Friday, January 30, 2009

Top 5 Cover Songs That Are Better Than The Original Versions

Pretty self-explanatory; the topic came up when we were at a bar and someone said that "Crimson and Clover" by Joan Jett & The Blackhearts was the best cover song ever. A-haha.

Ryan's Top 5:

1. "Everybody's Talkin'" - Harry Nilsson - This is definitely one of my favorite songs of all-time, so you bet your ass it's my favorite cover song. Fred "Not Harry Nilsson" Neil apparently performed a version of this song that pre-dates this one. Go figure!

2. "All Along the Watchtower" - Jimi Hendrix -
This is the quintessential example, for me; nothing wrong with the Dylan version, but the Hendrix rendition is iconic rock.

3. "I Fought the Law" - The Clash - Once again, I like older versions of the song, but The Clash definitely knows how to amp up the ass-kickery. I'm fairly sure The Clash could cover anything and I'd like it better.

4. "I Will Survive" - Cake - Cake does the song in their own particular styling. Notably, they amend this lyric: "I should have changed my fucking lock / I would have made you leave your key." See that? They added the word "fucking." Brilliant!

5. "Stand By Me" - John Lennon - This narrowly defeats Van Halen's cover of "You Really Got Me," which loses points because The Kinks are one of my favorite bands. Anyway, I guess it's not a given that this version is incredibly superior--if you're a big R&B fan--and I'm not--so in the end this wins. Also, I like John Lennon. A lot.

Dan's Top 5:

1. Aretha Franklin - Respect (orig. by Otis Redding) - This is the only instance I can think of where the song's meaning is essentially transformed. When Aretha sings it, her womanhood is an essential element of the song.

2. Johnny Cash - Hurt (orig. by Nine Inch Nails) - Easily the newest original on the list to be covered, and by a man who was a living legend. If the Man In Black wants to sing your song, you know it's good.

3. Cream - Crossroads (orig. "Cross Road Blues" by Robert Johnson) - OK, I haven't heard the original, but "Crossroads" is my favorite Cream song.

4. Jimi Hendrix - All Along The Watchtower (orig. by Bob Dylan) - While I agree almost 100% with Ryan's selections, I've allowed myself one overlapping listing. This is it, because Jimi rocked and Dylan's got plenty of other good songs. He can spare one.

5. The Dropkick Murphys - The Fields of Athenry (orig. recorded by Danny Doyle) - Gains the quality of being much more easily adapted to sports scenarios.

Honorable Mention: Van Halen - You Really Got Me (orig. by The Kinks), Gnarls Barkley - Reckoner (orig. by Radiohead) - only omitted because it's not been released, Joe Cocker - With A Little Help From My Friends (orig. by The Beatles), Creedence Clearwater Revival - Heard It Through the Grapevine (orig. by Gladys Knight and the Pips) - omitted because it's too damn long.

Tim's Top 5:

1. If Not For You – George Harrison - The slide guitar on If Not For You works so magically, I don’t even know how to explain it. I think this is one of the greatest love songs ever recorded, not that you’ll be able to tell from that recording. And as much as I love Bob Dylan, his version of his own song just doesn’t measure up. It sounds like he was borrowing some of Hendrix’s work from All Along the Watchtower and makes it a fluff pop song. Harrison’s recording is a sincere and plaintive cry, almost an elegy in advance. The fact that it also works so well on All Things Must Pass means it would be sacrilege to put any lower down the list.

2. Hard to Handle – Black Crowes – I am a fan of Otis Redding’s version, but it’s not even a close contest. The Black Crowes completely reinvent this song and make it sound completely current (both for 1990 and 2009) and I was in disbelief when I actually opened the liner notes of Shake Your Moneymaker and saw that Otis Redding wrote the song. It’s the quintessential Black Crowes song, the best on what is an absolutely phenomenal album, and this song works blissfully well with the country-tuned sounds that they bring to the table on the album.

3. Slut – Big Star* - I include it solely because it’s on a released album, the inaptly titled “Columbia – Big Star Live at Missouri University” album that is inaptly titled, since 1) it’s not really Big Star (hence the asterisk -- it’s the second iteration of Big Star -- Alex Chilton, Jody Stephens, and two members of the Posies (Auer/Stringfellow), since Chris Bell had died long before the “reunion” show), and 2) there is no such thing as Missouri University. Nice try. But it is a phenomenal performance overrun with exuberance that far outpaces the comparatively turgid and horribly produced Todd Rundgren original. A faster tempo and the less enunciated voice of Alex Chilton prove the key here. If I ever put together a band, there is absolutely no way we would not cover this song in the style Big Star does. “S-L-U-T…she may be a slut, but she looks good to me.”

4. Do Ya – Matthew Sweet – Another live cover, this one is documented on Live From 6A, a compilation CD of recordings from Late Night with Conan O’Brien. It’s the lone track on the album that wasn’t actually performed on the show; they did the track as the sound check before the show. It’s a song that’s uniquely Matthew Sweet, perfect for his voice and unassuming tone and captures the superb musicians that he always surrounded himself with for his albums and tours. ELO isn’t a great band, but they are made to create good covers (OK Go almost made the list for covering “Don’t Bring Me Down,” but it’s hard to say their version is definitively better than the original. No such problem here.)

