Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Hey, That Sounds Like... My Top 11 "Tribute" Records

In rock music, imitation is the sincerest form of thievery. If the recording artist -- of the no-original-bone variety -- can fake that sincerity and adopt derivativeness as their musical mission statement to the extent that they can base their career on it, they have it made.

But no matter how successful, the Goo Goo Dolls are no substitute for the Replacements, Bush deserved to be bashed, Creed had no cred, Rancid just clashed with everything and everybody -- it must be tough to grow up in America with American parents and sound so helplessly British. The where-are-they-now Kingdom Come was doing pretty well before they came crashing down like a lead zeppelin, while John Wesley Harding got by for a while out-Costello-ing Costello. Julian Lennon has an excuse, but Chris Isaak doesn’t in his wicked game of emulating Roy Orbison.

The following list does not consist such rip-off records. Each of the eleven entries is more of a one-shot homage from the artist in a respectful nod to a major influence, or constitute happy accidents from solo performers or groups who impulsively or unwittingly -- in a “My Sweet Lord”/ “He’s So Fine”-style of channeling -- fell into a vat of veneration and swam with the tide. I’m allowing for a lot of gray areas, as you see. There’s nothing written in stone here, it’s my non-scientific list, in strict order according to rock-solid whim and finger-in-the-air decisiveness and whatever sprung to mind at the time -- and whatever margin of error there is depends on your contributions and suggestions. So -- phase one, in which Doris gets her oats:

11. Todd Rundgren -- Side one of Faithful:
Remember that shot-by-shot remake of Psycho a few years ago? This is kind of like that. On the first side of this release, the multi-tasking Rundgren attempts to cover six classic songs to note-by-note perfection. Or close to it: He’s a little shaky on Dylan’s “Most Likely You Go Your Way And I’ll Go Mine” and Jimi Hendrix’s “If Six Was Nine.” I don’t mind, I don’t mind, because he does a great pre-fab foursquare job on the Beatles’ “Rain,” and “Strawberry Fields Forever,” and on the Beach Boys’ “Good Vibrations.” This 1976 album is one of those cases where I’m stretching the rules here, getting away from my original conception that these tributes be original songs. My recalcitrance might be due to Rundgren’s trippy remake of the Yardbird’s unsettling and psychedelic “Happenings Ten Years Time Ago,” which gave me such a flashback that the kitchen appliances expressly told me to Question Authority. Even my own.

10. Meet The Buggs -- Meet The Beatles:
Cheating again -- sorry. You probably wouldn’t know about this particular obscurity, but here's the story: when I was ten years old and a committed Beatles fan in 1964, my mother thought she was doing something really special for my brother and sister and me in buying from the supermarket -- for 88 cents! -- what she thought was a Beatles album. It was designed to mislead of course, with the ersatz lads in the same pose as the Beatles on their first album, and with “The Beatle Beat” in huge letters, and in much, much smaller lettering, “with the Buggs.” We never let her hear the end of it, but she ultimately had the last laugh: the LP is now a collector’s item. And of course we don’t have it anymore.

9. Wilco -- “Nothing’s Ever Going To Stand In My Way Again”:
I’m probably the only one who thinks this -- hell, for all I know, Wilco doesn’t even think this -- but huge chunks of this Summerteeth cut sound like something that could’ve been taken from the Kinks’ Face to Face or Something Else. A great song from an under-appreciated album.

8. Green Day -- “Warning”:
Warning: Title Songs On Green Day Albums May Be More Kinks-Like Than They Appear. You can’t tell me that Green Day was unaware that this song is practically a Kinks clone of “Picture Book.” Remember, guys, it's The Village Green Preservation Society, not The Village Green Day Preservation Society. What American idiots.

7. John Fogerty -- “The Old Man Down The Road”:
Well, I guess if you’re going to steal, it’s best to steal from yourself. The courts may not have seen it that way, though -- I can’t remember what the upshot was of the case in which Fogerty revived his Creedence Clearwater Revival classic “Run Through The Jungle” note-by-note. Did he think we wouldn't have caught on?

