Saturday, April 30, 2005

Louis Armstrong V's The Flaming Lips V's Nick Cave & Shane MacGowan V's Joey Ramone

Joey Ramone

Here's a four play selection to end this month of original plus cover version posts, and a quick and easy blog at that, no history or comments, just links. I hope everyone can understand and relate to the sentiment in these songs.

Louis Armstrong
Louis Armstrong - What A Wonderful World

The Flaming Lips
The Flaming Lips - What A Wonderful World

Nick Cave and Shane MacGowan
Nick Cave & Shane MacGowan - What A Wonderful World

Joey Ramone
Joey Ramone - What A Wonderful World

Friday, April 29, 2005

The Cure V's Dinosaur Jr

Robert Smith

The Cure began life as The Easy Cure, forming in 1976 when 17 year old Robert Smith joined with schoolmates Michael Dempsey and Lol Tolhurst and local guitar hero Porl Thompson and immediately began writing and demoing their own songs, including early classics such as "Killing an Arab" and "10:15 Saturday Night".

In April 1977 the group of recent school leavers saw a competition advertised in Melody Maker for Hansa Records, Germany's largest independent label, who were seeking new bands. "Wanna Be A Recording Star?" it said. The Easy Cure did, and won. This should have led to the release of a debut single and album, but for the doomed nature of the relationship — Hansa saw The Easy Cure as a ‘fresh faced’ and malleable pop group — but even at this relatively young age, a headstrong Robert Smith had other ideas… Within one unsatisfactory year they had parted company with nothing having been released. At this stage the band lost the tag “Easy” and their guitar hero Porl.

The Cure continued to record and send out demos, looking for another record label to sign to. They'd been rejected by everyone until Chris Parry, an A&R man at Polydor who'd signed and produced The Jam and who'd been instrumental in signing Siouxsie And The Banshees, heard their demo. The Cure signed with Parry’s new Fiction label in September 1978, which was to prove a lasting partnership. Work began immediately on their first single “Killing An Arab”, based on Albert Camus’ existentialist novel “The Stranger”, which was released in December 1978. 15000 copies were released on “Small Wonder” records, an independent label chosen when it was evident that Polydor, through whom Fiction were licensed, were too inflexible to market any Cure product before Christmas. The single was re-released on Fiction in January 1979.

The music papers unanimously made "Killing An Arab" single of the week, praising its "Moorish flavoured guitar pattern" and salivating over Smith's fashionably bleak outlook - "I'm alive, I'm dead...". The debut album, a mix of quirky pop and melodic post-punk tunes, quickly followed on Fiction which kick-started an extensive UK touring period, during which The Cure played with various other emergent bands of the time such as Wire, Joy Division and The Jam. This period also saw the development of a long standing affiliation between The Cure and Siouxsie and The Banshees, as within two dates of their support slot on the Banshee’s UK tour in late 1979, Robert found himself playing two sets a night, one for The Cure and one for The Banshees, having stepped into the breach for departed guitarist John McKay. This led to disharmony amongst the other Cure members and Dempsey left to join Fiction labelmates The Associates, to be replaced immediately by Simon Gallup.

Matthieu Hartley also joined soon after and in early 1980 the 4-piece Cure embarked on two weeks of studio experimentation, exploring the darker side of Smith’s songwriting, and emerged with the minimalist classic Seventeen Seconds, including 'A Forest' which became the band’s first bona fide UK hit single. With Seventeen Seconds climbing to #20 in the UK album charts, The Cure set out on an extensive and drug induced tour of Europe, the USA and Australasia.

The band’s sound would continue to grow grimmer, darker and increasingly morbid with 1981’s Faith which reached #14 in the UK album charts and even more so with 1982’s Pornography which entered the UK Top 10 at #9.

Making albums of such nerve-shredding intensity, however, was taking its toll not just on Smith but on everyone around him. He was living the excessive life his music seemed to demand, pumping numerous chemical stimulants into his body. The band's keyboardist, Matthieu Hartley, had jumped ship after a furniture-wrecking fight in a hotel during the Australasian tour of 1981 and now Simon Gallup found it impossible to remain in the band. Smith at this stage had threatened to quit music altogether, and so against all expectations, the next Cure single was the cheesy disco of "Let’s Go To Bed", an instant if unexpected pop hit in America.

