Top 5 Dream Covers (by Claire)

I’ve been thinking about dream covers ever since this post, in which I requested that Joshua get a band together and start doing filthy funk interpretations of saccharine James Taylor jams. I stand by the fact that “You’ve Got a Friend in Me” could be downright dirty, if given the appropriate timing and musical accoutrements.

Until that cover gets made (oh please? someone? I can’t really sing, but I’ll play the hell out of a triangle if it means making this cover happen), here are five more dream covers. Leave yours in the comments!

“Birdhouse in Your Soul,” by They Might be Giants, covered by Alison Krauss and Emmylou Harris

Only the honeyed voices of Emmylou Harris and Alison Krauss will do when it comes to a reimagining of “Flood.” Picture the quiet loveliness of Emmylou’s voice on “Road Movie to Berlin” or Krauss crooning “Sapphire Bullets of Pure Love.” And what sweet magic would they lend to quirky classics like “Whistling in the Dark” and “Particle Man”? Ralph Stanley could sit in on “They Might Be Giants,” and I want Lucinda Williams in the studio getting rowdy on “Twisting.” “Birdhouse in Your Soul” would be stripped down to just short of a capella, their voices paired with a lone fiddle, and a banjo making brief, rapidly plucked cameos.

“Radio,” by Lana Del Rey, covered by Andrew Luttrell and Rosie Thomas

Lana Del Rey got caught in a mean spirited game of SEO one upmanship several months ago. Music bloggers battled it out to see who could make her sound the most like a harbinger of the apocalypse. This SNL skit really sums up my feelings on this.

Del Rey is no Carol King, but she makes decent, sometimes interesting pop music and I don’t think she’s a sign of the end times for humanity or modern music (and if you think that, you haven’t been paying attention to pop music. You have so many other things to be horrified about)  “Radio” is one of those sometimes interesting songs. The lyrics and tune are kind of fun, and the whole song could be more interesting if it was divided into a duet and outfitted with different singers.

The duet concept? A couple is tested by the newfound musical fame of one partner. They banter and flirt, but the whole dialogue is edged in genuine worry that all this radio fame will have an impact on the relationship.

A: Now my life is sweet like cinnamon/ Like a fucking dream I’m living in/Baby love me cause I’m playing on the radio/How do you like me now?

B: Pick me up and take me like a vitamin/ Cause my body’s sweet like sugar venom oh yeah

A: Baby love me cause I’m playing on the radio

B: How do you like me now?

The singers: Andrew Luttrell, who has the guitar chops and straightforward, slightly gruff delivery one half of this duet requires.  His musical sparring partner is Rosie Thomas, who sounds like honey and rosewater and is adept at revealing layered, complicated forms of sadness through her voice.

“She’s Got You,” by Patsy Cline, covered by Lauryn Hill

Lauryn Hill and Patsy Cline share an aptness for keeping slow, slightly mournful numbers entertaining. They also don’t require much in the way of backup: A stripped down Lauryn Hill track is riveting, and Patsy Cline’s voice fills and carries each song. When I think about Hill covering this song, I can hear her cover of “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You,” or her song “Selah.” I know this would be equally haunting and beautiful. Much like my “Allison Krauss and Emmylou Harris Take on They Might Be Giants” scheme, I would be a happy girl if I found a whole album of Patsy Cline covers by Lauryn Hill (Although I would be a happy girl if I found a whole album of just about anything by Lauryn Hill.)

“Marionette,” by the 5 Chinese Brothers, covered by Warren Haynes

I became so obsessed with this cover idea about six or seven years ago that I briefly considered pitching it in a letter to Warren Haynes. I had Let’s Kill Saturday Night on heavy repeat around the time I saw Warren Haynes do a solo show in Philadelphia. It was one of the best shows I’d ever seen. Warren was charming, the acoustics were insane, and his versions of well known songs made you feel like you hadn’t known those songs very well after all. I rarely walk out of a show starry eyed and thoroughly pleased, ready to pledge allegiance and endless fan-ship to the artist. This was one of those shows.

I heard “Marionette” for probably the 100th time a few days later and could hear how Warren Haynes voice would sound on it. He would amplify the sadness and anger. He would lend some gravel voiced magic to it. “Marionette” is already great, and his version could be sublime.

“You’ve Got Her in Your Pocket,” by The White Stripes, covered by Mavis Staples

More Mavis Staples, guys. The world needs more Mavis Staples. Her album with Jeff Tweedy was great. Her 2011 version of “The Weight” with Wilco and Nick Lowe  haunts my dreams. “You’ve Got Her in Your Pocket” would sound amazing with her voice, and could be such a different song without Jack White’s high pitched musical stylings. Ideal situation: Jack White produces the cover, maybe even plays guitar on the track. They strike up a friendship and make an album together. And we get a great cover, another great album, and most importantly, more Mavis Staples.


