Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Cover to Cover

Covers albums are strange mutant beasts, chock full of miscalculations, pumped up with hubris, accented by hedonistic celebrations of simpler pasts, and, here and there, pick ‘em-choose ‘em, true moments of recorded rock and roll exhilaration—formed from the alchemy produced by the brief occurrence of conception matching up head-to-head with inspiration. (Ya know,the ol' action equaling thought.) Confession. I own (and dig) a batch of these shaggy dogs, a trend which began when I fell head over heels for then rising superstar David Bowie’s Pin-Ups, released in 1973 as a (at the time) hugely perplexing follow-up to the back-to-back smashes Ziggy Stardust and Aladdin Sane. My disparate check list includes the following: Bryan Ferry’s These Foolish Things (’73), The Ramones’ Acid-Eaters (’93), Guns and Roses’ The Spaghetti Incident (’93), Duran Duran’s Thank You (’95), Metallica’s Garage, Inc. (’98), Rage Against the Machine’s Renegades (’00), Cat Powers’ The Covers Record (’00), Tori Amos’ Strange Little Girls (’01), Def Leppard’s Yeah! (’06), and Matthew Sweet and Susana Hoff’s Under the Covers, Vol. 1 (’06).
Rock ‘n roll goddess and recent Hall of Fame inductee Patti Smith joined this weird and wooly club and burrowed far under the covers with her new release, Twelve. Unlike most of the aforementioned collections, Smith’s is surprisingly guileless, and, probably to the disappointments of many long time fans, a record that studiously avoids the titillations of punk. (In other word, don’t go searching for another “Gloria:In Excelsis Deo.”) Instead, Twelve is filled with contemplative, scaled-down, often disorientating covers (a bluegrassy “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, an incantatory “Are You Experienced”, a dirge like “Midnight Rider”), subdued, respectful, largely straightforward readings (“The Boy in the Plastic Bubble”, “Pastime Paradise”), and covers that emphasize the resifting of political and sociological signifiers rather than overt musical transformations. (“White Rabbit”, “Within You Without You”, “Changing of the Guards”). It seems that Smith is intent on exploring her spiritual proclivities rather than her usual Dionysian ones, although a few cuts rock with focused passion (“Gimmie Shelter”, “Soul Kitchen”) and two actually manage to acutely transform the originals (“Helpless”, “ Everybody Wants To Rule the World”). All in all, a smart album, albeit a highly meditative one, and another nifty entry in the covers album sweepstakes.


Charlie Drago said...
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Charlie Drago said...

To this jazz connoisseur, the lexicons of pop and rock are rife with simplistic and disingenuous terms.

Case in point: "cover."

It is inconceivable that, say, a George Coleman recording of "Giant Steps" or a Phil Woods recording of "Blood Count" would be referred to as a "cover" of the John Coltrane or Duke Ellington (respectively) original version.

The properly encompassing and respectful term: "reinterpretation."

But let's not get hung up on jazz. Did Glenn Gould "cover" Bach?

Mere semantics? I think not. To these sensibilities, "cover" implies obfuscation, disguise, refutation of essence, or at best simple-minded regurgitation.

Another case in point" "solo" album.

If language is to have any value whatsoever, then a "solo" recording presents ONE performer.

But of course in pop and rock, "solo" is used in place of "leader."

Why the deformation of language? I recognize and indeed cherish the mutability of our mother tongue. But change for change's sake alone is change for the wrong reason.

mdoggie said...
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mdoggie said...

My favorite album cover is definitely the "White Album" by the Beatles 'cause it's so conceptual man. The white means everything and nothing all at once like a Ferlinghetti poem from 1982 about 1965. Oh, you're talking about cover bad baby.
Charlie, tell me where and what else you have published. If your prose here is any indication, I hope they serve some refreshments on that intercontinental/interdimensional flight.
As a true amateur musician; defined as one with mush passion and very little skill and knowledge, I love covers. I have done many myself and they always end up as "interpretations" because I lack the skill and knowledge to reproduce them faithfully. I am still "interpreting" "I Wanna Be Your Dog" and "Waiting for the Man" for like 30 years now and find them as challenging/inspiring/and exciting as ever. I have been newly encouraged by many covers over the years, particularly "covers" by the original artist themselves. Like the Lou Reed 4 disc set that has early early Velvet versions, the Dylan Basement Tapes, The John Lennon posthumous releases with many versions of what eventually becomes the "final" version we all know and love. In Paris, we went to a Dali and a Picasso museum which featured many different versions of their most well known images. I thought all these years that the great versions of things I knew had sprung full blown like Athena from Zeus. Seeing and hearing all these "covers" is liberating to the would be creator, it means you get to work on a song, yours or someone else's and that even your fucked up version is valid as long as it's true to heart.