Their next recordings would continue to bounce between the old and new directions, a blend of pop perfection and gothic reveries, including 1987’s eclectic double album “Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me”, from which this post derives.

Robert Smith has continued to tour and record with the ever changing cast of Cure band members and to perform his Goth-infused pop and in 2004 the band released their eponymous album “The Cure”, Smith's 13th studio album. The early Cure albums have recently been remastered and released with additional tracks.

Dinosaur Jr. were largely responsible for returning lead guitar to indie rock and, along with their peers such as Sonic Youth and The Pixies, they injected the late 1980s alternative rock scene with monumental levels of guitar noise. Frontman J Mascis and bassist Lou Barlow formed the band, originally called Dinosaur, in 1985 and were soon joined by drummer Murph. They created an extremely dysfunctional and internally aggressive band, but also the most highly regarded line-up.

After the first three albums Mascis and Murph sacked Barlow in 1989, who would continue his own musical pursuits in Sebadoh and the Folk Implosion as well as a solo career. Murph left several years later and Mascis continued to record and perform under the moniker of Dinosaur Jr, as well as J Mascis and The Fog.

Good news for Dinosaur Jr fans, and for anyone who wants to see a long-absent band that casts a stegosaurus-sized shadow over indie-rock, the original lineup of Dinosaur Jr. has reunited for a full slate of U.S. shows including the Lollapalooza Festival and some overseas dates. Their first 3 albums have also recently been remastered.

The Cure - Just Like Heaven

Dinosaur Jr - Just Like Heaven

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Serge Gainsbourg V's Nick Cave

Serge Gainsbourg

Serge Gainsbourg “looked like a louche turtle cross-bred with a dissipated, chain-smoking wolf, (who) was also a singer, songwriter, actor, painter, cutting-edge composer, Eurovision Song Contest winner, novelist, screenwriter, film director, provocateur, sentimentalist, populist, intellectual and the single most important person in the history of French pop music”. So wrote Sylvie Simmons in her January 2001 “Cult Heroes” article in Mojo magazine.

Serge’s musical style covered jazz, pop, reggae, funk, rock, he wrote pop ditties (often for the numerous lovely and invariably young ladies in his life) and concept albums. His often humorous lyrics would at one time appear simple and childish and at other times dark and cynical.

Although Serge Gainsbourg is a musical and cultural hero in France whose prodigious output spanned from the 1950’s through to the 1990’s and despite his influence on countless contemporary artists, he is still virtually unknown outside of his own country.

The only exception to this would be Serge’s world-wide hit “Je t'aime... moi non plus”, a song which he wrote for and originally recorded in an intimate two hour recording session during a short lived fling with Brigitte Bardot in 1967, much to her husband’s fury who demanded that the song be pulled from her TV show. Serge, who at 40 was becoming known as one of France’s hottest songwriters and seducteurs, then went on to re-record “Je t'aime... moi non plus” in 1969 with 20 year old English actress Jane Birkin, who would soon become his wife. Six million copies of the single sold worldwide.

On one of our trips to Paris my wife and I visited Serge’s grave at Montparnasse Cemetery where we left our Metro tickets amongst the collection of other tickets, flowers, poems, notes, Gitanes cigarettes and Pastis bottles. For more information, music and video on Serge Gainsbourg, make sure you see Cookie's entertaining site Bedazzled.

Nick Cave has also had an eclectic and illustrious career as a singer, songwriter, actor, cutting-edge composer, novelist, poet, artist, screenwriter, intellectual and he is one of the most important artists in the history of post-punk Australian rock and pop music”.

From his early days in the mid to late 1970’s in Melbourne, Australia leading The Boys Next Door, through to seminal band The Birthday Party and the move to Europe. And the now 21 year old, constantly changing uber-group/solo project that is Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds.

Nick Cave has written countless classic tracks and also covered countless tracks including his 1986 release "Kicking Against The Pricks" which was an album full of covers.

This duet with former lover Anita Lane comes from “Pink Elephants”, one of two albums of English-translated cover versions of the songs of Serge Gainsbourg performed by Mick Harvey.

