Tag Archives: cover

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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Birdies in Philly's Busch

I saw Birdie Busch open up for the venerable (but still not posted on: I’m checking myself into blogger jail right after this post) Blood Feathers last year. If they hadn’t been superb despite the North Star’s muddled “sound system,” she might have committed a grave sin: outplaying the headliner.

She’s playing the XPN Festival this weekend and releasing an excellent EP, Everyone Will Take You In. Two tracks are Philly-focused, “Joey” (about cheesesteak king Joey Vento) and this cover of Soul Survivor’s “City of Brotherly Love.” Let me tell you, friends: they both hit the city’s sweet spots.

Buy the EP today.

Birdie Busch, “City of Brotherly Love” [via Philebrity]

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The report of my death was an exaggeration

Sometimes words get twisted. Like Twain being reported dead because of his cousin’s illness. Or Twain’s quote being misreported as “my death was greatly exaggerated” when it actually was the above.

But I’m beginning to think that Alasdair MacLean’s claim that it “might be the end” of 60s dreampop outfit The Clientele was just a clever ploy to make sure I bought tickets for their show at Johnny Brenda’s last year. Especially since they’re releasing a new “mini-album” on August 31st and the lead single sounds part and parcel of every The Clientele song ever recorded. No hard feelings though. I like The Clientele and their dependably upbeat and melancholic songs alot. I liked the show. And I really, really liked how dazzlingly cute their violinist Mel Draisey was, encased in her 60s dress and blonde, very British slightness.

Also, they did a cover of M.I.A.’s “Paper Planes”: decidedly less cute than a blonde Brit in a sundress. Also, “blonde” is feminine but “blond” is masculine: what is this, Spanish?

The Clientele, “Jerry” [via Pitchfork]
The Clientele, “Paper Planes” [via AV Club via We All Want Someone to Shout For]

PS M.I.A.’s album is streaming on her MySpace. Not very good, IMNHO.

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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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Don't Believe the Critic: Nash's Songs for Beginners

I am a movie critic by trade, and until recently, I got paid to tell you people which movies merely stink and which ones you shouldn’t screen near an open flame. Well, I’m putting the burden of lousy movies back on you. It’s very simple: if you stop going to bad movies, they’ll stop making bad movies. If the movie used to be a TV show, just don’t go. After Roman numeral II, give it a rest. If it’s a remake of a classic, rent the classic. Tell them you want stories about people, not a hundred million dollars of stunts and explosives. People, it’s up to you. If the movie stinks, just don’t go.

Jon Lovitz’ sage wisdom as Jay Sherman is usually not to be trifled with (see: “you talk too much, talking cat”). But after listening to both Graham Nash’s Songs for Beginners and the tribute album Be Yourself: A Tribute to Graham Nash’s “Songs for Beginners”, I can tell you this, Jay: sometimes the classic sucks, too.

I’m sure, as Pitchfork says, that this is Nash’s most “personal effort,” but it’s also stuck in permanent EZ-classic rock listening hell, complete with smooth sax. To be fair, the songs do fair well on some of the tribute’s re-imaginings, including an almost lovely (but far too dutiful) cover by his daughter, Nile Nash, of “Wounded Bird.” Which is odd, because if my dad named me Nile, I’d sure as hell record godawful versions of his songs in spite (which she figured out nicely for her version of “We Can Change the World”). I don’t know who Papercuts (“Military Madness”) or Brendan Benson (“Better Days”) are, but I’d pay a pretty penny to never find out.  Bonnie “Prince” Billy’s bizarre Spanish version of “Simple Man”* and the Fleet Foxes’ Robin Pecknold’s cascading “Be Yourself” are keepers, if only by contrast. Nash’s original version of “Better Days” has him putting on  a passable  solo John Lennon face.  Stick to the movies, Jay.

Graham Nash, “Better Days”

Robin Peckinold, “Be Yourself”

*Bon Iver’s unrelated live cover of “Simple Man” is also noteworthy.

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