Is imitation the highest form of flattery? It can be. Take the cover song for instance. Nothing is more polarizing in music. The artist that covers a song either makes the song their own or totally misses the boat. There is rarely an in-between. Have you ever listened to a cover song and thought “That was OK I guess”? The answer is no, you haven’t. It’s either ” That was great” or “That really sucked “.
I love a good cover song. Especially when an artist takes the song and turns it into something different. You react to the song in a whole new way. You can go a bit too far though. Like this cover song for example:
Who thought that Bill Shatner should make a record? I was thinking more like what Ryan Adams (No, not Bryan “Summer of ’69” Adams, Ryan Adams) did with the Oasis classic “Wonderwall”. Back in the mid ’90s I freaking loved Oasis and especially “Wonderwall”. I was shocked when I heard the first few bars of the Ryan Adams version. It was so different. The original acoustic guitar part was replaced by a slowed down haunting guitar and the echoing vocals are some of Adams’ best. (Dude made like 1000 records in the last few years so that’s saying something)
Take a listen to both and tell us which you prefer in the poll at the bottom.The Original or The Cover?
Remember that time Todd and I went to the shitbag Union Bar in Iowa City to go see Neon Indian, and had to endure a couple of opening acts, one of which being Kreayshawn? (The oft-repeated Senior Picture Incident happened that night.)
The other opener, according to our crack research team (read: me Googling “neon indian kreayshawn union bar iowa city other guy”), was a rapper who goes by the moniker Probcause. In between incredible blasts of bass (the Union’s sound guy was struggling to equalize that night), he threw some stage banter at us. Now, granted, this is paraphrased, but Todd can verify the following quote is pretty much on point:
“Yo, yo, Iowa City! Yo, for realz, tho, for realz, Iowa fuckin’ City, yo! Shit, this is the shit right up in this bitch, Iowa City, yo! I be all walkin’ around, you got fuckin’ pianos on the sidewalks and shit, yo! Anyone can play ’em. This place is crazy, yo! People aks me where I want to be livin’, like Hawaii or some shit, I be all like, Iowa City, yo! They got pianos and shit!”
First, Probcause was WAAAAAAAAAAAAAY better than Kreayshawn.
Second, let me affirm what Probcause is preachin’: Iowa City has pianos and shit.
And people do play them. Sometimes it’s just someone fucking around playing “Chopsticks” or “Heart and Soul”; other times people are laying down some really great stuff; occasionally some individual of lesser fortune uses them as Porta-Potties. (I’m kidding: no one plays “Chopsticks.”)
This afternoon, however, as I was walking back to my office, someone decided to bust out one of my old stand-bys when tickling the ivories: “Axel F,” the famous instrumental by Harold Faltermeyer (born Harald Faltermeier) from Beverly Hills Cop. Hear it below; ignore the unrelated images.
First reaction: Who’s throwing down the Faltermeyer?
I look over and see three kids, more or less, by the piano. The one who was playing followed my playbook to a T: play the popular synth line twice, and then get the hell out. They giggled after finishing the second part, running off to presumably find the sheet music to the Fletch score to further their Harold Faltermeyer repertoire.
Second reaction: Kids know “Axel F”? Maybe from that ringtone years ago?
Third: I didn’t get to see that movie in the theater.
This was devastating to me. Some of my friends were allowed to go, but not me. I was told the F-word was used too often, so I couldn’t go see it. I couldn’t believe my parents were being such hardliners; I was 10 years old, for fuck’s sake! Certainly old enough to enjoy the comedic leanings of Eddie Murphy and Judge Reinhold! And if my folks feared I would be exposed to subpar cinema, consider that Jonathan Banks, who plays the lovable Mike Ehrmantraut on Breaking Bad, was doing his thing as the hired muscle in this film. And the script was up for Best Original Screenplay! (The dialogue for Axel’s Detroit boss, Inspector Todd, probably sealed the nomination.)
My mom did offer me one option: go see the movie, then go to confession at St. Pat’s. Whether it was a bluff or not, I’ll never know; Catholic guilt kicked in and I ended up waiting for home rental from the local video store. That would have been one interesting confessional conversation…
Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. It’s been however long it’s been since the Catholic grade school I attend forced me to admit to you a small sample of my transgressions.