Serge Gainsbourg - Je t'aime... moi non plus

Nick Cave - I Love You ... Nor Do I

Friday, April 22, 2005

Joy Division V's New Order

New Order - Ceremony

What was to become Joy Division formed in 1977 after Ian Curtis met Bernard Sumner and Peter Hook at a punk club in Manchester. Steve Morris joined soon after and they began rehearsing and gigging, as the Stiff Kittens for their first gig, and then as Warsaw. Factory Records boss Tony Wilson, who described Warsaw as a “fucking cacophony with a great singer”, had within a year recorded and released Joy Division’s debut album “Unknown Pleasures”, which entered the UK charts for one week at #71.

The band toured the UK and Europe and in March 1980 recorded their most famous track “Love Will Tear Us Apart” and their second, and last, album “Closer”, the latter of which was heavily produced by Martin Hannett who was creating soundscapes using numerous tapes of the band, drum machines and synthesisers. In May 1980, on the eve of their first tour of America, and suffering ever more frequent epileptic fits and marriage problems, Ian Curtis hanged himself at his home in Macclesfield, with Iggy Pop’s “The Idiot” playing on the turntable.

Joy Division's importance and popularity has only grown over the years. "Love Will Tear Us Apart" was voted the favourite song of all time in 1989 and 1990 (and #2 in 1991) by listeners of Australian radio station JJJ's Hottest 100 . Closer was voted #34 in Channel 4's recent 100 Greatest Albums British poll. Not to mention their obvious influence on many of the younger bands such as Interpol.

Several months after the death of Ian Curtis, the remaining members decided to continue, originally as a three piece, naming themselves New Order. In September 1980 while touring America they recorded the Joy Division "work in progess" track Ceremony. Soon after their return home the boys were joined by Gillian Gilbert and they re-recorded Ceremony and other tracks and released the Joy Division-esque Movement album. Each successive release aligned New Order's sound with the newly evolving dance scene, finding their mark in 1983 with Blue Monday - the biggest selling twelve inch single ever – and the Hacienda Club, which they bought with Factory Records.

New Order only recorded two Joy Division songs, both of which hadn’t been properly recorded in a studio. For more information on these recordings and some sounds, make sure you check out the excellent and recent Joy Division post by Spoilt Victorian Child, including some interesting Joy Division covers. I had originally planned to post Joy Division V's Low, as I think Low do an amazing version of Transmission.

There were also successful off-shoot bands for each of the members of New Order, including Electronic, Monaco, The Other Two and Revenge and New Order are still touring and have just released a new album.

Joy Division - Ceremony

New Order - Ceremony

Monday, April 18, 2005

Talking Heads V's Arcade Fire

Talking Heads met while studying at the Rhode Island School of Design in the early '70s and moved to New York in 1974 where they won a spot opening for the Ramones at the seminal New York punk club CBGB's. By 1977, the band had released their first album, Talking Heads: 77, which received a considerable amount of acclaim for its stripped-down rock & roll and for David Byrne's geeky, overly intellectual lyrics and uncomfortable, jerky vocals.

While some of their music can seem too self-consciously experimental and intellectual, at their best Talking Heads represent everything good about art-school punks. They had recorded everything from art-funk to polyrhythmic worldbeat explorations and simple, melodic guitar pop between their first album and their last in 1988, becoming one of the most critically acclaimed American bands of the '80s and managing to earn several pop hits.

Talking Heads recorded many of their earlier, more experimental albums with Brian Eno and received extensive publicity from a 1983 tour captured on the Jonathan Demme-directed concert film "Stop Making Sense".

Arcade Fire formed in Montreal, Canada in the summer of 2003. The experimental indie rock quintet fleshed out an eclectic mix of bossa nova, punk, and classically tinged songs and released a self-titled EP in 2003. They released their debut album Funeral in September 2004 to immediate critical acclaim and have been touring America and Europe since it’s release.

Talking Heads - This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody)

Arcade Fire - This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody)

Saturday, April 16, 2005

The Wipers V's Nirvana

The history of music is full of artists who receive little critical acclaim and minimal record sales, yet who manage to help create a completely new genre. Often this music would develop in remote areas, such as Portland, Oregon in America’s Pacific Northwest, the breeding ground for Greg Sage and his band The Wipers. The Wipers emerged in the late 1970’s, vehemently independent visionaries who would form part of the bedrock for the Seattle grunge scene which developed a decade later.

