Category Archives: Noise Variations

Noise Variations: “Blue Velvet” through the Years

In honor of David Lynch’s release on vinyl of his single “Good Day Today” (and our love of all things Lynch), Noise Narcs is posting on the music of, for, and about David Lynch this week. See our intro post (and claim of Lynch as a Philadelphian) here, and see the rest of the DLW posts here.

Few directors capture so well the menacing strangeness of America’s small towns and suburbs as David Lynch.  Twin Peaks gave this theme its full, soap-opera-length treatment, but Lynch had already begun to probe the heartland of darkness in earnest five years earlier with the masterful Blue Velvet (1986).

In the picket-fence town of Lumberton, U.S.A., young Jeffrey Beaumont (Kyle MacLachlan) is drawn like a reverse moth into an Oedipal nightmare of violence and sexual desire.  The film’s central image, its titular fetish, is a blue velvet stuff gag.

She wore blue velvet
Bluer than velvet was the night
Softer than satin was the light
From the stars
She wore blue velvet
Bluer than velvet were her eyes
Warmer than May her tender sighs
Love was ours
Ours a love I held tightly
Feeling the rapture grow
Like a flame burning brightly
But when she left, gone was the glow of
Blue velvet
But in my heart there’ll always be
Precious and warm, a memory
Through the years
And I still can see blue velvet
Through my tears

Tony Bennett was the first to have an early hit with the Bernie Wayne and Lee Morris penned pop song in 1951, a million years ago.  Soaring strings complement his crooning style.

Tony Bennett, “Blue Velvet”

In 1955, a D.C. doo-wop outfit, The Clovers, recorded their version of the song.  The Clovers would eventually be best known for their 1959 hit, “Love Potion #9.”

The Clovers, “Blue Velvet”

Taking their cue from The Clovers, a Cleveland-based doo-wop group, The Moonglows, recorded one of my favorite versions in 1957.

The Moonglows, “Blue Velvet”

Then, in 1963, the “Polish Prince,” Bobby Vinton conceived of Blue on Blue, an entire album of songs with the word “Blue” in the title.  “Blue Skies,” “Blue Hawaii,” “Blueberry Hill,” “My Blue Heaven,” etc.  This is inarguably the most famous rendition of “Blue Velvet,” hitting number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and staying there for three weeks.  It is also the version that opens Lynch’s film.

Bobby Vinton, “Blue Velvet”

And three other notable versions:

And of course:

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Noise Variations: Sneezing in Memphis, Tennessee

I’ve been thinking about Memphis all day. In light of MLK Day. In light of the excellent Joe Brouwer poem “Lines in Memphis, Tennessee.” In light of Martin Luther King Jr’s assassination on April 4, 1968 in Memphis. In light of his speech the day prior where he gloried in having lived through a previous stabbing and a little girl’s letter professing happiness that he didn’t sneeze when even a sneeze would have killed him. In light of King’s joy at having lived to having seen the sit-ins, the Bill, the marches, the mountaintop. In light of his refusal to fear, as he arrived in Memphis, the threats of “sick white brothers.” For he had seen the mountaintop. And was ready to face Memphis.

I’ve never been to Memphis. But I think of it often. Certainly, because of King. But also because it’s home to the greatest song ever written about a city. Or about fatherly love.

Chuck Berry’s “Memphis, Tennessee” (sometimes recorded just as “Memphis”) may not match King’s gravity or rhetoric, but it’s own small miracle. Against a jaunty jangled blues lick, Berry starts it off as a classic torch song for a distant love. Calling a long distance operator to try to get in touch with his baby. And as a torch song, it’s a near perfect example of the form. But then. Oh my. The reveal in the last stanza. And the song’s bottom drops out. And so does my stomach.

Last time I saw Marie she’s waving me good-bye
With hurry home drops on her cheek that trickled from her eye
Marie is only six years old, information please
Try to put me through to her in Memphis, Tennessee

And within twenty seconds, the song reverses itself. From erotic to paternal love. From staid to heart-wrenching. From a great song to one of the greatest songs ever recorded.

Chuck Berry, “Memphis, Tennessee”

Covers abound, with a surprising amount of good versions. And even the bad versions couldn’t wear away the brilliance of the song.

Faces: A subdued pedal guitar draws this version out. A fair version that fails to get that brevity being the soul of this song’s wit, but with a fun barnstorming ending. Rod Stewart’s vocals don’t suggest he has a particularly strong understanding of fatherly love. Sorry, Rod’s seven kids. Wait, what? He has another on the way at age 66?

Faces, “Memphis, Tennessee” [Buy]

Elvis Presley Look. It’s Elvis. Of course it’s excellent. But still a tad disappointing. Love the “jungle” era Duke Ellington drums that kick the song off.

Elvis Presley, “Memphis, Tennessee” [Buy]

The Monkees: A promising version that descends into disaster: an unfinished version. Love to hear the squeaky-clean band of Marge’s lunchbox swear at each other as they blow it.