Tell me your sins, my son.
Well, I said “Jesus Christ” once or twice while playing kickball at recess. I lied to my parents about eating Twinkies for breakfast the other day. And I saw that fucking Beverly Hills Cop movie.
Judge Reinhold was hilarious as Billy Rosewood, wasn’t he?
I know! And that soundtrack?
Indeed. Five Hail Marys.
Fourth thought: “Axel F” wasn’t even the best Harold Faltermeyer song in the movie. That would be “Shootout,” the B-side on the “Axel F” 45-RPM record. Feel the synthesized tension…
Side note: “Axel F” was not the lone instrumental theme song in my collection of 45s. I also had the Jan Hammer “Theme from Miami Vice” platter, but it paled in comparison to either side of the “Axel F” vinyl.
Fifth thought: Linda Cohn’s got all sorts of Crazy Eyes going on tonight. (Sorry, I have SportsCenter on while I’m typing this.)
Actual fifth thought: I made an omission in my post about my famous pretend girlfriends. I should have included Lisa Eilbacher—or more specifically, her BHC character, Jenny Summers—somewhere in the 1985-1986 period. She was blonde, living in California, cool enough to be pals with dudes like Axel Foley, and she could wear that 1980s-sweat-clothes look as well as anyone.
Jenny Yummers, er, Summers, Axel Foley’s ’80s-hot friend in Beverly Hills Cop.
So yeah, I guess I went back to work at some point. But not before laughing about Catholic guilt and daydreaming about Jenny Summers. All because of Iowa City, with its pianos and shit.
Parking lot was packed, but, well, you know, the new Madea movie was playing, so no surprise.
Once inside, on my way to the Fandango kiosk, I see a hero in line. I have to get my photo taken with him.
Batman (left) and Chris
As you might have assessed by the results of the pic, I skipped the asking permission part of the photo op. I put my arm around the dude, put the camera at arm’s length, and fired. I did say “thanks” though.
That is not Todd behind the mask, if you were wondering. Todd could never pull off that look.
We got there at 11, and still had to sit all the way in the second row from the front. My neck is killing me.
That is my only complaint from the night out. Solid movie. Satisfying conclusion to the trilogy. Especially the part where The Flash ran really fast through the streets of Smallville. That was unexpected.
Have you ever come across something that you thought was incredible and said to yourself “I have to find myself one of those”? Have you spent the better part of a decade tracking down said item? Well I’ve had this experience with a song. Much like Captain Ahab tracking down that fat fucking whale Moby Dick I chased my own “Musical White Whale”. Call me Ishmael…
The 1st Glorious Sighting
It was about 3:30 A.M. back in Spring 1997. I was watching TV and blissfully floating in and out of sleep. In the background I could hear MTV’s Amp, a show that played some pretty cool mid ‘90s electronic music. After a few minutes, I started to take notice of a song that was playing. Slowly coming out of my sleepy haze, I sat up in bed to listen more closely and get the song title and artist. Cool drums. Sweet wah-wah pedal guitar sample. Nice dreamy vocals. Love it. Have to have it. After the song ended, I thought to my tired self “That may be the best song ever. I’m totally going to get that CD tomorrow zzzzzzzzzzzzzz.” I was out. I’m talking deep R.E.M. sleep the rest of the night and into the next afternoon.
The Best Song Ever Goes Missing
I woke the next day in a great mood. The prospect of going out and purchasing “The Best Song Ever” was all I needed to get me up and moving. Now what was the name of that group again? My mind was a blank. What was the name of the song? Again nothing. Well I had to have written it down right? One does not discover the “The Best Song Ever” and not write down the artist or song title. I looked at the side of the bed for a scrap a paper or something that would hold the answers to my questions. Nothing. BLURGH!!!
The Search Begins
Now this wasn’t the pre-internet era, but let’s just say Al Gore’s Information Superhighway was more like The Oregon Trail back then. I couldn’t just look up MTV Amp and get the previous episodes playlist. There was no smartphone app where I could sing some of the song lyrics and have the phone spit out the artist and song title. No, this search would not be easy.
