Another thing we did at my old site was a series of cover wars. I’m reprinting them all in one post here, just so any new readers can see what they were all about. They were pretty fun. dunno if I’d do them again, though.
COVER WARS: BRITNEY VS. MADONNA
Both are formerly hot chicks, one of whom got ls hot naturally, the other of whom got less hot through hard livin’. Neither are known for their songwriting. In fact, it’s hardly fair to call Brit a songwriter–Madonna was at least somewhat involved at all stages of her career. Nevertheless, I asked myself, “How do their tunes stand up to the cover treatment?”
Let’s put my favorite indie covers of their songs, head to head, and find out.
Britney’s dance classic easily crosses genre boundaries into hillbilly rock. Borderline doesn’t translate as well into Americana. Adam Duritz’s mournful wail helps the song transcend total lameness, but he can’t save it. Winner: Britney.
Nicotine’s postpunk cover does nothing to change the original, and as a result it’s kind of flat. Sonic Youth, however, manages to make an innocuous dance song sound creepy. Largely due to the skill of the performance, I’m giving this to Madonna.
In the mash up round, Britney pulls out Beyonce and Fergie–two ladies with far better voices than her own–while Madonna turns only to formerly-indie superstars Death Cab. This is a very close call, but I’m going with the chick with the crazy driving habits on this one.
In the gals with guitars round, Giant Drag pulls their female-version-of-Chris-Isaak trick while Stevie Ann goes with a more earnest, singer-songwriter approach. Both do interesting things with the material, but “Oh Father” is clearly a much better song for this style of music. Winner: Maddie.
With the score tied even, we go into the guys with guitars round. Jack Johnson is far from a favorite of mine, but he does a nice job here. Unfortunately, he’s up against Travis, who turns Brit’s tune into one of the best covers of all time. Give it up to the bald chick one more time!
I’ve only allowed for one more round here. Isn’t the suspense killing you? Who’d a thought she’d have made it this far? And by she, I could mean either one of them! (I’m deliberately being ambiguous.) Time for the funny treatment.
Chad is definitely funny, but it’s one-hit-wonder kinda funny (pun intended). Ryan is just frickin’ hysterical. Plus, thus far I’ve noticed that I enjoy a variety of different songs when it comes to Madcovers, but only a few for Brit Brit. So, Madonna wins this one, and I’m giving her the edge for her versatility and longevity. That makes her the first Berkeley Place Cover War Champion! Congrats! Someone call and tell her.
COVER WARS 2: BRUCE VS. THE STONES (Round One)
Of the two biggest bands to cross the pond, The Beatles were clearly a far superior group of rock and roll songwriters than The Rolling Stones. So why not have the fab four cross swords here? Well, first of all, there’s just no competition. The Beatles have been covered way more, way better, and by a much larger variety of bands. Plus, don’t tell anyone this, but . . . I like the Stones better. They weren’t as interesting politically or personally, they’re all about the money . . . It’s kind of like preferring Kanye West to Common. Which I do, too. So, my favorite British rock and roll band will face off against the greatest American rock and roll songwriter.
No, not Bob Dylan. He’s more folk-y. And, frankly, although he’s a had a few albums that I’ve listened to so many times I’ve memorized them, and wrote a song that perhaps became the greatest cover song in history (Jimi’s “Watchtower,” natch), I just like Bruce more than Bob, notwithstanding the breadth and depth of Bob’s catalog, Bob’s superior storytelling ability, and Bob’s proven ability to successfully tackle a wide variety of topics. It’s kind of like preferring Jay-Z to NaS. Which I do, too.
Finally, is it fair for Bruce to take on a whole gang of guys? I say it is because even though the Stones have had more members and have been around longer, they have clear weaknesses. They’re past their prime, for one: Bruce is probably gonna get a Grammy for Magic, but when was the last time folks talked about a new Stones album? And for two, Bruce did go on his own and record “57 Channels With Nothin’ On” (shiver!), but Mick Jagger went on his own and recorded “She’s The Boss” (sound of violent, choking vomiting).
So, today, is the first post of several in this war. When you’ve got two giants facing off against each other, you need to clear the countryside and get ready for some Godzilla-size stomping.
Today, in round one, it’s gonna be random covers. But I’ve got more focussed plans for the rest of this battle.
First, some sultry chicks take on the gravelly Bruce and the vocally acrobatic Mick.
On the Bruce side:
And batting for the Stones:
Well, in this face-off, if we’re going just by the quality of the singers, the folks who chose Bruce have the edge. But there’s more to this. (And I’m not talking about how hot Tori is. Grrrr!) No, we’re looking at how well the songs lend themselves to reinterpretation. The Cowboy Junkies do a phenomenal job on a cover of Thunder Road, but I gave you Highway Patrolman inst
ead because Nebraska is such a brilliant album. Dar Williams’ cover is the best of these six, and it’s also off the N album. On the Stones side, The Concretes manage to turn the testosterone-fueled “I need sex” romp into a romantic tune, but Tori simply takes a song that makes you want to cry and turns it into a song that makes you want to kill yourself. How hard is that? Grace covers one of the worst Stones songs ever, but she does what she can with it.