Get the Band Back Together: A Mixtape for Joshua

Last week Joshua and I wrote posts about our Top 5 songs at 16, and both posts highlighted our early, local show going. Joshua kept it high brow (or at least non-embarassing) with Laughing Colors and Kelly Bell Band shows, I lowered that brow considerably with Voodoo Blue shows, and we both talked about our mid-teens love for The Bridge. But there was one shared show-going experience that we left out: Going to Joshua’s shows.

I saw Joshua play a lot in high school and in college—at art school coffeehouses,  in sweaty ballrooms at synagogues, at open mic nights. I saw him play at big parties and small parties, and one summer I saw him play once a week at these boozy balcony gigs. And he was good; not “Hey! Look at my friend with a guitar!” good, but genuinely good.

There’s a chapter in Nick Hornby’s “Songbook” where he talks about how much he respects Rod Stewart’s early work (a surprising point that I was prepared for based on this blog by Joshua). Nick Hornby says that Elvis Costello has some ideas for bringing Rod Stewart back to the masses, and Hornby himself has some ideas, and the chapter ends with a music geek daydream of reviving Rod Stewart’s career. I guess what I’m saying, Joshua, is that in this scenario you’re Rod Stewart, and Elvis Costello and I routinely talk about your musical future while eating sundaes and playing Trivial Pursuit (…in my dreams.) So here are some songs to listen to, to cover, and to think about as you get the band back together. And if that chapter on Rod Stewart taught me anything, it’s to stay away from straw hats. That’s my only piece of production advice (Elvis Costello will, of course, cover the rest.)

“Stop Talking,” by the 5 Chinese Brothers

I’ve always thought that you would really like the 5 Chinese Brothers, if I could just get it together and give you their albums. And since I haven’t, and am sure that I will forget the next time I see you, they’re at the top of this list. Singer Songwriter Beggerman Thief (the album this song is from) is one of my all time favorite albums and features some themes I think you could get down with—Baltimore love that borders on dislike, distressing father/son relationships, and breakup songs. Really, really good breakup songs that are so quotable they’ll spin through your head indefinitely. “I only wish you loved me/ Half as much as you’re enjoying this” is one of my favorite quotable moments, and it’s in this song (also see “I Always Knew” and “Don’t Regret”).

“Sledge Hammer,” by Peter Gabriel

One of the funnest, rowdiest covers I ever saw was when The Bridge covered “Sledge Hammer” at the Recher, probably 10 years ago. This is a song that was made to be covered at shows. It perks up a too mellow crowd, turns non-dancers into dancers, and gives the energy in the room a swift kick in the right direction. It’s classic Peter Gabriel mind control—though never a big fan, he has a few songs that are powerful tone-changers, that will swing the mood pendulum of your audience where ever you need to swing it. (Also if you found out that Peter Gabriel has scary mind control powers, would you really be surprised? Top 5 Maybe Mind Controllers: Peter Gabriel, David Byrne, Sting, Peter Frampton*, that girl who sings “Call Me Maybe”**)

“Rosie,” by The Bridge

You know how neither of us listen to The Bridge any more (other than in throwback, nostalgic ways)? This song made me wonder if we should change that. Also, though I haven’t heard you sing since some long ago karaoke night (did you sing, or did you just make Ashley and I sing “Ebony and Ivory”? Memories.), I think your voice would sound awesome on this.

“Let’s Straighten It Out,” by O.V. Wright

This is, in fact, already a cover, but a very good one, and I found it lodged halfway through “Songbook,” a book that solidifies Nick Hornby’s status as the unwilling godfather of the Charm City Jukebox. I like it because it’s not a break up song, or a love song—it’s a song that sounds and feels sexy, but in reality is about working on difficult issues in a long term relationship. It’s slow too, but not too slow, so if at some point you need to cool down your “Sledge Hammer” fueled audience, this would be an unexpected place to take them. Trust me, after listening to those songs back to back, it does the trick.

“You’ve Got a Friend,” by James Taylor

I’ll be honest: I think James Taylor has all the corny charms of frequent-pun-users and shiny, eager kids who try to convert you outside of college Student Centers (Taylor, to his credit, is not a pun abuser or Christ peddler, but on the scale of minor annoyances, they’re all on the same level)

One of the weirdest reading experience I ever had was with “Girls Like Us,” which tracks the careers of Carly Simon, Joni Mitchell, and Carole King. It’s a great book, and there’s nothing particularly odd about it, except for the characterization of James Taylor, who comes across as a troubled drug addict rock star sex god. It’s not a new character; anyone who has ever seen a movie about musicians or read a book or fallen down a Wikipedia rabbit hole knows that’s pretty par for the course. But James Taylor? Really? It was like finding out Randy Newman got his start in porn.

