Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Reimagining classic songs

I give the hat tip to nicoleandmaggie for the spiffy New Orleans jazz arrangement of "Sweet Child o' Mine."  I can hardly think of any other pop song cover that so thoroughly reimagines the song from the ground up.  However, I know a few good ones that offer something new, instead of a band just covering a song they like: covers that add to our understanding of the song's possibilities, not just rehashing what has already been done.  In the spirit of old standards cleverly reimagined, here are a few more I'm fond of.

I never really loved "I want you back" in the original version; the Jackson 5 were Michael Jackson and four bozos, not a band.  But Lake Street Dive slows down the song to a seductively langorous tempo, and all four of them are actually talented.  Add in some jazz instrumentation and some tight vocal harmonies, and it goes from gimmick to showstopper.




I always liked this Leonard Cohen cover — one of the few I can say that about, really.  Tori Amos does such a beautiful job retrofitting Cohen's song (and, really, his basic arrangement too) with her own piano work that it feels to me like more of an artistic effort than merely paying homage.  I heard this cover before I knew the original, and if I hadn't encountered it on a Leonard Cohen tribute album, I'd never have known she didn't write it herself.



Another fabulous and inventive cover of a song by a distinctively voiced singer-songwriter.  I almost always feel let down by covers of Tom Waits songs, but Neko Case nails this one the way so few do.  The instrumentation is different from the original, but so is the tone: where Waits' narrator is boozily and jovially bullshitting the listener, Case's narrator is heartbreakingly wistful.  When she sings, "He gave me a ring," there's an aching hope in the line that Waits himself will never equal.


6 comments:

  1. You're an excellent music critic. Just a thought, in case you ever decide to abandon academia :)

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    1. I've tried it, actually. No money in it, and – rather like teaching at a middling university – my employer objected when I voiced honest criticism instead of unqualified approval. But I still write album reviews in my head. :)

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  2. Two other favorite re-imaginings: Jonathan Coulton's I Like Big Butts, and In a Gadda Da Vida a capella by Clockwork.

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  3. I like The Civil Wars' cover of the Jackson 5 classic "I Want You Back":
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w6dPVydzKZQ

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    1. Not bad, but I prefer their cover of "Billie Jean" — sacrilege though it may be. :)
      http://youtu.be/MZhIm-XtZIk

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