I’m going for Bruce on this battle. But that’s not the whole round. What can club bands do with these guys?
Most of these covers are pretty straightforward, they borrow but don’t supplement the original. Except for Marah’s whirling dervish. The original Streets is a slow tune, a walking tune, but Marah makes it a rollicking stomp.
Winner again, Springsteen.
Looks like he takes Round One!
COVER WARS TWO: CALIFONE’S ROLLING STONES TRIBUTE CONCERT vs. COUNTING CROWS COVERING SPRINGSTEEN (round two)
For those of you who don’t know, Califone are an incredibly interesting experimental Americana band. Check this out, from their latest album, Roots and Crowns, on Thrill Jockey records:
Anyhoo, in 2004 the band got together and did a short set of Stones songs. Yesterday, we posted round one of this week’s cover wars. Round two begins with this great Califone set. The really cool thing about it is that instead of covering the tunes everyone else covers, they chose an Exile-heavy set list and really rocked out. I love this show. Quality is pretty good, too. Hope you dig it. No zip file this time because there’s only seven tracks.
So, who has done a Springsteen tribute show? Well, I don’t have a whole show, but I do have two songs. Adam Duritz makes two manly mournful songs into two plaintive whines. But if you’re gonna listen to whining, it might as well be Counting Crows, one of my all-time favorite mainstream rock bands.
And the winner is . . . The Crows do a great job, but there’s only two songs here. Califone are truly ambitious, and it’s pretty ballsy for a small-time band to take on the world’s biggest rock band. Hmmmm. I’m tempted to call it a draw, but that’s the pussy way out. So, I’m giving round two to . . . Califone. And, therefore, The Rolling Stones win it.
COVER WARS TWO: ROLLING STONES VS. SPRINGSTEEN, BY CLASSIC ROCKERS (Round 3)
Bruce took round one. The Stones took round two. Who’s gonna win this? Well, we won’t find out today. But we will get treated to lots of great rock bands covering our heroes.
First, Pearl Jam:
Waiting on a Friend is a lame song, and nobody’s gonna argue that “No Surrender” is Bruce’s best, and between these two covers, I just can’t pick. It’s a good thing, then, that Bette Midler covered Beast of Burden. Totally soured me on it. So Pearl Jam pulls it out with Atlantic City. Score one for Bruce.
Next: Warren Zevon.
Warren is probably my personal favorite songwriter, so I’m never all that stoked to hear his covers. But he worked with Bruce a lot, and manages to take the silly Cadillac Ranch and add the bittersweet irony of his raspy snarl. I’m not as hot on what he did with Stop Breaking Down. And although it’s a good blues song (and not a Stones original, I know), how much can you do with three bars and a sad mood? So, score two for Bruce.
Steve is a great performer, and I really dig his State Trooper, but for his Stones cover he chooses Mick over Keith in my favorite Keith tune (yeah, I dig it more than Happy). The Stones get a point here, but it’s too late to matter.
Round 3 goes to Bruce!
And here’s one to grow on:
COVER WARS 2: BRUCE VS. THE STONES (Round Four)
In the fourth gonzo round, I’m just gonna slam you with a bunch.
Winner: Bruce. If you download just one song today, make it Carbon Leaf’s cover of I’m On Fire. It’s awesome.
Two punk versions. I love Joe, but this is early in his career so I don’t feel bad giving it to One Reason here. It’s not a great cover, but they show how the source material can really be stretched. Score two for Bruce.
The Josh Ritter cover is ubiquitous, but is it extraordinary? No. Cat’s is both–she truly makes the song her own, and shows that it plays just as well when a gal does it. Stones get their first point of the day.
And who can go up against this fantastic Ted Leo cover? None other than Liz Phair. And she crushes him. Plus, if she wins I get to post a pic of her.
Score now tied, two to two.
Two bands not known for covers in poor quality boots. I’m giving it to The La’s, but just barely.
The Stones pull it out and win the fourth post!
COVER WARS 2: BRUCE VS. THE STONES: FINAL ROUND
I think I’ve done a nice job for you here and I deserve a pat on the back. Instead, though, I can’t rest. There’s a war on! And right now, Bruce Springsteen is neck-and-neck in this barfight with the great Rolling Stones. Can America beat Britan? We’ll find out today, by the end of this post.
The crudest Stones song versus the crudest Bruce song. Okay, “I got a bad desire” is nowhere near as graphic as, “When’ll I get my ass fucked,” but Bruce is too vanilla, too serious, to ever have the kind of fun Mick is talking about. Clear winner in the some-things-are-better-left-unsaid category: The Stones.
This matches up a light electronica version of Bruce with a grunge metal version of the Stones. Neither artist has ever ventured into these styles, so we have a chance now to see how their work fairs in a disparate genre. I’m giving this one to Bruce because although the Soundgarden cover kicks ass, the Chromatics cover kicks ass and balls.