5. I’ll Feel A Whole Lot Better – Tom Petty – There’s nothing quite so ironic as getting on this list by covering a band who made their career by covering other people’s songs. But it worked for Tom Petty, who included this version of a Byrds hit on Full Moon Fever. The cleaner digital production is 99% of the reason that this song improves upon the Byrds song, which is one of their best. But the recording is dated, tinny, contains a heavy tambourine and sounds like a hit song played on an AM radio (unsurprisingly). Petty’s song is a much clearer recording and seems a note higher, matching the song more closely with its lyrics.

Honorable mention: 99 Problems – Jay-Z – I exclude this because it’s not really a cover, even though it takes its title and chorus from Ice-T’s cut of the same name. But if it were a cover…oh, it’s on the list; Harvey Danger – Save It For Later – Harvey Danger was way too good a one-hit wonder band to burn out as fast as they did; Draggin’ the Line – R.E.M. – this one-note performance is on the Austin Powers: the Spy Who Shagged Me soundtrack, and is easily the best thing about that horrific movie. Why more people don’t cover Tommy James songs is well beyond me. They’re a guaranteed success – Mony Mony and I Think We’re Alone Now were both hits for later artists, this song is awesome, and Crimson and Clover just begs to be covered (although apparently the Joan Jett fan Ryan mentioned already thinks that job's done); All Along the Watchtower – Jimi Hendrix; It Ain’t Me Babe – The Turtles, Quinn the Eskimo – Manfred Mann - I lump these in because they’re all Bob Dylan covers. Covering Bob Dylan is obvious, but only a few stick out as real successes. The Turtles capture a sardonic taunting tone to a song that Dylan left untouched, Hendrix simply created a new song, and Manfred Mann recorded a ludicrously catchy but still inexplicable song.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Top 5 Songs You Would Enter A Game To If You Were A Major League Closer

Tim's Top 5:

Let's be honest, a closer is only as good as his entrance music. Actually, Brad Lidge was about 45-for-45 in saves last year...and he came in to Drowning Pool. So, in fact, a closer is considerably better than his entrance music. Unless that closer would be me.

Everything I've read claims that the movie Major League is really responsible for the association of a single song with a closer...but I don't buy it, because at least at minor league ballparks, they did it before that movie came out. I remember Greg Everson coming out before Luis Encarnacion in Omaha to "Thank God I'm A Country Boy" (which is fine for a middle reliever, obviously not really a closer song).

This was a tough list, because there are songs that work until you actually listen to the substance of the lyrics (like, say, Muse's "Time Is Running Out") Oh, and I don't listen to heavy metal, which means that ... yeah, I had to be creative.

1. Pearl Jam - Save You -- Why? Well, I mean, come on, it's a little perfect. It has a great crunching guitar intro, the first guitar comes in, a second, then the drums hit before the vocals come in. And the first few lines are flawless. "I'm gonna save you, fucker (it'd be fine, you can't tell that's what he's saying)/ I'm not gonna lose you / I'm feeling cocky and strong, can't let you go / Too important to me, too important to us, we'd be lost with you")

It does have one lyrical minus -- "Why are you hitting yourself? Come on, hit me instead." This would not exactly inspire the fans' confidence...but perhaps I'm a pitch-to-contact closer along the lines of Bob Wickman and Brandon Lyon, so the fans already hate me regardless of my theme music.

It starts a little too hard, I like the escalation of #5 (and also Enter Sandman, which I think is otherwise not a good song for this purpose), but it's already taken.

2. Alice Cooper – School’s Out – This might be the perfect timing, because there’s a point at 1:14 (right before the high-pitched middle eight) where the song should be cut off by the public address announcer to announce “Your attention please…now pitching …” – if they can draw it out to 1:29, it has a hard bounceback. It’s a profoundly recognizable song, it’s just annoying enough to actually be used as a closer’s anthem.

The lyrics work, I think. Listen, you’ve had your chance to learn how to hit with the shitty pitchers in innings 1-8…school’s out, time to step up.

3. Stevie Wonder – You Haven’t Done Nothin’” Again, the timing on this song is good here. At 1:03, plenty of opportunity for the announcer to cut in to announce the closer’s arrival. I like the funky, taunting beat and I think you just strut in from the bullpen for this one. It was meant to scorn Richard Nixon, but I think it’d work just as well on Trot Nixon. The entire thing just has a very taunting feel to it that is kind of missing with the blaring heavy metal surplusage that has led two different Drowning Pool songs to be used as closer entrance themes.

4. R.E.M. – "Circus Envy" I love this song. The growling beginning and heavy drum and crackling distortion pedal at the beginning really cement it, the opening lyrics are pretty taunting “Here comes that awful feeling again” (though after a few blown saves…we’ll see who’s having the awful feeling). It lightens a little too much about 45 seconds into the song, but the repeating intro loop is really the key.

