Monday, 13 December 2010
News, Views and Music Issue 83 (Top Five) Weird AAA Cover Versions
♫ In the annals of the Alan’s Archive member groups there are some truly weird and wonderful sounds. We’ve already covered most of these elsewhere on the site in our psychedelia and experimental sections (take a bow John Lennon sound collages, Brian Wilson chopping up wood for a Beach Boys backing track and Pink Floyd songs about roadies cooking breakfast!), but this week we’re looking at the more mainstream oddities, pieces of music so clearly identified with another artist or another era so completely you wonder how on earth they ever got suggested in the first place:
5) Paul McCartney and Wings “Crossroads” (from ‘Venus and Mars’, 1976): For instance, what on earth possessed the ex-Beatle to re-record a minute long theme from a soap opera by the prolific Tony Hatch on an album that was intended to be Macca’s ‘big’ return to the spotlight following the success of ‘Band On The Run’? Well, officially its meant to be a bit of a pun, hidden away at the end of the album a la ‘Her Majesty’ on the Beatles’ ‘Abbey Road’ and following a track called ‘Lonely Old People’ (because, thought Macca, lonely old people liked to watch ‘Crossroads’ and sat in front of the telly to take away the pain of being old if you listen to the lyrics of the song – I wonder how Macca feels about it now that he’s 68?!) Yep, I can just imagine how that band meeting went: ‘So, guys, I love the heavy adult feel of this album but it would be great if we could end it with a snatch of a soap opera tune that only people of a certain age will recognise in years to come...’
4) Neil Young “Oh! Lonesome Me!” (from ‘After The Goldrush’, 1970): I actually really like this cover, which is usually held up by critics and fans to be the one mistake on Neil’s ‘breakthrough’ LP. But it is truly truly weird – this happy poppy country song, overplayed from millions of cover versions by Johnny Cash and Nancy Sinatra among others, is slowed down to a crawl with Neil’s mouthorgan overpowering us with emotion after practically every line. But the sentiments of the song – how the narrator’s girl is out having fun after they split but all he can do is think about her and mope – is far more in keeping with Neil’s revisitation than the faux optimism of the original and most covers. The restrictive and bare-bones accompaniment put the emphasis on Neil’s vocal rather than his guitar or piano playing for perhaps the only time in his prolific career and it’s one of his best, full of pathos and barely concealed hurt. Despite being at the peak of his career in sales terms, Neil was deeply unhappy in this period, splitting from his first wife shortly before the ‘Goldrush’ sessions and no song sums up his lost dazed state more than this quietly impressive cover.
3) Ray Davies “That Old Black Magic” (from ‘The Storyteller’, 1998): When the elder Kinks brother started touring a part-monologue, part-musical show based around his ‘unofficial autobiography’ X-Ray (alright, I’ll use that joke just one last time!) fans were expecting lots of unusual developments. They got them too – songs about Ray’s childhood worries of becoming disabled following a football accident, songs about Ray’s first hopeless attempts at chatting up the girls at his art school and most movingly a song about an early fan who kept cropping up at early gigs. But the biggest surprise was this revival of a hoary old mainstream classic, remembered from Ray’s childhood as a song his sisters would play regularly on the radio and delivered pretty much straight (well, until the innuendo at the end of the song anyway). The shock of hearing one of rock’s biggest rebels and outsiders treating song from the era before his birth with such awe makes for the most bizarre experiences in Kinks record collecting, give or take a ‘phenomenal cat’ or two.
2) Hollies “Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah” (an outtake from ‘The Hollies’ sessions 1965, first issues on a music for pleasure compilation also titled ‘The Hollies’ from 1984 and currently available on ‘The Hollies At Abbey Road Volume One’): An outtake from the album reviewed above, this is also one of the strangest experiences a collector can have. A classic Disney song from the now sadly forgotten part-animation part-live action film ‘Song Of The South’, the Hollies dispense with the laidback arrangement of the original in favour of a raucous and rocky reading of a bright and bubbly song perfectly in keeping with The Hollies of 1963 and 1964 (although it just sounds wrong when heard amongst their more troubled 1965 recordings). In their early days The Hollies were energy and enthusiasm set against The Beatles’ professionalism, The Searchers’ primitivism and The Stones’ air of uncaring naughtiness and so whilst ‘Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah’ would be a mistake in anybody else’s hands it suits The Hollies just fine and you can almost see those bluebirds on your shoulder when you play it (quit chirping so loud, guys, I’m trying to listen!)
1) Byrds “We’ll Meet Again” (from ‘Mr Tambourine Man’, 1965): The weirdest AAA cover of all, though, has to be the famous Vera Lynn war anthem heard re-done in a folk rock format in a surprisingly reverential version by the early Byrds. All of the first few Byrds albums end with some weird musical statement (follow-up ‘Turn!Turn!Turn!’ ends with a banjo-led ‘Oh! Susannah!’(!)) but this one takes the biscuit – Vera Lynn is replaced by an earnest sounding Roger McGuinn and a barely-keeping-off-the-hysterics David Crosby who treat the song to some typical Byrds-ish Rickenbacker guitar and some, erm, interesting American pronounciations of the words (‘till we meet again some sunny day-e-ay, yay yay yay’). It’s been said, though, that this version of the song is less about seeing sweethearts after the patriotic World War Two than seeing sweethearts after draft-dodging the rather less patriotic and more confused moral ground of Vietnam, a war just beginning to make the headlines when the band recorded this. If the 1960s were a renunciation of everything the previous war-focussed generation had been through (as some of this website has been arguing), then this faithful adaptation is a true oddity, a song originally bought by the parents of the teenyboppers who bought the early Byrds albums and meaning something quite different to both generations, an astonishing time capsule of changing eras and beliefs. Although, having said that, McGuinn for one has said he just considered ‘We’ll Meet Again’ to be a ‘good tune’.
Well, that’s it for another issue. I’m not sure what’s happening next week but if we are free we shall be bringing you what will be our third Christmas special, looking at the best releases of the year. See you then!