SJ’s top five unusual covers

It’s been a while since I’ve talked about music, so even though it’s not Monday I wanted to get back to the theme a little bit. I also thought it would be fun to tackle an unusual theme…

I love covers. Some people do, some people don’t. For whatever reason, a good cover makes me very happy. I like seeing how other artists can re-imagine and re-interpret a song. There are a lot of brilliant artists who made it big with covers (Joan Jett, for one), some who do a few here and there and really rock them out (Motley Crue comes to mind), and artists who do well-known covers and really obscure ones (I’ve made it a life mission to collect all of David Bowie’s vast and sundry covers that he’s done in concert and on albums. This is no easy task.)

However, I also really, really like something else…

Weird covers. Bizarre combinations you wouldn’t expect. Things that shouldn’t work, but for whatever reason do (or I think they do anyway). I am a sucker for these, so I’m going to talk about my fave five (of the moment). So, in no particular order…

Keep On Smilin‘  – Rockapella. Truth be told, I hadn’t heard the original Wet Willie (yes that’s the group’s name) version until after I heard this cover. For me, this encompasses everything awesome about Rockapella. (The only reason I didn’t use their version of Long Cool Woman is because the version I favor isn’t in vid form.)  I am a sucker for this group and it is a painful fact that I will never see the lineup that I really loved. It’s also really painful that I missed them in concert not one, not three, but somewhere in the neighborhood of twelve times. Now I have nothing against the new group, and I have nothing against the original group, but it’s this particular lineup that I favor. This song is everything that is right and beautiful about a capella music: it’s tight, the harmonies are right on, the vocal percussion works beautifully, it’s fun, and that big percussion section towards the end…wow. And I may have a thing for Scott Leonard’s voice, but that’s a whole other story.

Duran Duran – White Lines – okay, this isn’t exactly them performing it. This also isn’t the full version. This is the version I love more than anything, so this is what I’m using. The actual song is longer, and pretty epic. I don’t know why it appeals to me so much, but it does. I love that Duran Duran puts their epic production values on a song like this. I also love this particular use of their song because I find Craig Ferguson hilarious and this just makes my day. The combination of these two just rock my world and gets me out of a funk when I need a kick in the pants.

Alice Cooper – Born this Way – I actually like the original song. It does what it’s supposed to do, I can see why so many people find it a great anthem despite the whole argument that it sounds a lot like Madonna’s Express Yourself.  Still, I also don’t feel like Lady Gaga speaks for me. While I like the original, I also feel a little left out by it (ironic, ain’t it?). So this version makes me very, very happy. Leave it to Alice to pay tribute to new music and inadvertently take back a pop anthem for all us older freaks. The multiple guitars give it a really raunchy, heavy sound and I love how the crowd gets into it. Plus, the giant puppet at the end is a nice touch. I’m sure some people will bristle at seeing this and be all ‘how dare this old dude take our song and blah blah blah…’ Let’s remember that Alice is one of the original originals. He has every right to put his spin on this, just like those of us who may not feel like kindred spirits to Gaga’s version of the world have every right to prefer it.

Young @ Heart – Fix You – For those who aren’t familiar with Young @ Heart, there’s a brilliant documentary about them. Go watch it, go look at their videos on YouTube, go get their album. Do not dismiss this as a gimmick or whatever. Basically, this is a group of retirees of various ages performing rock and pop songs. They tour all the time, and I hope to catch them in concert sometime. I also hope they’re still around when I hit my sixties because I am so moving up to where they’re based and joining. I’m dead serious, this is totally my life goal once I retire.  Okay, they don’t have the same production value the original artists have at their disposal, but it’s amazing how being able to hear the lyrics from a different generation changes a song. Things like I Wanna be Sedated or Should I Stay or Should I Go end up more hilarious, Golden Years and Come as You Are  take on different meanings. And then there’s Fix You. To preface this, there were supposed to be two vocalists, but the second unexpectedly died before they debuted this song. The remaining vocalist, Fred, decided to sing it anyway, and this was his last performance with the group that I’m aware of. This beautiful rendition remains one of my all-time favorite covers, and one that I look up often. Grab your tissues.

David Bowie – America – After 9/11/2001, there was the concert for New York. Forget about Ziggy Stardust, forget about the pastel suits in the eighties, forget everything you know about David Bowie. He has a phenomenal gift for song choice, and bringing a meaningful performance in important times (It’s also why I was more than a little sad he chose not to appear at the London Olympics, but he’s earned a break by now). This is one of those songs (next to Heroes and others like it) that show off not just his range, but his ability to put emotion into a song and make it count. I count it among ‘unusual’ covers only because a lot of people haven’t heard of this, and it’s a combination most Americans probably wouldn’t expect. Admittedly this particular video includes a bit where the start is shaky, but I kind of like that they kept it in. It’s human. It’s real. It fits with the emotion and desperation of that time frame. I like this because it’s simple and it shows off what his voice can do. It also shows the power that a live performance can have.

So, what am I overlooking? What are your fave cover songs? Do you feel like it’s a disrespectful art form, a fun way to pay tribute, or something else?

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