While “Girls Like Us” made me take a new look at James Taylor the man, the Isley Brothers made me take a new look at James Taylor the musician. They turned “Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight” into soulful bedroom soundtrack fodder, and made me wonder if other Taylor songs could be re-imagined into something raunchy and delightful.

“You’ve Got a Friend” is a sugary song about the joys of friendship that, if delivered with a raised eyebrow and some solid funk, could be downright raunchy. Imagine it as an ode to long-standing booty calls (“You just call out my name/ And you know wherever I am/I’ll come running to see you again”). It’s an interpretation that could be simultaneously sexy and hilarious, since this song was relegated to the world of middle school choirs and youth group campfires long ago. It’s like finding a hidden, dirty double meaning in the Sesame Street theme song. Take a cue from the Isley Brothers and unlace this straightlaced Taylor gem.

* The title of Frampton Comes Alive! was Peter Frampton’s confession that he is a zombie.

**One day Carlie Rae Jepsen will rule us all. Exhibit A.

Top 5 Hometown Songs (claire & joshua)

Hometown songs: What reminds you of home? And what do you listen to when you get there?

Claire’s List

Birdhouse in Your Soul, by They Might be Giants

The first apartment was home to a family of spirited termites, who made quick work of our kitchen and forced the super to rip out the kitchen tiles and replace them with something incongruously spiffy. I picked raspberries with my mom in the summer from the bushes behind the building, and after daycare I watched Gilligans Island and My Two Dads repeats while I built block castles in front of the TV. My parents were young and tired and seemed impossibly glamorous, with their revolving door of friends, piles of records, and the occasional champagne bottle iced in my old sand bucket.  I lived in that apartment until I was six years old. This song (this album really, but we’re not on that list yet, are we?) was part of the soundtrack of those early Baltimore, little kid years. 

You Ain’t Going Nowhere, by the Byrds

Long before the Wire, America’s cultural touchstone for Baltimore, there was Homicide. In one episode, a character mentioned how you never get out of Baltimore, really. No matter where you end up, you come back. My father thought this was hilarious. (Note: He will deny this entire story. Look forward to his rebuttal “Claire’s false memories about conversations she wasn’t in and TV shows she wasn’t allowed to watch as a child.”) When I asked him why, he said “Because it’s true.”  The chorus of this song has always reminded me of that. You laugh at being here. Or you laugh at the well intentioned folks across the country whose eyes go wide when they learn where you’re from. (And how could I ever explain hot crabs caked in Old Bay, Ronnie slinging drinks that you wouldn’t dare call cocktails as regulars heckle the O’s, the Orthodox families meandering down the middle of the road on Friday nights, the cold so bitter and the heat so thick and honey suckle scented? Sure it’s like the Wire, buddy. TV is 100% real. Didn’t you know that?)

Baltimore, by the 5 Chinese Brothers

I was six years old (or some other short, shy sort of age) and the 5 Chinese Brothers were playing at a record shop. My parents and a gaggle of my father’s high school friends sat up front, but when the music started, I ran away to an aisle in the back of the shop and started to dance. I was wearing a twirly, swirly number, and I spun and snapped, my skirt swishing as they sang about fathers, and Baltimore, and girls who swayed to old girl group songs. I was a painfully quiet kid. The world outside my tight circle of stuffed animals and dolls was mostly terrifying. But that night I danced and danced and fell in love with “Singer Songwriter Beggarman Thief” and would over and over again, through every stage of life, a little more each time. This song I loved first. Still do. 

Dance Tonight, by Lucy Pearl

No one remembers Lucy Pearl. But you should. An early 90s hip hop one-album-super group, composed of members of Tony! Toni! Tone!, A Tribe Called Quest, and En Vogue, Lucy Pearl should’ve gotten bigger than their minor hit on the “Save the Last Dance” soundtrack. I loved homecoming dances. At our school, they were nonsense parties, based around sports teams no one paid any attention to (I went to an arts school without a football team. Our pep rallies involved blowing bubbles in a field…and that’s about it). The chaperoning was minimal, the dancing was deeply inappropriate, and the whole thing was one big fun, Top 40 fueled, sweaty mess. The fun really started in the hours before, when I would slip into my dress and flat iron my hair (a rarity, back then) and let my mom do her meticulous makeup handiwork. Lucy Pearl, so upbeat but mellow, a little funky and pop-py in the best way, was the perfect soundtrack for those pre-homecoming rituals.

