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Saturday, April 28, 2007

The sad tale of self-remakes

There's nothing more pathetic than an artist remaking his/her own hit song. That is an act that screams to the world, "I am a desperate has-been and I am completely out of ideas!"

This occurred to me when I heard that John Waite has released a new version of his 1984 hit "Missing You," entitled "Missing You 2007." It's a duet with Alison Krauss, and I love Alison, but there is never an excuse for a self-remake, so I must call John Waite on his shit.

Today I examine some of the more popular self-remakes in recent years and rate them on the trash scale from 1 garbage can (slightly pathetic) to five (extremely pathetic):

"Layla," Eric Clapton, 1992

The song that started the self-remake trend. It gets off easy for a couple of reasons: First, I don't think Clapton knew it was going to be released as a single when he sang it during his Unplugged performance, so it wasn't an obvious attempt to capitalize on past glory, unlike many of the others; and second, Clapton clearly was not out of ideas, as he proved with a string of hits the rest of the decade.

"Reason to Believe," Rod Stewart, 1993

Having witnessed Clapton's rebirth after Unplugged, Stewart decided to do the same thing by performing some of his '70s hits and releasing them as singles again, with "Reason to Believe" being the most notable. This was an early warning sign that Rod's career was beginning a downward spiral that would culminate with his recent covers albums.

"Don't Go Breaking My Heart," Elton John & RuPaul, 1993

This one isn't so bad, because it was done as a novelty rather than an attempt to recapture past success. The video is a must-see - Elton & Ru portray all sorts of famous couples throughout history, including Sonny & Cher, John Travolta & Olivia Newton-John, and the farmers in that American Gothic painting.

MySpace video link: Don't Go Breaking My Heart - Elton John & RuPaul

"Hey Now (Girls Just Wanna Have Fun)", Cyndi Lauper, 1994

One of the most laughable moments in pop music history. A long-forgotten Cyndi sings her biggest hit, reggae-style. I just felt sorry for her.

YouTube video link: Hey Now (Girls Just Wanna Have Fun) - Cyndi Lauper

"I Will Always Love You," Dolly Parton & Vince Gill, 1995

The gold standard in pathetic self-remakes. After Whitney Houston had a smash hit with a cover of Dolly's 1974 song, Dolly re-recorded the track with country music's biggest star at the time, Vince Gill. There was absolutely no reason for this, except for Parton to shamelessly capitalize on the success of Whitney's version. Mission accomplished, self-respect obliterated.

What's amazing is that the 1995 version was actually the THIRD time Dolly did the song; in addition to the original, she had recorded it again in 1982 (it hit #1 both times).

"Drift Away," Dobie Gray & Uncle Kracker, 2003

Dobie had been out of the spotlight for decades when this song came back. I don't begrudge him the chance to return and make a few dollars, but I hate that he had to do it with a no-talent hack like Uncle Kracker. It's impossible to listen to this remake, because every time Kracker sings, you think to yourself, why don't I just listen to the non-Kracker original instead?

"Missing You 2007," John Waite & Alison Krauss, 2007

Making this remake even less necessary is the fact that Brooks & Dunn remade the song just a few years ago, so it's already hit the country charts. Oh, and John Waite has NOT aged well. (Don't fret, John, when I do my list of the best power ballads of all-time, you've got another song that's going to top the list...)

YouTube video link: Missing You 2007 - John Waite & Alison Krauss

"Freak On a Leash," Korn & Amy Lee, 2007

Nobody's paid attention to Korn in years, so they decide to go the Unplugged route as well and perform their biggest hit with a singer people actually still care about (Evanescence's Amy Lee). Jonathan Davis tries to go Alanis on our ass with a serious, subdued vocal, but the original version with him screaming was better. He also leaves out the swear words. This from a once-fearsome metal band that used to scare parents? Lame. This would be a total disaster if not for the talented Lee.

Did I forget any?