Sage's musical vision reflected the punk ethos of the time “to avoid press, shows, pictures, interviews” and his desire to “look at music as art rather than entertainment” helped to survive numerous lineup changes over the years. Sage was also one of the first people to develop all-ages shows in the 1980’s.

Despite the criticism and difficulties created by the music industry bigwigs, the Wipers still managed to release 10 albums. This desire to remain truly independent garnered Sage and the Wipers credibility from people such as Thurston Moore (of Sonic Youth) and Kurt Cobain (of Nirvana) who paid for the recording of the 1991 tribute album Fourteen Songs for Greg Sage and the Wipers.

It seems unbelievable that Greg Sage isn't as well known as his musical contemporaries and followers such as Bob Mould, J Mascis, Kurt Cobain or Mark Arm.

A big thanks and howdy goes out to Dirk, an old buddy who turned me on to the music of The Wipers and so many other excellent bands back in the days when we used to swap mix tapes. Check out some of Dirk’s great photo’s here and here.

Nirvana, also from the Pacific Northwest, took many influences, including The Wipers, and after releasing one mediocre and one groundbreaking album were usurped by the music industry and took distilled punk rock to the masses in the form of grunge.

The Wipers - D-7

Nirvana - D-7

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Dick Dale V's Agent Orange

Dick Dale was the "King of the Surf Guitar" who developed what was to be called “surf guitar” in the 1950's and in September 1961 released the single "Let's Go Trippin'", generally acknowledged to be the first recorded surf instrumental.

Dale moved to California in the mid 1950’s where he was the first guitarist to develop the use of Middle Eastern and Eastern European melodies along with a breakneck speed, single-note staccato picking technique. During the late '50s Dale also became an avid surfer and tried to find ways to mimic the surging sounds and feelings of the sport and the ocean on his guitar. Due to the popularity of his gigs at the Rendezvous Ballroom, a once-defunct concert venue near Newport Beach, with his backing band the Del-Tones. Dale also developed a working relationship with Leo Fender, possibly the most famous guitar inventer and manufacturer and as such he was also the first to exploit the sounds of a Fender Stratocaster (Dale played a right handed guitar upside down and strung backwards) played through the cranked reverb chamber of a Fender Twin amplifier.

Fullerton, California surf/punk power trio Agent Orange combine hybridized surf-twang sounds, smart-metal chops and punky drive. Their sound features lead guitars jumping between surf sounds and smashing punk and a rhythm section equally influenced by both the Sex Pistols and The Ventures.

Dick Dale - Misirlou

Agent Orange - Misirlou

Sunday, April 10, 2005

David Bowie V's Bauhaus

David Bowie has always been a musical chameleon, not willing to play any one style of music or to portray any one character. With his public experiments with gender and identity in the seventies and his diverse music influences such as folk, glam, blues, punk, pop, funk, soul, hard rock … Bowie has always tried to create his own style while remaining aware of and absorbing the current musical vogue.

Constantly moving from one genre to another, and releasing three dozen albums over a 40 year period, has seen many flashes of brilliance, but it has also produced some less inspiring moments and for me, once he started getting a suntan and making film clips in Australia he diverged along a path less interesting. For more Bowie information, check out Stefan Westman’s great Bowie site.

Bauhaus were much more fixated on one style and characterization, but they were at the forefront of the goth movement which evolved in England in the late 1970’s. Like Bowie, their personas and stage performance were very theatrical, and their influence and popularity continues to this day.

In line with their gothic leanings, Bauhaus had a cameo appearance in the movie "The Hunger", a modern version of the vampire myth set in New York, where they performed (appropriately) "Bela Lugosi's Dead" in a club visited by the leading stars, Catherine Deneuve and David Bowie, who were on the lookout for a suitable bite.

Bauhaus split in 1983 but reformed in 1998 and very successfully toured North America and Europe and they have just reformed again to play at Coachella 2005.

David Bowie - Ziggy Stardust

Bauhaus - Ziggy Stardust

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Link Wray V's The Mono Men

Link Wray is the missing link in the history of rock guitar. He pioneered the distorted fuzz-tone sound and is considered to be the godfather of the guitar power chord and the father of heavy metal rock.