Uncle John’s Band, by the Grateful Dead

Fellow children of Deadheads, if you didn’t endlessly listen to this song, and like it from the get go (unlike the Dicks Picks and dawdling cassette boot legs, which were alternately brilliant and incoherent), then your parents probably only went to 10 shows or some other lunacy. Stop calling yourself the children of Deadheads. To the rest of you, I’ll see you at the meetings.

Joshua’s List

Light Up My Room, by the Barenaked Ladies

When I was 17 or so, I broke up with a girl who cheated on me. I was devastated. Yet somehow, I was able to meet a new girlfriend within weeks of ending that relationship. I was taken with her and decided I wanted to put my new guitar playing “skills” to work wooing this lady. I decided to learn how to play this song, which is uniquely beautiful. It’s not a love song, per se, but it does paint a breathtaking picture of familiar love, of two people who live with each other and love each other dearly. If you’ve not listened to it, and you like love songs, try it.

Dear Maggie, by the Kelly Bell Band

Maybe this is in bad taste, but this song relates to the same girl from the previous song. A few months into dating (which is, of course, an eternity in high school), I took a road trip with a church choir to play bass for them. On this trip, I was intensely homesick and this was compounded by this girl who was totally up on my shnutz. I’ve never cheated on someone but this was the most tempted I’ve ever been. I stood my ground and refused her advances. The whole time I couldn’t shake this song. Its lyrics seemed to float in reference in my mind between my girlfriend and this temptress. At the same time, the first line in the chorus, “Dear Maggie, can you help me please?” seemed like a reverent supplication to a higher power, asking what I should do. The song is tough to listen to now but it’s still one of my favorites.

Li’l Darlin’, by Count Basie
I was 13 years old when I first played this song. I can remember my middle school jazz band conductor screaming at us to get the staccato notes in the main melody right every time I turn it on. The single notes are particularly tough for a band to get super tight. Every band member has to not only hit them at the precise moment, but they have to be the exact length down to the millisecond and have to fade from loud to soft to loud all with in the span of less than a second. These are the kind of things that it’s tough for adult bands to do and we teenagers were being asked of perfection. And it worked. We won many a band competition based on the strength of this ballad. This song is the reason I say that I’m a sucker for ballads.

When It Rains, by Brad Mehldau
I love to make mix tapes. And Rob Gordon was right, there is a formula one must follow when making one. However, there isn’t a consensus on what one should end the tapes with. Some believe you need to make it end on extremely high note with an up-tempo song that leaves the listener wanting more. I’m of the belief it’s better to build up to that song with a few songs before it, then end with a denouement that leaves a feeling of total satisfaction, usually a ballad or a slower song. This is the song I set as a gold standard for that. It starts and ends slow and has an absolutely stunning solo by Mehldau in the middle section then fades back to slow. But what makes this song hit home so hard is that I have always wanted to make music like this. Before I broke my wrists, I was a pretty decent jazz bassist. I spent nearly 10 years of my life playing jazz and this is the perfect example of music I wanted to be a part of and now I’ll never be.

Mushroom (live, off of eleven/fifteen), by Laughing Colors

I know I said I like to end with a ballad, but I had to save this song for the last. It’s the song. There is no other song that reminds me of home more than this version of this song. And the version is so specific, too. When I was in high school I was in love with this band. I would see them play at the Recher all the time in the best triple bill of all time: Laughing Colors, Kelly Bell Band, then the Almighty Senators. Those of you not from Baltimore may not understand this, but those are the Holy Trinity of Baltimore local bands. And this was the pinnacle of that achievement for me. I only had this live version of the song because I was poor and could only afford to buy this album for a long time. And what it album it was. The best part is that this song isn’t even that good in the scheme of good songs. I just am wildly attached to it. And I really don’t care if you don’t like it or judge me for liking it.

Honorable Mentions:

The Bridge – Rising Sun: A band from Baltimore I got into before they were (slightly) famous. This is their best song. Claire knows what I’m talking about.

Old Crow Medicine Show – Wagon Wheel : This was excluded from the main list because it wasn’t a hometown song, but a song that reminds me of all the people from St. Mary’s. I suppose if I ever moved from Maryland it would be hometown-ish. Everyone I knew at St. Mary’s knew this song, and half of those people could play it.

Pink Martini – Sympathique: Claire and I both took French language classes for many, many years. This song, also introduced to me by the girl half this post was written about, reminds me of a simpler time, struggling through the ridiculous conjugations the French language has. Also, the song is totally French. The lyrics to the chorus, in English, are: “I don’t want to work, I don’t want to eat, I just want to forget, and then I smoke.” Classic.