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Emerging band alert: HUMANWINE

Last month I had a chance to see Boston band HUMANWINE (all caps, please) at Club Cafe, and it was an awesome show. Intriguing tattooed female singer Holly Brewer sometimes plays the kazoo, and guitarist M@ McNiss sings like a pirate, thus, they have their own genre - "gypsy pirate rock". The other two band spots are filled on a rotating basis – for this tour, the drummer was Brian Viglione from the Dresden Dolls.

They have forced critics to dig deep into the thesaurus. Among the terms used to describe their sound - brooding, enchanting, offbeat, haunting, eclectic.

MP3: HUMANWINE - Rivolta Silenziosa

Here's a live video recorded earlier this month from a stop on their Fighting Naked tour:

Find HUMANWINE online at:

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Daniel Johns has lost his anorexic charm

The lineup for Lollapalooza 2007 was announced last week, and it’s outstanding. Far better than Bonnaroo, almost equal to Coachella. As a group, the headliners – Pearl Jam, Interpol, Yeah Yeah Yeahs – are so-so, but how about all these smaller acts: TV On the Radio, Amy Winehouse, LCD Soundsystem, Patti Smith, M.I.A., !!!, Polyphonic Spree, Lupe Fiasco, the Rapture, Tokyo Police Club...

But the biggest guilty pleasure on the list for myself (and many others, judging from what I’ve been reading) is a little Australian outfit called Silverchair. Yes, the teenage post-grunge act that broke through in 1995 with “Tomorrow,” the song that always made me wonder, Why does he hate the fat boy so much?

I’ve only recently discovered that singer Daniel Johns has startlingly gone the Trent Reznor route and pumped up to steroid-esque proportions overnight. It’s a bit disturbing. He is the Barry Bonds of rock:

Daniel in 1999 vs. 2007:

How is he going to sing “Ana’s Song” now that he’s lost his anorexic charm?

Nonetheless I still love their old stuff, especially "Freak" and "Abuse Me." And I always thought "Anthem for the Year 2000" was a vastly underrated song:

Friday, April 20, 2007

Buy me Amanda Palmer's Volvo

Amanda Palmer of the Dresden Dolls is selling her beat-up 1992 Volvo station wagon on eBay. Why? Because she can.

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"I bought this car in 1999. It has about 168,000 miles on it. I love this car. But its time to go car-free. I am a globe-trotting, plane-taking, train-taking motherfucker. Plus my parents are getting irritated that the thing is sitting in their driveway. The poor car, all Sad and Alone.

Ok, it wont start (which is why I ditched it there before the last tour) but I am guessing, in my most honest of estimates, that it doesn't need more than $500 of work to get it running and then it will be good for another life."

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Drummer Brian Viglione offers his testimonial:

"What a rich history this car has had...from our first tours around the region, the treks back and forth between NYC and Shokan for the making our our records, the Jeep Song reference, the very seat where Coin-Operated boy was conceived, and all the other intimate details of ones life that transpire over the coarse of ownership of that beloved, blue vehicle. And on top of it, it was the most spacious model of station wagon that Volvo has offered and, aside from the broken doors, can easily accommodate haul a number of heavy and/or oddly shaped objects or people."

It was removed from eBay's site last night because eBay was mad it was listed as music memorabilia instead of automobiles, but Amanda promises to get it back online soon. It will probably go for several thousand dollars... if only I had that kind of disposable income!

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Scruffy hair and Sauconys

From time to time I suffer from NYC withdrawal. My one or two visits a year aren't enough to satisfy my thirst for east village dive bars, Chelsea coffee shops, LES ethnic restaurants, and Williamsburg record stores.

I recently found a temporary cure for my nyc withdrawal - the Jeffrey Lewis video "Williamsburg Will Oldham Horror." It's a quirky song and the accompanying video makes me feel like I'm right there in hipster heaven.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Mad props to Avril

Avril Lavigne’s 15 minutes were supposed to be up years ago, but here she is again, with another hit album, and insanely catchy single Girlfriend. Sure, the song is derivative (It’s Hollaback Girl with guitars), but so what?