I tried catching MTV Amp again the next night hoping they would replay the same episode, but it wasn’t on. As a matter of fact, I could hardly ever find that damn show. It seemed like it was constantly changing time-slots. I probably saw every episode of TheReal World: Boston 10 times in that period (I found Genesis to be annoying, Sean to be a tool, and Syrus to be a bad ass) but I never saw that Amp episode again.
The 2nd Glorious Sighting
In the fall of 1998, I was mindlessly watching an incredibly unrealistic movie about computer hackers aptly titled, Hackers. Having finally given up on finding “The Best Song Ever”, I was completely shocked when it was playing in the background of a scene in said shitty movie. Check out the scene below. In it you will also find a baby fresh and puffy lipped Angelina Jolie.
I immediately fast-forwarded to the end of the movie to view the credits and found that there were like 42000 songs in Hackers. Guess that’s why they made 3 freaking movie soundtracks (I’ll get to those in a bit). I read through all the songs but nothing caused any sleepy memories to come flooding back. There were also no digital downloads back then so I couldn’t just buy every song in the credits. The next day I went to the local record store(Yes, we still had one) and picked up the over priced Hackers Movie Soundtrack. You can imagine my disappointment when the CD contained no trace of “The Best Song Ever”. Nor was it in subsequent purchases of the Hackers Movie Soundtrack #2 or Hackers Movie Soundtrack #3. Yep, bought all 3. Yep, I hate myself for it.
There She Blows!–There she blows! A Hump Like a Snow-Hill! It is Moby Dick!
Fast-forward to Spring 2000. My wife and I were shopping in the local CD Warehouse. After the Hackers snafu (and several other unsuccessful various artist trip-hop compilations), I quit buying anymore CD’s potentially containing “The Best Song Ever”. As I was flipping through the M-N’s section, the scary goth chick at the register changed the CD that was playing overhead. My heart skipped a beat when I heard that unmistakable hi-hat, bass and repetitive wah-wah guitar. CD Warehouse used to display the cover of the CD that was currently playing so I quickly went to the counter to see it…
I felt like a fool but was incredibly happy at the same time. I had finally found “My Musical White Whale” and was the proud owner of “The Best Song Ever”. The whole record is great too by the way. Perfect to throw on in the background if you are up late surfing the net. Or even better to throw on when it’s time to “hunker down” with your special someone. You know what I’m talking about…
We’ve all had the common experience of having a song stuck in our heads. Sometimes this can be a perfectly pleasant song that becomes the soundtrack to a perfectly pleasant day. Other times it can be a repetitive annoyance that comes close to driving you crazy. (There is an episode of Seinfeld where George is screening his phone calls. His answering machine message is him singing along to the theme from The Greatest American Hero. This song delights me for awhile but then slowly drives me insane.)
Today at work, I realized that I had been singing the same lyric over and over again.
I’m a cowboy, I got the night on my side
I’m wanted dead or alive
I had no idea how this song had gotten in my head so I decided to try and retrace my steps. What had I been thinking about lately? I remembered thinking that I needed to call my co-worker John about a project. This is the series of thoughts that ran through my head after that moment.
“Gotta call John and ask him about that project.”… “Call…John…John…Johnny”… (this leads to quoting The Outsiders) “Let’s do it for Johnny man! Let’s do it for Johnny!”… Johnny… Johnny… “Who’s Johnny?” (this leads to the internal singing of the song “Who’s Johnny”)
“Who’s Johnny? ” she said
And smiled in her special way
“Johnny” she said
“You know I love you”
“Who sang that? … Oh yeah, El Debarge.”…”Barge, Barge, Barge… It’d be cool to drive a big boat like that”… “Boat, Boat, Boat … “I’m On a Boat” (this leads to the internal singing of Andy Samberg/Lonely Island, “I’m On a Boat”)
I’m on a boat, I’m on a boat
Everybody look at me
‘Cause I’m sailing on a boat
I’m on a boat, I’m on a boat
Take a good hard look
At the motherfucking boat
“That Andy Samberg sure is funny”… “I bet it got confusing on the set of the movie That’s My Boy…Andy Samberg and Adam Sandler are such similar names”…”What happened to Adam Sandler? His movies used to be funny”…”The Wedding Singer was really funny”…”I love the beginning of The Wedding Singer when he sings … (this leads to the internal singing of “You Spin Me Round” )
All I know is that to me
You look like you’re havin’ fun
Open up your lovin’ arms
Watch out, here I come
You spin me right ’round, baby
Right ’round like a record, baby
Right ’round, ’round, ’round,
“Grandma Molly I’m talkin’ to you!”…“Who sang that? … Oh yeah, Dead or Alive”…”Dead or Alive, Dead or Alive… (this leads to the internal singing of Bon Jovi, “Wanted Dead or Alive”)
So I went from “I have to call this co-worker” to having “a loaded 6 string on my back” in a series of roughly 12 random thoughts. Some people come up with world changing ideas at times like these. I get Bon Jovi. Oh well, could be worse.