6. Sheryl Crow -- “If It Makes You Happy”:
It mostly makes me happy when Crow gets all Rolling Stonesy, replete with Keith Richard guitar riffs, like she does on this song. Otherwise…

5. Elvis Costello -- “London’s Brilliant Parade”:
Costello, in answer to an interviewer’s question about this ruminative song from Brutal Youth, acknowledged that it was purposely written as a salute to the Kinks -- and it really is immediately evocative in that sense, in melodic tenor and especially with Costello’s Ray Davies-like vocal inflections and expressiveness. But moreover, the Kinks’ distinctive British sensibilities emerge in a travelogue of sorts as the local sights are taken in, and as Costello invites:
    Just look at me
    I'm having the time of my life
    Or something quite like it
    When I'm walking out and about
    In London's brilliant parade.

4. Paul McCartney -- “Let Me Roll It:”
On-the-ropes and on the run: This John Lennon-like cut from Band On The Run sees McCartney playing around with the dynamics and production a bit in an apparent, and successful, effort to mimic his former songwriting partner. Echo-tinged vocals on the verge of something primal compete with sharp and punctuating up-front guitar reminiscent of the sound on Plastic Ono Band -- seemingly saying, in response to Lennon's earlier musical rebuke, he sleeps just fine and what’s it to ya?

3. The Sunrays -- “We All Live For The Sun”:
There’s a good reason this 1965 hit and its follow-up, “Andrea,” sounds so much like the Beach Boys. It was produced by a bitter Murray Wilson, father of Brian, Dennis, and Carl, after Brian had fired him as the group’s manager -- I should say, rather, the group’s meddling and tyrannical manager.

2. The Beatles -- “Back In The USSR”:Hey, if ya can’t kid your enemies, who can ya kid? Am I right or am I right? The quintessential All-American Beach Boys (as channeled via the equally all-American Chuck Berry) bring a little sunshine to the Cold War with witty words and soaring vocals. You can have those California girls -- just come and keep your comrade warm:

    Well the Ukraine girls really knock me out
    They leave the west behind
    And Moscow girls make me sing and shout
    They Georgia's always on my my my my my my my my my mind

    Oh, show me round your snow peaked
    mountain way down south
    Take me to you daddy's farm
    Let me hear you balalaika's ringing out
    Come and keep your comrade warm
    I'm back in the USSR
    Hey, You don't know how lucky you are, boy
    Back in the USSR
    Oh, let me tell you honey…

1. The Knickerbockers -- “Lies”:I was fooled, and so were many others. Anybody who has ever heard this 1966 hit thinks it is the Beatles. It’s uncanny, and the song itself -- a fast-paced done-me-wrong Lennon-style rocker, can stand beside many early Beatles’ compositions. The Knickerbockers might have gone on to be serious competition, but they didn’t write “Lies” (hippy, dippy “Summer Breeze" Seals and Crofts did!) nor many of their other songs, and they didn’t have a cute one and a funny one and nobody really cared if another was a “Sorry Girls, He’s Married” one. After a couple other minor hits they went back to playing frat parties in New Jersey.

Well, there it is, flawed and kind of spur-of-the-moment as it is -- and I'm sure I'll be kicking myself later for what I've forgotten. So you are cordially invited to tell me where I went wrong, and to add a few suggestions of your own to make it all right again.


At 8:08 PM, Blogger FreeThinker said...

Great post - I love these songs!

I wrote a post about the Beach Boys today.

At 1:57 PM, Anonymous Mister Whirly said...

Are you sure the Knickerbockers didn't write Lies? I have the Nuggets : Original Artyfacts CD and they are credited with the writing credits (Beau Charles/Buddy Randell) - I really can't see this as a Seals & Croft song... Also the fact that Seals & Croft didn't emerge as a duo until 1969 (and Lies was out in 1966...) seems a little strange...

At 1:58 PM, Anonymous Mister Whirly said...

Are you sure the Knickerbockers didn't write Lies? I have the Nuggets : Original Artyfacts CD and they are credited with the writing credits (Beau Charles/Buddy Randell) - I really can't see this as a Seals & Croft song... Also the fact that Seals & Croft didn't emerge as a duo until 1969 (and Lies was out in 1966...) seems a little strange...


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