Friday, May 30, 2008

But Could It Make "We Built This City" Sound Good?

The Internet can be quite a double-edged sword sometimes. Anyone who thinks of something clever or interesting can share it with the rest of the world as long as they have a computer and an internet connection. Blogs are the trendiest manifestation of that. On the other hand, once you have that clever/interesting thought a quick online search will often reveal that the thought is far from original. Other people have already had it, researched it more thoroughly, articulated it better and turned it into a t-shirt.

Such was the case with the topic I wanted to blog about tonight -- my belief that nearly every ska cover version of a song sounds better than the original. I've still got a CD I burned with a bunch of such tunes that I got off of Napster back before Metallica decided we couldn't do that sort of thing. But before I started my post I did a quick Google search and had all the air taken out of my balloon -- some other guy named Timothy Sexton had done a post on the EXACT same topic on Associated Content almost a year and a half ago.

Here's where it becomes good not to jump to conclusions. I read his piece and found that while his reasoning why ska covers are typically so good is similar enough to mine that I'm just going to link to it for you to read what he had to say and not re-invent that wheel, his list only had two songs that I intended to put on my own list.

So, we'll just take this as an example of what academic types might call the internet's power to facilitate non-real-time collaboration that mutually benefits all contributors in a symbiotic fashion, and move on to MY list in no particular order:

Tears of a Clown - The English Beat
My vote for the best ska cover ever, the song exemplifies ska's remarkable ability to make ANY subject matter sound happy. Dave Wakeling still puts on a good show, even if he's put on a few pounds over the years and he's the only original member still touring.

99 Red Balloons - Goldfinger
Ska purists (if such a thing exists) might argue this inclusion since Goldfinger is considered more of a punk band by many. They've never had a horn section to my knowledge, but since a lot of their songs emphasive the offbeat rather than the downbeat I've always considered them ska-ish. Whatever you call it, this cover has the sort of naked aggression you'd expect from a song about nuclear armageddon.

Hold Back the Rain - Buck-O-Nine
I never understood why these guys weren't as popular as some of their third wave counterparts. This is a pretty straightforward effort on a fairly obscure Duran Duran song. Well, straightforward until you get to the call-and-response section reminiscent of Cab Calloway. Those rascals even cuss in the middle! Ska bands can get away with anything...

I Think I Love You - Less Than Jake
One of my agreements with Sexton's list. Less Than Jake loves them some covers -- I've heard them do White Lion's Wait live and they have THREE on their 1995 Losers, Kings, and Things We Don't Understand CD (Tommy Tutone's 867-5309 and the theme songs from Dukes of Hazzard and Laverne and Shirley). This Partridge Family remake shows off the versatility of the band's horn section from the ominous opening to the Vaudeville-esque bridge.

The Freshman - Mustard Plug
The Verve Pipe original sounds like something the kids who smoked cloves and read Kafka in college would listen to. Mustard Plug's version starts similarly, but in typical ska fashion soon builds in volume and tempo to the sort of tune the rest of us who drank cheap beer and read the Sunday comics could better relate to.

Brown Eyed Girl - Reel Big Fish
Sexton had Reel Big Fish on his list, but chose to go with their version of The Cure's Boys Don't Cry. I prefer their take on the Van Morrison classic. Another bait-and-switch slow opening followed by two minutes of upbeat skanking goodness. They also do a great rendition of A-Ha's Take on Me.

Come On Eileen - Save Ferris
Almost TOO perfect -- the prominent horns, the jangly guitar, the wacky video. The other song Sexton and I agree on, though I really considered going with their edgier version of Build Me Up Buttercup instead. In the end, Come On Eileen was just too darn fun to leave off.

Charlie Brown - Voodoo Glow Skulls
This great cover takes the opposite approach of some of the others on the list, with a manic first minute that then slows down with a rocksteady interlude in the middle. I saw these guys open up for the Mighty Mighty Bosstones back in the mid-'90s and what I remember most about them is that they had a big bald dude for a lead singer who was completely nuts.

It's Not Unusual - Five Iron Frenzy
A gem from a little-known Christian ska band from right here in Denver, and quite possibly the only band in that particular musical niche ever. I saw these guys back in 1998 on the Ska Against Racism tour with The Toasters and the aforementioned Less Than Jake and Mustard Plug, and I thought they were tremendous. This tune is on their live 1999 Proof That The Youth Are Revolting CD. It's fairly true to the original, retaining the requisite campiness while really emphasizing the horns.

Even if you're not a ska fan, I encourage you to check these out. Guaranteed to get your toes tapping, or I'll refund your full subscription price to this blog!


Timothy Sexton's Yahoo Movies said...

Just now came across this entry and wanted to leave my appreciation for the link to my article and add how terrific I think your song selections are.

timothy sexton

SteveHarbula said...

Thanks, Timothy! I hadn't read this myself in quite a while. :)