Cover me.Daniel Radosh
Music Club just keeps getting better and better. Here are the results of our session on Cover songs that are better than the original. The only choice that was unanimously panned was Tracy's: Cassandra Wilson's plodding take on Last Train to Clarksville. But there was plenty of sparring all night long. Here's the play by play:
1. Richard Cory Them. This was my offering. Not a particularly great song no matter who does it, but Van the Man does manage to turn Simon and Garfunkel's useless folk-rock hybrid into a genuine rocker.
2. Turning Japanese Liz Phair. I wasn't sure about Elizabeth's choice on first listening, but after I got home and played it again with the volume cranked, I was more than convinced.
3. Juanita Sheryl Crow & Emmylou Harris. In my book, it's hard to top Gram Parsons, especially with Sheryl Crow. But Gina Sue made a pretty good case that the stunning harmonies on this cover more than make up for the less inspired instrumentation.
4. Frying Pan Evan Dando. Gina's a huge Victoria Williams fan, but everyone agreed she was right about this one. Evan's slow, spare version locates the heart of this ballad.
5. Gloria Patti Smith. Our first crossover cover. Proof that sometimes the least faithful covers are the most successful. And while the original is certainly a garage classic, Patti's is transcendent. It was actually Anthony's backup song. He first tried to get away with Patti's version of Because the Night which is, of course, the original, not the cover.
6. Gin and Juice The Gourds. Before I settled on my song, I discarded a lot of possibilities that, while great covers, and maybe as good as the original, weren't necessarily better. I think Jill's selection falls into that category. And yet, I'm damn glad she picked it, since I'd never heard it, and it sure is terrific. A redneck country version of this Snoop Dogg jam sounds like a gimmick if you haven't heard it, but once you have, it's almost hard to imagine it was ever anything but. As Jill said, this track alone is probably better than all of 8 Mile at bringing out the affinities between black gangsta and white trash. Jill's other argument for her selection: by making the song work in a completely different genre, the cover reveals that Gin and Juice was always great songwriting, not just a great record.
7. The Man Who Sold the World Nirvana. Ivan was expecting a fight over this one, but he got none. Sure, the original has David Bowie's voice, but its sloppy psychedelic production can't hold a candle to Kurt & Co's acoustic version.
8. ...Baby One More Time Travis. Anthony and I waged a lonely, futile battle against Karina's choice. Sure, it's a great cover. But the anti-Britney venom implicit in its appearance here is nothing more than snobbery. The original is a perfect bubblegum pop tune. It's certainly at least as good as this cover, which is pretty and basically respectful. But if we couldn't convince them, I'm probably not going to convince you either.
9. I Know It's Gonna Happen Someday David Bowie. As Francis said, a respectful cover, but with Bowie's voice instead of Morrissey's. No arguments from the rest of us.
10. She Don't Use Jelly Ben Folds Five. Works so well, Rose didn't even know it was a cover for a long time. We all like the Flaming Lips pop hit. We all like this lounge rendition better.
11. Last Train to Clarksville Cassandra Wilson. Like I said, jeers all around for Tracy's contention that this dishwater jazz is better than the exuberant original. Though I will note that the same people who minutes before were arguing that Britney Spears' music can't be any good because it's "assembled in a factory" had no problems at all showing love for the Monkees.
So there you have it. I welcome your comments, and suggestions our next theme: Songs by performers whose name (first or last) is the same as the last name of a president. I think we all take that to mean U.S. presidents, but with this crowd, you never know.