Monkees, “Memphis, Tennessee” [Buy]

The Beatles: Neither this version, nor the Plastic Ono Band’s live take with Chuck Berry, are very good. But this version, live at the BBC, sure beats the crap out of the one for their Decca audition tape, which makes me doubt they had even heard the song before recording it. (The Stones also did a version. It sucks. Keith Richards solo demo is slightly better.)

The Beatles, “Memphis” [Buy]

Foggy Mountain Boys: Surprisingly, one of the better covers is the Foggy Mountain Boys’ bluegrass version. Keeps the tenderness, amplifies the song’s teasing jokiness.

Sandy Bull: The best cover, however, is a complete shocker. Ignoring Shakespeare’s advice about brevity, Bull stretches the song into an endless, perfect groove. Who knew this song could accommodate psychfolk so perfectly?

Sandy Bull, “Memphis, Tennessee”

The worst cover: This video of Hank Williams Jr. where he trades off every instrument. Like an asshole. He’s so busy playing all the instruments that he forgets to do the last verse. You know. The verse with the reveal. The most important verse. The worst. I hope his father called long distance (from the grave) to tell him what a crime against music he committed with this song. And everything else he’s done since.

Other covers of note: For some reason, as far as I can tell, Nina Simone didn’t cover this song. Why? “Memphis in June” is such a tease. Del Shannon has a solid straight-up version. The Statler Brothers do it country gospel style. The Silicon Teens come close to ruining this song with their cheesy new wave. Faron Young does a decent honkey tonk. The Ventures do a decent surf rock. John Cale does a sneering version that doesn’t really have a reason to exit.

And finally, one last note: this Fair article detailing King’s final years, when he railed against poverty, is very much worth a read.

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Happy Anniversary, Noise Narcs!

by Jared Schorr

Noise Narcs’ first post was one year ago today. What’s the traditional one year anniversary gift for a music blog? Paper, silver, a shutdown notice from the RIAA?

I was hoping for the last, but instead we get two gifts: a Noise Narcs show and a new feature. Still firming up details on the show, but expect mid-March and some fantastic bands. And we probably have room for one more band, so if you know one, tell them to get in contact.

The new feature? “Noise Variations,” where we tackle several cover versions of a song. And what could be more appropriate for an anniversary than best the annum song of all: The Zombies’ “This Will Be Our Year.”

This is a tall order for a cover. In my mind, “This Will Be Our Year” does no wrong. Only the brave (or the very foolish) would attempt it. The gorgeous, steady piano. The way Hugh Grundy’s drums, heavy on the hi-hat, kick in. Colin Blunstone’s perfect vocals: the phrasing, the way it trembles towards cracking, dancing around the beat, the way “go on” drops out of nowhere, dripping in echo. This is a song that knows at two minutes and eight seconds that it has accomplished everything a pop song can and so calls it quits. This is a song that makes me fall in love again every time I hear it: with it and my girl.

The Zombies, “This Will Be Our Year” [Buy]

So, with all that, do any of the covers match up? In a word: no. A lot of acoustic dreck. But there are some worthy of a listen, although none really hold a candle to the original.

The Mynabirds: This is probably best in class. Although the slide guitar throughout and so high in the mix makes this a bit overloaded, it takes the bare sweetness of the original and makes it swing. And fuck it: I love slide guitar. Although this version is great, it makes me wonder, desperately, what Willie Nelson would do.

The Mynabirds, “This Will Be Our Year” [Buy]

Dear Nora: As if recorded by the Velvet Underground with a toned-down Veronica Bennett instead of Nico. A lithe, little garage band version.

Dear Nora, “This Will Be Our Year” [Buy]

The Zombies (demo version): Wow. What a difference a take can make. Still a great song, but pales, pales, pales, pales in comparison to the original. The only thing that matches the studio version is Grundy’s drumming. There’s also a mono version with horns: better than the demo, but the horns just get in the way.

The Zombies, “This Will Be Our Year (Demo Version)”[Buy]

OK Go: This version needs a clever video. And euthanasia. At least he nails the “go on!” OK go away. One-year-old-blog burn!

OK Go, “This Will Be Our Year”[Buy]

Other notable versions: The Avett Brothers’ dreadful live take, Rose Melberg’s too cute by half ukelele version, Great Lakes’ points-for-clarinet track, and the Model Rockets’ slice of snearing grunge. Any we missed? Let us know in the comments.

Oh, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that Narcs Katherine and Matt K used it as their recessional.

And thank you, everybody who has read and contributed. Been a fun year. Come to our show!

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Everybody Loves to Love Somebody in Italian

Shame on us. After our two posts on covers of the immortal, Bee Gees-penned “To Love Somebody,” you think we’d have some expertise on the subject. But, even though we included Nina Simone’s version on one of those posts, I was still blown out of the water by Nina’s Italian version that Joey Sweeney played yesterday on hisYRock DJ set. Sure, the instrumentation is very similar to her English version, mostly just dialing up some generic strings, but oh my God does this translate well to Petrarch’s tongue. And Nina’s.