It’s time for everyone to grudgingly give Avril respect as one of the most successful pop artists of this decade. When her second album came out I thought for sure it was going to bomb, because times had changed and her skater punk style wasn’t hot anymore, but the songs were just too good for it to bomb. You can’t overstate what an accomplishment that was. Look at Good Charlotte – they're facing the same struggle, and they haven’t been able to stay relevant. Now no one cares about them. (Well, aside from us members of the Billy Martin fan club…)

Nobody should rightfully be enjoying an Avril Lavigne song in the year 2007, but she continues to defy the odds with album #3. I’m also digging her new pink and black motif -- “Valentine’s goth,” you might call it.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Conor Oberst: oldest boy genius in the world

I was going to use this space to praise a certain music magazine's recent review of the new Bright Eyes album. I was going to link to it, and talk about how the opening line was brilliant, how it was so much better than anything I could've written, and how it made me journalistically insecure.

But when I went to find said review on this magazine's website, it wasn't there. It's infuriating that some major music publications don't have their magazine content online. So instead I'm going to praise one of their competitors: Rolling Stone. RS takes a lot of heat sometimes but at least their website is easy to navigate and contains most everything from the magazine.

As for the aforementioned Bright Eyes release, I've only had time to listen through once but I'm liking it so far. And it allows me an opportunity to post the photo of myself with Conor, after a show at Club Laga in 2004. I've gotten my photo taken with a handful of artists, but Conor is the most famous, so here's a gratuitous shot:

He said he liked my coat. (But then, who wouldn't?)

By the way, if you Google "Conor Oberst" and "boy genius," you get 1,910 hits. Make that 1,911, after this blog gets submitted to the search engines...

And while we're being gratuitous, here's the outstanding video for one of my favorite songs of all time, "First Day Of My Life." Performed by Bright Eyes, directed by John Cameron Mitchell (Hedwig & the Angry Inch, Shortbus).

Friday, April 13, 2007

Her name is Rio, and she closes the goddamn door

The other day I came across Duran Duran’s Rio video, while a copy of the Rolling Stone with Panic! At the Disco on the cover was sitting on my table, and it struck me that these two are EXACTLY THE SAME BAND. Of course this comparison has been made before, but I never realized just how accurate it was.

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Duran Duran was known as much for their sharp style, cool hair and good looks as for their catchy pop ditties, just like P!ATD. Both bands received their fair share of scorn for this. The difference is that, over time, people came around and gave respect to Duran Duran, while it hasn’t happened yet for P!ATD. No matter, though. I think that’s part of the reason RS decided to put Panic on the cover. They realize that while they may get some criticism for it now, years from now it will make sense.

And, since RS once put Duran Duran on the cover...

Thursday, April 12, 2007

First post: Take the Ashlee Simpson test

So after months of imagining this in my head, I've finally gotten around to starting the music blog. Ultimately I want this blog to be incorporated into my all-encompassing Pittsburgh local music site. We'll see if that materializes...

I'll start off with the origin of the blog name. My litmus test for judging someone's musical open-mindedness is the "Ashlee Simpson test." See, I have some friends who are what I call indie snobs - they refuse to listen to anything mainstream and only like obscure Pitchfork shit. Of course I also like some of that stuff, but I'm willing to admit when top 40 stuff is good. I don't judge songs based on who's singing them.

Exhibit A is Ashlee Simpson's 2004 smash "Pieces of Me." The indie snobs dismissed the song before even hearing it, based simply on the name of the performer. But those who listened objectively found one of the catchiest hooks of this decade. The way she holds on to the that first note forever... the vocal nuances like her enunciation of the word "head"... this chorus is pure pop perfection.

Sure, the lyrics are trite, but so what? Good pop music is about catchy hooks that you can't get out of your head. "Pieces of Me" is a flat-out great pop song. Indie snobs, why must you be so cold-hearted as to deny the brilliance of this melody?

So, I'll still write about TV On the Radio, Xiu Xiu, Cat Power, and all the critical favorites, but when someone like Jesse McCartney or Hilary Duff puts out a good song, I will be the first to proclaim its greatness.

Just because a song gets played on the radio doesn't mean it sucks.