His 1958 million-seller "Rumble" is an intense, moody guitar instrumental intended to capture the feel of a gang fight. It had socially conscious groups petition to have the tune banned because of its perceived association with juvenile delinquency. Rumble reached #16 that year and established Wray as an artist, who is still touring today.

Bellingham, Washington's The Mono Men were one of America's best combos during the 1990's surf and garage rock revivalism and are equally proficient at proto-punk, surf-guitar and boozed-up R&B.

The Mono Men were also responsible for forming and running the garage rock label Estrus Records. The band broke up in 1998, but Dave Crider is now playing and touring with The Dts.

Link Wray - Rumble

The Mono Men - Rumble

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Elvis Presley V's Dead Kennedys

Elvis Presley was once a man, but he is an institution now. The brand has virtually taken over the music and the man. Could the same thing be said about the Dead Kennedys after their public bust up, legal slanging match and the subsequent karaoke Dead Kennedys (sans Jello Biafra) tours. Has the brand taken over the music and the band?

Elvis exploded onto the Vegas Strip in 1969 and he regularly returned there until his death in 1977. It's rumoured that one song Elvis apparently did not perform at his Vegas shows was “Viva Las Vegas!”

The Dead Kennedys formed in San Francisco in 1978 and were a critically acclaimed band that released 5 confrontational and politically charged albums. They refused to play by the major label rules and split in 1987 after being sued for distributing pornography. This was due to the release of the Frankenchrist album and it's contentious cover - Swiss surrealist H.R. Giger's painting Landscape #20: Where Are We Coming From (Penis Landscape).

In 1997, after Biafra vetoed the use of "Holiday in Cambodia" in a Levi Jeans ad, Jello Biafra's ex-band mates terminated their contract with Alternative Tentacles Records and successfully sued claiming that Biafra, who ran the label, had failed to promote the band's back catalogue and also for unpaid royalties. The case established a legal precedent for "lack of promotion" damages.

Elvis Presley - Viva Las Vegas

Dead Kennedys - Viva Las Vegas

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Gram Parsons V's Evan Dando

Both Gram Parsons and Evan Dando play music that has one foot dancing in the genre of rock and the other square dancing in the genre of country. Both artists were also affected by drugs and alcohol, with Parsons losing his life in 1973 by overdosing on morphine and tequila and Dando almost losing his muse and his career on several occasions due to his on-again, off-again habits.

Gram Parsons is considered to be the father of country-rock, the blend of the two genres, particularly during his six month tenure with The Byrds when their sound changed completely with “Sweetheart Of The Rodeo”, a breakthrough in pop music and now more than 25 years later considered a classic album. While he was alive, Parsons was a cult figure that never sold many records but he influenced countless fellow musicians, from the Rolling Stones to the Byrds and more recently alt-country. In the years since his death, his stature has grown, as numerous rock and country artists build on his small, but enormously influential, body of work. There have even been Gram Parsons tribute concerts on both sides of the Atlantic.

Evan Dando is the sole original member of The Lemonheads, who played music influenced by grunge, metal, jangle-pop and country and Dando has since gone on to release his own solo recordings, moving further into country-rock territory. "Its a Shame About Ray", the Lemonheads breakthrough album, and particularly their cheesy cover of "Mrs Robinson", which was released much to the annoyance of the band and got them so much chart exposure that it was tagged on to the end of "Ray", pushed the band into the public eye. Dando was quickly usurped by his record label “Atlantic” and promoted as a sex symbol for the grunge generation, with People magazine voting him "Sexiest Man Alive". This did very little for his musical output and the quality of the Lemonheads albums slowly degenerated. During this period The Lemonheads and Dando's live performances could be either magical or abyssmal. But Dando has returned to form with his recent solo releases.

Not deliberately meaning to tread on the feet of such great sites as Copy, Right? and chromewaves, during April I will be posting 2 songs each post – the original version of a song and a cover version.

For the first post, to celebrate the 1000th visitor to this blogg since establishing the hit counter just over a month ago, I have chosen $1000 Wedding. Dando also covered Parson’s track “Brass Buttons” on The Lemonhead’s album “Lovey”. For more music by Evan Dando and The Lemonheads, check out Robert Crosbie's excellent site.

Gram Parsons - $1000 wedding

Evan Dando - $1000 wedding