isn’t pop music just the worst?”, eyerolling/borderline mansplainy sort of a cover, which would’ve been funny to fans who agree, and sort of a musical nuisance otherwise. But Richard Thompson commits and delivers the song with the same gravity and fervor that he lends to all of his songs. He even has the audience join in, and though they giggle, they hit all the marks. It’s like Richard Thompson, who I love but have always viewed as the sort of artist who belongs more to my father than me, prodded the audience with a “You know and I know that you know all the words. Let’s just embrace this and enjoy it.”
“Toxic” cover by Stevie Ann
There are about a million covers of “Toxic”—noteworthy ones include Mark Ronson’s cover featuring Tiggers that samples Ol’ Dirty Bastard (most fun cover), Yael Naim’s cover (most famous cover), and a cover by Nickelcreek (most bluegrass cover).
Listen to the ones above and feel free to disagree, but I think Stevie Ann’s cover is the most awesome of the lot. Stevie Ann’s silky voice and acoustic stylings transforms “Toxic” into something luscious and soulful. This already seductive song is made more so, and what was once perfect fodder for a club is suddenly perfect for a date in front of a fire, cheeks flushed and eyes wide, a dwindling bottle of red wine at your side.
“Everytime” cover by Glen Hansard
“Everytime” is already sad: it does that magic trick that only breakup songs can pull off where simple, cliche lyrics strung together start to sound powerful. (Breakups, when you get down to it, almost always rest on cliches. That’s part of why the experience is so universal, and the breakup song genre persists.) The video takes that sadness to a new level by having Britney Spears drown in a bathtub, and showing glimpses of doctors unsuccessfully trying to revive her.
You might remember Glen Hansard from “Once,” a lovely film with a killer soundtrack that won a Best Song Academy Award. The cover is fairly true to the original, with the inclusion of Glen Hansard’s lovely brogue and a fiddle. “What have I done/ You seem to move on easy” stands out as a wrenching moment from the original that, in this cover, momentarily knocks the wind out of me.
These covers are of a…special breed. On a guttural level, they make you, at best, do a spit take, and at worst, throw up. These are covers that simply are surprising or ridiculous or ones perhaps best left alone. But don’t leave them alone. I can’t stop listening to them. I knew about a few of these for a while, but some I went looking for. If you want a really hilarious afternoon, google “worst covers of all time.” You will not be disappointed.
“Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” by William Shatner
This has been parodied much and more since it was first let out into the public, and with good reason. It’s ridiculous. Perhaps the impetus of the original song was actually LSD, but the impetus of this cover is must’ve doing ketamine with your best friend, William F. Buckley. (In other words, it’s unbelievable, horrifying, yet still somehow terribly boring.) I’m not sure what Shatner was trying to achieve with cover, except being the butt of a decades-long joke about spoken word. There’s nothing wrong with poetry set to music (I’m a huge fan of Saul Williams’ efforts to this end), but turning a relatively decent song (I’m actually not a huge fan of the original song) into spoken word is crazy. At least he was a good enough sport about it to make fun of himself on Futurama.
“You Shook Me All Night Long” by Celine Dion and Anastacia
“I have a great idea. Let’s take a washed up singer of the most annoying song in existence (you know what I mean), put her on stage with someone I’ve never heard of, give them both auto-tuners attached to their mics, and have them cover one the most popular AC/DC songs ever made.”
“Ok, wait. I’m so confused already. Presumably everyone hates Celine Dion after “My Heart Will Go On” was stuck in everyone’s head for the entire second half of the 90s. Why are you letting her be on stage?”
“Dude, just trust me here.”
“I’m having a hard time. Especially when you have her paired with someone who I’ve never heard of and, apparently due to the level of auto tune correction, cannot actually sing the cover.”
“But the kids, they love the auto tune!”
“No they don’t! And I can’t imagine many children want to see Celine Dion, if anyone under 25 even knows who she is!”
“Yes they do! And they’ll be totally thrilled while they’re singing it!”
“Clearly, they aren’t. Look into that crowd. No one is even paying attention!”
“Just stop, dude, I know. She has the pictures.”
Hence, the only reason this cover would’ve ever happened is from blackmail. I got it now.
“Ring of Fire” by Olivia Newton-John
The general idea of a cover is either be as faithful to the original as you can while adding your own voice to the thought, or create an entirely new take on the song. This is version is both and neither. She added nothing to it, while somehow disco-fying (yeah, deal with it) the country. I’ve nothing against women doing versions of songs originally done by men (see the wonderful covers of “The Weight” by everyone ever, but specifically Aretha Franklin), but this is just wrong. I knew of another cover of this song done by Social Distortion, so I had to go looking for others. When I came upon this version, I nearly shat my pants. Who does Olivia Newton John think she is? You don’t take on Cash without a modicum of depth and reality, and she has none. It’s a patently ridiculous cover, and I hope that any royalties for the song she gave to Cash’s estate. Not that anyone is playing this song.
“Smells Like Teen Spirit” by Paul Anka
There are rock songs that work in the swing paradigm. I’m thinking here of that great cover of “The Sickness” that was in the Dawn of the Dead remake – who did that? Anyway, this song is apparently a staple of surprising cover artists. When I looked around for it, I found Miley Cyrus covered it. I’m fairly sure she wasn’t even alive when Nevermind was released. This should not be allowed. But the Anka cover shocked me even more than Cyrus’ version, which was fairly straightforward. This cover, for a lack of a better phrase, just does not work. These lyrics are not meant to be said with any sense of diction; they’re meant to be growled into a mic while you disinterestedly scan the audience. I get trying to shift the music type, but once Mr. Anka tried singing it out, he should’ve sent the recording into the trash. If it weren’t for the lyrics, the music shift would’ve worked.
“Mahna, Mahna” by Cake
This cover is so ridiculous I couldn’t believe it existed at first, but if any one was gonna cover this song, at least it was a band that thoroughly does not take itself seriously, as Cake does. It’s not a cover I’m going to put on all the time, and certainly not one I recommend to those looking for good Cake covers (of which I will be writing about later this week!), but it surprisingly works. The instrumentation perfectly hilarious, down to the underwater-sounding keyboard break that made someone on the recording crack the hell up. I wonder if the Muppets would like this version as much as I do.
“Swimming Pool” by Toy Love
“If We’re Still Alive” by Slow Club