Nina Simone, “Cosi Ti Amo (To Love Somebody)”

Previously: Everybody Loves to Love Somebody, Everybody Loves to Write About To Love Somebody

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Mates of State Covers Tom Waits

Probably because they rhyme. And isn’t that as good a reason as any? The adorable parents of Magnolia and June are touring with John Panos and my personal guitar hero Kenji Shinagawa this summer, and they played the First Unitarian Church in Philly last night. I know I would see more bands I’ve been enjoying on my iPod for years if they would only hire Kenji to play with them. What an awesome, exuberant show. And that’s a completely unbiased, disinterested remark.

Of course I didn’t know this Tom Waits track before I heard the Mates’ version (from their new cover album, Crushes), but I was pretty sure it would sound completely different, in a good way. Sure enough! One’s a party, the other’s a good-night kiss: two sides of the same shiny coin.

Tom Waits, “Long Way Home”
Mates of State, “Long Way Home”

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Everybody Loves to Write about "To Love Somebody"

After Chris’s excellent post on the Bee Gee’s “To Love Somebody” and its covers, I couldn’t resist popping over to Wikipedia to get a list of other covers and then to MOG to listen to them. Wikipedia’s list has some hilarious artists covering it, and for once Mog’s library failed me in ways that please: thank the heavens they don’t have Billy Corgan’s or the double evil of Damien Rice WITH Ray LaMontagne’s version (!?!).

But after having listened to Chris’ versions (of which, I agree, Dara Puspita’s is the highlight) and a dozen more, the song itself still remains incapable of being ruined. Yes, even Bonnie Tyler’s “screaming equals passion” version, Michael Bolton’s douchebag version, Lulu’s just plain worthless version, and The Animals’ House of the Rising Suck version (amidst countless other middling ones) could not fool me into thinking that this song isn’t superb. As country, rock, R&B, or Indonesian garage, it excels.

Given my recent Booker T & the MGs post, it should be no surprise that one of my favorite covers involves Booker T & The MGs. And given my recent countrification, the second shouldn’t be a surprise either. Thanks, Chris, for shining a certain kind of light on this great song. I make no apologies for posting Rod Stewart.

Rod Stewart, “To Love Somebody w/Booker T & The MGs (Early Take)”

Flying Burrito Brothers, “To Love Somebody”

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Everybody Loves To Love Somebody

One of the latest releases from Sublime Frequencies (previously mentioned on NoiseNarcs here) is a compilation of music recorded between 1966 and 1968 by Indonesian a-go-go band, Dara Puspita (Flower Girls), whom the writers at Sublime Frequencies somewhat audaciously declare to be “arguably the world’s greatest all-female garage rock band.”  Feel free to argue in the comments.

Anyway, I was thinking about doing a post about them, but while doing some quick research on the group I came across their version of The BeeGees 1967 super-hit, “To Love Somebody.” So I decided instead to do a brief (and by no means exhaustive) round-up of some of my favorite remakes of that pop masterpiece.

In a sense, the song has no original version.  Barry Gibb wrote the song for Otis Redding, who unfortunately died in a plane crash before it could be recorded.  But take a moment to imagine what that would have sounded like.  It sounds awesome in my imagination.  Quite frankly, no other version could ever live up to it.

Nevertheless, we’ll commence with the song as recorded by the inimitable Brother’s Gibb:

The Bee Gees, “To Love Somebody”

Pretty excellent, but not really my favorite version.  With the exception of the opening verse, gently sung by Robin Gibbs (I believe), something about it seems a bit too precise, perhaps a bit overproduced with the soaring strings, French horns and fade-out.

Next, from what is probably her most commercial album, 1969’s To Love Somebody, here’s Nina Simone:

Nina Simone, “To Love Somebody”

In my view, there’s little wrong that Nina Simone can do.  This track and the rest of the popular covers on that album, while far from her best work, are no exception.

Now the much rougher Dara Puspita cut:

Dara Puspita, “To Love Somebody”

That is a lot of reverb, but it’s pretty sweet, don’t you think?  Imagine 9-year-old Barry Obama on the playground in Jakarta wallowing in the heartbreak of his 4th grade crush with the help of this song.  If you like it, then I highly recommend that you support Sublime Frequencies by paying them for an album.  This track happens not to be on their Dara Puspita compilation, unfortunately, but they’re a solid outfit that collects really awesome music from all over the place.

Last but not least, Janis Joplin slows it down.  Here’s a rendition where the horns really work. From I Got Dem Ol’ Kosmic Blues Again, Mama! (1969).

Janis Joplin, “To Love Somebody”

Have I left your favorite version out?  Let me know in the comments.

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