At 2:29, the lyrics hit their peak “If I were you, I’d really run from me”. True enough, R.E.M.

5. AC/DC - "Hell's Bells" - Trevor Hoffman already has that one, as you can see from this video ...and for a good damn reason. "Thunderstruck" is also a pretty good entrance song, so I think we've identified what AC/DC is good for -- closer songs and songs you know someone would request at a strip club ("You Shook Me All Night Long")

It’s really a shame that Trevor Hoffman never pitched for the Phillies, because if they got the Liberty Bell in center field to “ring” right as he hit the warning track for the first bell…it’d be amazing.

Honorable mention: Wagner - March of the Valkyries - Listen. It is not my fault that Wagner was anti-Semitic. This is the heavy metal equivalent of classical music, and it sounds pretty damn sinister; The Arcade Fire – Keep the Car Running - Again, I thought of this for primarily lyrical reasons, because it seems to me to be the equivalent of “trust me, we won’t be here long”; Muse – Hysteria – start the song 10 seconds in. That’s it.; Jay-Z "Encore" - the reference to Brooklyn keeps it out of the top 5 for me, otherwise I think it’s pretty spot on; Oasis - “Hello” - Start at 12 seconds. I’m not sure why I like it for this – I think it’s the “it’s good to be back” refrain that seems so apropos for a regularly-injured underdog pitcher who survives on sheer guile. You know, the one I’d be destined to be if I hadn’t sucked too much for the injuries to matter; Presidents of the United States of America – “Cleveland Rocks” – if I played for the Indians, you’d damn well better believe I’d be a lousy enough closer to pander to the home fans (all of whom are white and therefore none of them actually live in Cleveland, but they’d still pretend).

Dan's Top 5:

I have included Youtube links indicating when, precisely, I want the music to kick in.

1. Iron Maiden - Run To The Hills - A song about rampaging, murderous war by the white man against the Native Americans. Comes in especially handy when our team plays against the Cleveland Indians or the Atlanta Braves. Or the Washington Redskins, if they decide to quit football and try baseball instead.

2. Peter Gabriel - The Tower That Ate People - One of the most kickass songs that Gabriel's done, and I think it would have the added bonus of frightening little children. Downside - not very effective if you're not dressed in all black or at least wearing black sunglasses.

3. Metallica - Enter Sandman - A nod to my Virginia Tech days, when you could play Enter Sandman (our stadium entrance song) and immediately get everyone in audible range to jump up and down and go absolutely berserk. It didn't even have to be football season.

4. Meat Loaf - Bat Out Of Hell - I will refuse to throw a pitch until the song is finished. I may promptly be demoted to the franchise's AAA team, but a man needs his Meat Loaf.

5. Rage Against The Machine - Bulls On Parade - Still my favorite Rage song after all these years. I could have gone for something a little more obscure to close out this list, but I think that fans will appreciate my taste in music. It sure will make up for the fact that I am a shitty closer and will cost our team the win.

Ryan's Top 5:

I went solely with kickass music, though part of me does want to enter to "Why Can't We Be Friends?" a la Homer's boxing intro.

1. Iron Maiden - The Number of the Beast - Time-wise, this song is perfect. Start it at the normal time, then dim the stadium lights as I enter jogging; at about 56 seconds, right when I throw my first warmup pitch, Bruce Dickinson screams and the crowd goes wild. I would definitely make a point of timing this perfectly. Bonus points in that the tone of the song would ideally terrify the Bible-thumping Mike Sweeneys of the world; regrettably, it would be no deterrent to the Satan-worshiping AJ Pierzynskis of the world (though his ability to hit is a solid deterrent to begin with).

2. Sergei Prokofiev - Dance of the Knights - Probably a bit high for a classical song, but I've had this in my head all day long and have been convinced of its ass-kickery since Muse opened HAARP with it. (Youtube took down the clip, unfortunately.) Ultimately, this song beats other classical contenders ("Mars, Bringer of War," and "The Imperial March" from Star Wars).

3. Morning Glory - Oasis - As far as I can tell, you cannot go wrong with a helicopter sound effect introducing a song. (See: "The Happiest Days of our Lives," Pink Floyd.) (This is where someone cites the Kid Rock/Sheryl Crow song I'm forgetting that features a helicopter.) Lyrically, this song is sufficiently vague enough, as well: "All your dreams are made..." "Today's the day that all the world will see..."

4. Black Sabbath - Iron Man -
As cliche as this song is (it's almost certainly used by some closer somewhere), it's too good for me to pass up. This song is rare in that my favorite part is about ten seconds in, when the robot voice says I AM IRON MAN. But oh well.

5. Kool and the Gang - Jungle Boogie - I have been in love with this song since Pulp Fiction. Play this, I'll throw a 1-2-3 ninth, then we cap it off with "Celebration" by the same band, bam! I rule!

Honorables: "Hell's Bells" was really written to be a sports intro theme.