Charlie Drago said...


When you confess that you possess "very little skill and knowledge," you declare the obvious with an air of discovery.

Telling you "where and what else [I] have published" would be the equivalent of directing a ferret to the Library of Congress.

Given the reading comprehension skills on display in your precious post, I urge you to keep working on "Why Don't We Do It in the Road," while the adults with higher than room temperature IQs enjoy "Let's Do It."

"Ferlinghetti, Dali, Picasso, Athena, Zeus ... my bad." Oh, your post-modern eclecticism is STUNNING, darling.

Have you taken to sleeping in the RISD dumpster again?

Fuck Lovecraft -- YOU are Providence.


Charlie Drago said...


I might add that your respect for syntax, roughly akin to that of George Bush and his masters for the U.S. Constitution, illustrates my original point with the utmost precision.

There is nothing cutting edge or cool about your (ab)use of language. You do not make insightful cultural references.

You can't write. You name drop.

Good luck at AS220.


skylolo99 said...

I love the fact that Patti 'covers' 'Changing of the Guard'. This is another bit of evidence to show that 'Street Legal' is indeed a great Bob Dylan album.
Years ago Todd also did a pretty cool album of covers with a great rendition of 'Good Vibrations'.
Sure, pop and rock may have a lexicon that is sometimes simplistic but the real thing that hits the heart is never disingenuous. True for Coltrane, true for Dion, true for the listener who is hit at the right time by the right note.
Do a little dance, make a little love, get down tonight.

mdoggie said...
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mdoggie said...

Charlie, my reference to your writing was an attempt at a sideways tip 'o the hat, a nod to your obvious love of language and your skill at arranging words. I was interested in reading more. Never mind though, obviously the spent pizza boxes I use as pillows in my comfy dumpster have coagulated my pea-brain...
To continue with covers of note...Iggy's "Shakin all Over" on "Avenue B" is like a celebration, it comes at you with verve and spark in the midst of all that quiet, sullen bitterness and introspection.
Hey Mark C, Do you know the chords for "Why Don't We Do It in the Road?" That is a cool song...

Charlie Drago said...


Why didn't you say so?

skylolo99 said...

Mark D.
Yeah, sure I got the chords for Why Don't We Do It in the Road.
F and U.
Charlie Drago

Sorry - I couldn't resist.

john k said...

On my way back from the city of witchcraft (Salem) today, I heard a new cover of Working Class Hero by Green Day. It is true to the original with Billy Joe muttering the old F word a few times. I'm curious to see how some Green Day fans-(Who is John Lennon?) receive it.

Scott, I digress here but I found a great page that tracks the beginning of our shared addiction. I know that you will enjoy the trip back to our innocence:

Charlie Drago said...

Why do you need the chords?

For God's sake, hear the tune in your head and play it.

We're not talking "Pensativa" here.


mdoggie said...

Thanks guys, I'm working on it right now .... F, U, C, D - what a classic progression!

I like "Singin in the Rain" from "A Clockwork Orange" how about you Charlie?

Scotty D said...

