The Captain Discusses Modern Rock Covers

This year marks the fifth year that I’ve included a second disc with my yearly Modern Rock disc.  After I split Modern Rock into two discs in 2005 I discovered that I loved the idea of additional disc.  It gives me the option to be a bit more creative by highlighting other recent songs1 and the cost was negligible.

2009 seemed like a natural year to make a best of the 00 decade disc.  The most obvious idea would be include my favorite songs from this decade.  However, almost all of my favorite songs are already on my 2002-2009 discs and I’m not a big fan of repeating myself.

I had several other ideas for this disc but I ultimately decided to focus on the best cover songs from this decade.  I’m a big fan of cover songs when done right, and this decade has had some magnificent ones.  Of course, several of my favorites have already appeared on past editions of Modern Rock.  I thought about including a few of the best, like Hurt by Johnny Cash and I’m Not There by Sonic Youth.  I ultimately decided not to repeat myself, so these are technically my almost favorite cover songs of the decade.  Enjoy!

1.  Mahna, Mahna – Cake

Let’s start off the covers with my favorite song on the disc.  My man D is the biggest Cake fan I know; he introduced me to this super fun cover of the Muppets classic.  After listening to it numerous times, I’ve determined that it’s the perfect combination of a goofy band with a goofy song.  I love it so much that I made it my official intro song when hosting Tenacious Trivia.  If you’re not familiar with the original, shame on you!  Now is the perfect time to get acquainted:

2.  Cobrastyle – Robyn

While often tragic, covers of recent songs are occasionally brilliant.  Whenever possible I tried to include covers of songs from previous editions of my Modern Rock discs.  The first is cover of the Teddybears toe-tapper from my 2007 disc.  It takes about a minute into the song before it becomes recognizable, mostly because you can actually understand the lyrics when Robyn sings them.    Robyn and Teddybears wrote the song together and enlisted a Jamaican named Mad Cobra for the original release.  A year later Robyn decided to record her own version of Cobrastyle with help from the Teddybears.  Apparently Swedish musicians stick together; here they are playing the song together on Letterman.

3.  Human Nature – Toro Y Moi

Did you know that Michael Jackson died earlier this year?  I had no idea; why was there no news coverage?  After Michael’s death and the flood of bad tribute material afterwards I was determined to find a good cover of one of his songs.  After months of digging I finally came across this kooky little techno cover of Michael’s often overlooked mellow jam, Human Nature.  While this decade had lots of funny electro-dance covers2, most were way too long or too far out there for this disc.  This cover finds is the perfect balance of creating innovative sound while staying true to the original.  I have no idea who/what Toro Y Moi is but I’m glad that he/they got his/their hands on this track.  Someone managed to do Jackson right this year.  I guess 1 good one out of 10,000 shitty ones will have to be good enough…

4. My Boyfriend’s Back – The Raveonettes

As I mentioned yesterday, I think the Raveonettes have been one of the most consistently great bands of this decade.  They’ve managed to expand their sound without straying too far from what defines them as a band.  I didn’t really realize what it was that defined them until I heard this song, a cover of the 1963 hit by The Angels.  Like this song, everything they’ve recorded sounds like they added layers of feedback and drum machines to doo-wop songs from the early 60s.  It manages to produce a darkly modern yet timeless sound that I absolutely love.  Simply put, the Raveonettes sound original yet feel familiar.  Truly one of a kind.

5.  Leopard Skin Pill Box Hat – Beck

This track is off of the War Child Heroes benefit album that was released this year.  The idea behind the album was to have older artists pick recent artists to cover a classic song of theirs.  There were lots of great pairings, including a Yeah Yeah Yeahs cover of a Ramones song and a Peaches cover of an Iggy Pop tune.  But my favorite is this cover from Dylan’s classic album Blonde On Blonde.  As I’ve learned from listening to Theme Time Radio Hour, old Bob Zimmerman actually has good taste in new artists.  I’d imagine Beck was thrilled to get the request from Bob himself; he did it justice!

6.  Seven Nation Army – The Oak Ridge Boys

Part of what make cover songs so much fun is their ability to cross genres.  Such is the case with this quirky cover of my favorite song from Modern Rock 2003.  Much has been written about the country leanings of The White Stripes.  In fact the Stripes cover a county classic later on this disc.  Apparently The Oak Ridge Boys heard the rumor of Jack White’s love of country and ran with it.  They’re piano and vocal heavy cover is a hilarious attempt to strip the garage out of Seven Nation Army and replace it with some country-fried twang.  The result is exactly what I would expect, something so ridiculous that you can’t help but love it.  For an added laugh, check out these 60+ year old “Boys” performing this track:

7.  Lithium – The Polyphonic Spree

Keeping with the odd theme is this off the wall cover of a Nirvana classic.  What better way to pay tribute to the bleak-pop of Kurt Cobain than with a harp and a full choir!  Truth be told, Polyphonic Spree is not really my kind of band; their happy vibe and ultra positive message is just a bit too much for an occasional cynic like myself.  However, I’m a sucker for pop songs with depressing lyrics which makes this the perfect cover song for me.  The genius of Cobain was that his depression and angst never managed to overtake his pop-sensibilities.  That closeted love for pop really shines in this uplifting version of this super-depressing track.  Brilliant!

8.  Bitches Ain’t Shit – Ben Folds

The cross genre quirk parade just keeps on coming with my favorite pianoman’s cover of this Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg classic.  Ben Folds was quite the cover king this decade; choosing only one for this disc was actually pretty challenging.  I loved his take on The Postal Service’s Such Great Heights, and The Cure’s In Between Days.  But in the end the background chorus of “Bitches can’t hang with the street” demanded a place on this disc.  Even funnier was the live performance of the song he did in Nashville.  Apparently he recruited a hundred local guitar players for a guitarchestra to jam along with him, with incredible results.  The last 2 minutes is an amazing sight to behold.

9.  Jolene – The White Stripes

As previously mentioned, Jack White has long discussed his love of early country music.  He’s been a long time supporter of Loretta Lynn and even managed to record a great little garage rock cover of her classic Rated X.  So I guess it should be no surprise that he also covered this Dolly Parton track.  And yet, surprise is all I could think of the first time I heard this song.  Jack White begging another woman not to take his man is a bit startling at first, but eventually it becomes transcendent.  I think Jack is twice the woman this Jolene gal is reported to be…

10.  Paranoid Android – Easy Star All-Stars

Easy Star All-Stars are a band with a novel concept; they record reggae covers of entire albums.  It started in 2003 with Dub Side Of The Moon, a cover of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side Of The Moon.  In 2006 Easy Star released a cover of Radiohead’s OK Computer titled Radiodread.  My college roommate Eric had been telling me for a while to listen to it, but I never got around to picking up a copy.  I finally heard this when this track was included in a DavelyBob’s Song Of The Day email3.  It’s awesome!  The whole Radiodread album is worth a listen, but this song is the definite standout.  There’s just something about Radiohead’s music that lends itself out to eccentric covers.

End of Side One.  Please flip over and come back tomorrow for Side Two.

Ciao,

The Captain

1  With the exception of Nifty Fifties from 2006.  A disc full of my favorite songs from the 1950s was probably my most eccentric and yet most popular choice.  Who knew?

2  The Scissor Sister’s version of Comfortably Numb is definitely worth checking out.  Turning Pink Floyd into a gay dance club anthem is a work of art.

3  Just last week DavelyBob finally wrapped up his Song Of The Day experiment for good.  While sporadic in execution, it was still a great three-year ride.  I’ve been playing around with the notion of doing a similar type Song Of The Week email for a while now; maybe in 2011…

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