I’m a cowboy, on a steel horse I ride
I’m wanted dead or alive
I’m a cowboy, I got the night on my side
I’m wanted dead or alive
Here at Music or Space Shuttle? we feel like we should be asking the tough, hard-hitting questions. This week we continue our series of polls where we force you, the thoughtful reader, to choose between two random artists. You may not always like either selection but you have to pick one.
It’s been getting pretty nostalgic around The MoSS? HQ lately. So with the reuniting of ’90s grunge band Soundgarden and yet another reformation of Billy Corgan’s Smashing Pumpkins, I thought this would be the perfect time for a poll. Which new version of an old band would people choose if forced to do so?
So why come back at all you ask? Both bands front men have recently come out with pretty strong ideas about the state of rock and music in general. To tell you the truth they both make a lot of sense. Unfortunately, they also come across as a bit full of themselves. Billy Corgan has always liked the sound of his own voice but I was a surprised to see similar comments by Soundgardens’ Chris Cornell.
Just a few of Chris’ comments:
“The worst rock is made when everybody loves rock, like in the late Eighties. That’s the only time hard rock has been the biggest-selling genre of music — and it was mostly crap.”
“Contemporary pop music couldn’t be any worse than it is now. The one bright spot was Adele having the biggest-selling record of last year. They’re actually songs and she can really sing.”
“It’s the same thing now. You have a better chance of a very healthy and vital rock scene coming out today because there’s something to react against.”
“In terms of an overwhelming commercial acceptance, that hurts you. But in terms of longevity and having a lasting impact that’s legitimately culturally important, it helps you.”
Check out the new Soundgarden tune “Live to Rise” below.
Now a few of Billy’s’ comments:
“My point of having a problem with nostalgia acts for the artists that are from the Grunge generation is it basically subverts the original meaning of the Grunge generation’s music, which is rebellion. So basically, everybody in their 40′s are now all phoning in, let’s call it for what it is. And yeah maybe we’ll put out one new song on the greatest hits album but it’s not really getting back on the horse. We need those artists to step up and take on the social issues particularly that are going on right now. ”
“Rock and roll should be at the center of this culture and it’s not, it’s been marginalized because everyone’s afraid. Artists drive the narrative, they always have, that’s why governments are afraid of artists. Only rock and roll bands and radical artists, filmmakers/poets can change shit up from the outside in, because that’s the power of the word that’s the power of the song. ”
Check out “Inkless” from the new Smashing Pumpkins LP Oceania below.
When you visit the homes of people my age and take a peek at their CD shelves (only people my age still have CD shelves), you’ll likely find some common denominators in the soundtrack section*: Pulp Fiction, The Crow, Pump Up the Volume, Judgment Night (right?), Wayne’s World (for those who’ve never heard of Disc-Go-Round), and arguably the best soundtrack of that time, Singles.
(* I’m assuming everyone follows my lead and files their soundtracks separately, in ABC order, after the regular albums sorted A-Z by artist; those regular albums are sorted chronologically within the artist, with singles sorted outside of the full-length albums, and any bootlegs toward the end of the artist sort…)
We all owned the Singles soundtrack because it was 1992 and the movie was set in Seattle and had a lot of Seattle bands on the tracklist (despite no Nirvana). But now, as the soundtrack turns 20, we should ask “What was really so great about it?”