Merry Clayton brings a soul-y, R&B version of the classic Stones tune Gimme Shelter that is fantastic. Any soul versions of Bruce out there? The closest thing I’ve got is Tracey Thorn’s sultry voice in Everthing But The Girl’s cover of one of my favorite Bruce tunes, “My Hometown.” She manages to turn a political song about labor and the middle class into a weeping love song. She takes it. That means after taking two rounds in a row, Bruce is in the lead.
Purely on performance, Bruce takes this one, too. Billy’s cool and all, but Britt is almost a God to me. As for writing, though, the Stones have the edge. Stray Cat Blues is a classic, one of my favorite songs by any band, any year, any time. The Stones win, but they’re still down by one. They’ll have to win this next one, or it’s all over.
And it’s over. Dead Flowers is one of the most-covered tunes in history, but State Trooper is similarly popular. And this Veils version is too good not to get the vote.
U.S.A.! U.S.A.! Bruce, take your garland, tiara, and make a speech.
PATTERSON HOOD’S ROLLING STONES AND BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN SHOWS: Post War Peace Agreement!
Patterson Hood, star of the Drive-By Truckers, has performed complete sets of songs written by the two opponents of Cover Wars Two, posted all this week. First, in 2006, he performed six Mick and Keef tunes. To wit:
Its an awesome show, bested only by his Bruce tribute set, performed last year . . .
Now, we’ve already picked our Cover Wars winner. But this proves, we all CAN just get along!
And don’t forget the new Drive-By Truckers album, coming out later this month. I heard one song off of it, and it might have been the best DBT song I’ve ever heard.
COVER WARS: CYNDI VS. BYRNE
In the turn of the decade into the ’80s, The Talking Heads started working with famed producer Brian Eno. Under his able hand, the band started releasing more accessible nerd pop than they had before.
That was when the band broke to a wider audience. In 1983, “Burning Down the House” became their first top 10 hit. They were something of an anomaly at the time, but soon lots of top ten bands would produce neurotic, clinical pop songs (see: Men Without Hats, Men at Work, etc.).
The Heads’ influence can’t be denied. But, in same year of 1983, a strange and colorful girl who hung out with wrestler Lou Albano (the big fat dude known for wearing rubberbands all over his face) exploded all over Madonna’s scene with popular music that wasn’t exploiting sexuality, but still sang about it. Sometimes rather lewdly. But when Cyndi sang pop songs about sex, the sex was meaningful. That was probably the big difference between Lauper and Byrne: The latter is entirely sexless. I like The Talking Heads, but it was for me to get really passionate about them because, well, their music wasn’t passionate. It was calculated and precise.
So, whose brand of pop translates better into the world of covers? Let’s find out.
*Note: The more popular tunes are posted individually. For the rest (and all the individual savefiles, too), go to this zip file.*
First round is moody indie guys. Naturally, Cyndi’s songs would tend to translate better here because she, too, made moody pop. But on the other hand, The Heads are widely known as the fathers of indie rock itself. Such a battle! But after the fur is done flying, Death Cab is still standing and Cyndi has her first point. Just barely.
Girls Just Wanna Have Fun-Toonces
Psycho Killer-Jason Isbell
A castoff from The Drive By Truckers versus an odd but edgy guitar band. No contest. The Talking Heads score one, tying it up one to one.
Girls Just Wanna Have Fun-Greg Laswell
Okay, what the fuck is this? Is this Cyndi Lauper versus the Talking Heads, or Girls Just Wanna Have Fun versus the Talking Heads? Two keyboard-based band, Voxtrot kills it.
She Bop-Howie Beno (Featuring Cruella DeVille)
Psycho Killer-Bishop Allen
A techno-ish version of Cyndi’s ode to wacking off versus a fast, indiepop take on David Byrne’s ode to a wack job. I’m going with Bishop Allen on this, but it’s close because Beno’s version is a riot. That puts the Heads in the lead, three to one. Time to catch up, Cyndi.
The mash-up manages to retain the message (pun intended) of both songs, as well as the mood. An ace project, to be sure. But the Talking Heads mash up is excellent, as well. It loses points, though, because it only really includes the hook. Point: Cyndi!
I really dig WW’s take on the Cyndi standard here, so I’m not gonna hold it against Lauper that this seems to be the only song of hers that many folks remember. Just about the only band that can wail as good as Wakey is The Editors. God, this one’s so close. But wait! Arcade Fire are coming from behind! They smack Cyndi with a chair and none of her wresting buddies can save her! Cheap shot, guys. I’m gonna give it to Cyndi. But I think this is more a mercy fuck than a love pick.
Once in a Lifetime-Smashing Pumpkins
Time after Time-Everything But the Girl
I love the EBTG tune, but you won’t find it here or in the zip file because it’s on their “Acoustic” major label release. It’s good, but since they need the RIAA to give them the hype, I’m going with this live bootleg from The Smashing Pumpkins. It’s a close call again, though, because Billy is just making up his own lyrics.
Bottom line: Pretty evenly matched, but The Heads win. Take your victory lap!