Ahh, Charlie ya gotta learn to start drinking a little earlier in the day like the rest of us. As a self-titled jazz "connoisseur" you gotta muster all your strength in order to lift your thick neck up a little higher off the throne and take a peep at us rock and pop fans on all fours crawling around on dusty floor of yer kingdom. Jazz is jazz, or jizz to some, and while a "connoisseur" (I get sweaty just saying it) such as yourself pauses to ponder exactly which Charlie Parker wail shook the world upside down, we will dumbly revel in our rock and roll nursery rhymes, content with the fact that we haven’t wet ourselves yet and we might get a chance to gobble down some table scraps of catchy choruses, ringing guitars, and “simplistic” musicality. Jazzbo’s reinterpret, no argument there, while rockers and popsters simply do covers. (I’m just guessing that, among many other majestic actions, that jazz "connoisseurs" -now I’m rolling that mofo right off the tongue- do the obfuscate, a tremendous dance step.) Covers are done for many reasons, all obvious—as a homage to an artist or a genre, as a celebration, as a reinterpretation, even believe it or not, as a lark. The best part of your funny but rather venomous attack on my brother mdoggie is that he left Providence at the age of 18 for greener pastures (Chicago, Minneapolis, LA, Seattle) and never came back, couldn’t find RISD if you spotted him South Main Street, and has no goddamn clue what AS220 is,so I guess declaring the HE was Providence ( I wish you said that he was Spartucus, cuz I am too)must been divined from a thought process he developed in nearby East Providence before he hit the road, jack. He mighta read some Lovecraft though.(Somebuddy help me out-is pensativa a deadly tropical misquito bite or some early form of viagra that jazzbos like Art Blakey or that L. Ron Freddy Hubbard guy took?)

Charlie Drago said...


You typed: "I like 'Singin in the Rain' from 'A Clockwork Orange' how about you Charlie?"

In English, that would be:

I like "Singin' in the Rain," from "A Clockwork Orange." How about you, Charlie?

Although in the spirit of full disclosure, your "F,U,C,D" bon mot represents a step up.

Charlie Drago said...


My intent was to comment on language and how it changes, for better and worse.

I purposefully avoided any semblance of comparisons on their respective merits of jazz and other musical forms. Such was not the point -- not even CLOSE to the point.

To reiterate: The terms "cover" and "solo" as I referenced them are, in my opinion, inappropriately used as descriptions of interpretations of musical repertory and album leadership respectively.

So really, your criticism is wholly inappropriate insofar as it is offered in response to points I neither made overtly nor intended to imply.

As for the motivation of my two direct responses to mdoggie, I can offer only that I intepreted his less than artfully phrased "tip of the hat" as an ad hominem jab, one which cried out for retaliation.

In any event, I'm done.


mdoggie said...

Yes Charlie,

I will phrase my praise more artfully in the future. I would not jab at you without a thesaurus under one arm and a full choir of altar boys at my back...I still have my own pee on me from the ferocity of your counter-attack...

Charlie Drago said...


To the degree that I am guilty of misreading you: My apologies.


mdoggie said...

No sweat Charlie, I accept your apology and will add that you wield words deftly and sharply, even as I was covering my face from the repeated blows, I was impressed. I will try to emulate your clarity in the future so we can avoid misunderstandings.

Anonymous said...

Wow, the pen IS mightier (and more palatable) than the sword. I have to say that Mr. Drago has a point, which from personal experience, I know that the man:
a) plays saxophone from the loin
B) laments a beautiful genre who has at best lied dormant (like Latin) in a time that cries out for its innovativeness and coolness.
And sometimes even I, who carried the spike haired banner higher than allot of youse, cringes at the misuse of some the of terms that have found their way to another connotation. Much in the same way we will all cringe when there is a hamburger joint called Johnny Rotten's.

Bruce Lee Jr said...

Yup, jazz was different. When Jimmy Smith played a song done first by Turrentine I believe it came out about six months later and stanley played on that track as well.

And let us not forget that sweet K-tel John Lennon 70's stinker cover album that sounded like it was recorded in one afternoon. P U.

Oh and the Green DAy cover of working class hero is just another shining example of why you should never stay true to the original.

well, except for this....

Scotty D said...

God bless Mike Patton, and get him some valium too. It took me half of the song's four minutes to come to the grips that the Bacharach/David tune was being delivered seriously, and the next two minutes were spent shakin' my head in a combo of awe and disbelief. Now, that's a cover!

Anonymous said...

Man I love the fact that the drummer (who is not only holding the chair for Ozzy, but co-writing material and putting up with Sharon)is playing the song just like Burt wouldwant to hear it.