There are certainly good things here:
Two exclusive (and great, not throwaway) Pearl Jam songs*
A song from Alice in Chains upcoming masterpiece
An exclusive Soundgarden song
An acoustic solo jam by Chris Cornell
An underrated Hendrix song from Are You Experienced?
(* more on Pearl Jam later)
It also features:
An interesting Led Zep cover by the girls from Heart
A revered track by Mother Love Bone that I find boring
A by-the-numbers early ’90s song by Screaming Trees
A Mudhoney song that I always skipped because I never understood what everyone liked about Mudhoney
Two cheeseball suckfest tunes by Paul Westerberg
These bulleted lists don’t exactly support any statement about Singles being the best soundtrack of its era, but the next paragraph—which will consist of just one word—is all you need to make the case.
Smashing Pumpkins, more or less a one-man band (well, two, as Jimmy Chamberlin could not be sidelined in the studio by Billy Corgan like James Iha and D’Arcy were) from Chicago, fresh off the impressive debut album, Gish, dropped one of its three truly epic songs from the early days (“Silverfuck” and “Starla” being the other lengthy moments of genius) to close out the album. As someone who spent his senior year of high school listening to Gish on repeat and writing “Smashing Pumpkins” on desks throughout Waukon Senior High (especially in pre-calculus class; sorry about that, Mr. Strike), I was excited for new material.
And this was eight minutes of the Billy Fucking Corgan Experience. A nice groove, laid-back vocals, quiet-loud dynamics, killer drum fills, and then four minutes of feedback bliss, layered many times over. (One of the funniest Guitar World transcriptions ever was this song; I’m barely paraphrasing the annotations for the last four minutes: “Guitar 1-8: droning feedback for the next 60 measures”.) And as a result, the Windy City stole the show from the home team (even though many people back then probably lumped SP in with the “Seattle Scene”).
And because Pumpkins fans were somewhat obsessive even at this early stage, the entire soundtrack was a must-have. BECAUSE BACK IN MY DAY, WE DIDN’T HAVE NO FANCY iTUNES/BUY ONE SONG AT A TIME ON THE INTERWEBS ARRANGEMENT. WE COULDN’T SHARE MUSIC VIA NAPSTER OR GNUTELLA OR WHATEVER ELSE. WE DIDN’T HAVE SHINY CD-Rs AND 2x WRITE SPEED CD BURNERS! WE WENT TO MUSICLAND OR SAM GOODY OR BEST BUY AND GRABBED THOSE LONGBOX-PACKAGED CDs AND WE PAID MORE THAN WE SHOULD HAVE AND WE LIKED IT!
Anyway, what was I saying?
Oh yeah, Singles. Despite my dislike for a few tracks, this remains my favorite motion picture soundtrack from the flannel-adorned era. But while considering the merits of this soundtrack, I found myself admitting some truths, some that I couldn’t see back in the grunge days.
Namely, the movie really isn’t all that great. Certainly nowhere near as good as the soundtrack.
The Cameron Crowe flick about young pathetic adults in Seattle trying to figure out the method of modern love (an area of expertise for Hall & Oates) featured a long-haired Matt Dillon as a rocker dude in Seattle who DOESNT use heroin (what?!?); a boob-conscious Bridget Fonda who likes long-haired Matt Dillon but wishes the shiftless layabout would say “bless you” or “gesundheit” every time she spreads her vocal-crippling germs; an Xavier McDaniel-loving wussy (played by Campbell Scott) who wants to build trains all over the city so that he can continue to play with model trains in his apartment; and a “she’s kind of hot, I guess” Kyra Sedgwick, who doesn’t like Xavier McDaniel but likes to deliver and receive lines like “I was just nowhere near your neighborhood” as a prelude to sex romps with guys who do like Xavier McDaniel. (So far I might be overemphasizing Xavier McDaniel’s importance to the central plot.)
Initially it was easy to look past these lame lead characters because of all the musician cameos: Eddie, Jeff, and Stone from PJ as Dillon’s bandmates; Chris Cornell walking into the glass-shattering car stereo scene; live shots of Soundgarden and Alice in Chains. But once that novelty wears off, you have to deal with the uber-wuss Campbell Scott character and his convoluted road toward the improbable ensnaring of Mrs. Kevin Bacon, and the boring Matt Dillon-Bridget Fonda relationship, which finally coalesces once rocker boy finally says “bless you” after a sneeze*. The movie comes off feeling kind of corny now rather than cool or hip.
(* That specific aspect, the “I want a guy who says ‘bless you’ when I sneeze,” I really took that to heart. For my entire collegiate career, I found myself hoping to meet up with some hot chick, preferably one who suffers from hay fever, so I could drop the bless you line on them and then enjoy the acceleration into Intimacytown. Instead I got weird looks or perhaps a “thanks” and that was that. This movie made “bless you” out to be some sort of love hypnotism! Damn you, Crowe!)
Poor Pearl Jam.
Another crime committed by this movie: setting Pearl Jam up for a fall. The crew formerly known as Mookie Blaylock chipped in two solid tunes for the soundtrack, on the heels of its breakthrough debut album. The sky’s the limit, I said. But while Smashing Pumpkins rode the wave to new heights in the summer of 1993 with Siamese Dream, Pearl Jam would soon suffer some setbacks, one of which was completely out of the band’s control…
My entire freshman year at UNI, rooms up and down my corner of Rider Hall were blaring Ten, which wasn’t exactly a new album at this point but still a big deal. I remember one night where we feared one of our buddies had overindulged in the beer department, only to have him spring to life from the couch (or floor, who can remember) to join Eddie for the chorus of “Alive”. I remember the group sing-alongs we would have to the verses of “Even Flow” (“REEEEE-SAYYYYYYYY NUMMA NUMMA NUMMA NUMMA NUMMA MADE OF CONCRETE!”) Each Friday, as many students would grab their suitcases and head for their cars, someone would blare “Why Go” and crack open another 12-ounce container of Milwaukee’s Best Light. It was great, the soundtrack to life in the dorms.
But when I returned in the fall of 1993 for my sophomore year, some dudes were still playing it. All. The. Time.
I’m as guilty as the next guy of overkill. My roommate that year told me I ruined Siamese Dream for him because of how frequently I played it. But at least it was fresh! Before long, Ten became unlistenable by choice, dropping PJ a notch or two below the lofty altitudes cruised by the Pumpkins and Nirvana.
And then PJ put out Vs., an album I actually pre-purchased at Sam Goody. I was soon longing for another 638 listens to Ten, as Vs. was pretty much ZZZZZZZ for me. (Did Pearl Jam ever pull out of this tailspin? I heard they kept making records despite my disapproval…)
Yes, the soundtrack is good, but No Alternative is the better ’90s time capsule.
It’s not apples to apples, since one is a soundtrack and the other is a fundraising compilation, and one basically limits itself to Seattle while the other can pick and choose from the entire “alternative” genre. But if I’m going to take an early ’90s nostalgia trip via a prepackaged CD, I’m going to choose No Alternative over Singles. The 1993 compilation has “Glynis,” an exclusive track from the Pumpkins (not on the same level as “Drown,” but it’s one of Billy’s nice quiet moments). We get an oral history of R.E.M. courtesy of Pavement’s “Unseen Power of the Picket Fence.” We get a nice track from Sarah McLachlan before she became synonymous with mistreated animals and the largest-ever synchronized ovulation. Bob Mould’s song is heartfelt. Urge Overkill’s 15 minutes of fame happened around this time; as such, we get a song from them. Soundgarden and Sonic Youth make an appearance. The Breeders and the Beastie Boys offer live tracks (the latter is really interesting, a great run-through of a Licensed to Ill gem).
And this time, we get Nirvana. We didn’t know this (or at least I didn’t know this) when we grabbed the CD, as the song wasn’t listed on the back cover. But once the last listed track (a cool Patti Smith performance) runs out, we are greeted by clean chords and Kurt’s voice, followed quickly by the click of a distortion pedal and Nirvana’s wonderful mix of fuzz and pop. This song rivals some of their most enjoyable pop, right up there with “About a Girl” and “Lithium.”
Yeah, there are some tracks I skip (that would be you, Soul Asylum). But at least no one sings about having a dyslexic heart here.