Covered: “Come Together”

Covered is a feature where we examine the merits of various cover songs, debating whether or not they capture the spirit and intent of the original, if the cover adds anything new, and whether or not it perhaps surpasses the original.  If we fail on those counts, at the very least we may expose you to different versions of great songs you hadn’t heard before.

Growing up, I hardly listened to The Beatles, which puts me firmly in the minority of most people.  I grew up in an immigrant household with a mother that preferred the Rolling Stones and Bob Seger and a father who didn’t listen to popular music at all, so I missed out on that omnipresent background of Beatles records that make up the soundtrack of most childhoods.  My Beatles education came much later, but it was tainted by years of reading the endless stream of praise for how the band revolutionized music and were “The Greatest Band of All-Time,” which only set me up for disappointment when I went ahead and listened to all their classic albums.  So while I can appreciate on an academic level how the Beatles influenced rock music for decades, I personally never much of a connection with their music; I can understand how the vast majority of music that I do love was influenced by The Beatles and in many cases was a copy of a copy of a copy of their work, but that does not mean I have to enjoy the original.

Given this background, it is perhaps not a surprise that the first time that I heard “Come Together” was not when it kicked off Abbey Road, but when I heard the chorus used in a commercial.  I thought, “Hey, this is nice!  I wonder how the rest of this song goes,” though I never followed up on that desire.  So when I first heard the song in its entirety years later with the memories of its anthemic chorus still stuck in my head, I had anticipated “Come Together” to be more of an uplifting rocker, and was not prepared for the groovy verses or its low-key, bluesy feel.  However, once I adjusted my expectations, I could then appreciate Paul’s nifty and inventive bassline as well as Ringo’s perfectly-placed drumrolls.  Lennon’s lines about “toejam football” and “walrus gumboot” are all nonsense, but at least they stick in your head in a not-unpleasant manner, though I feel like the art of the non sequitur wasn’t perfected until Beck hit the scene.  It’s a groovy song, and I can see why people dig it, but it just ain’t my speed.

“Now this is more like it,” he says, knowing full well that this may destroy all of his credibility.

The Soundgarden cover has always been my favorite of all the various versions of the song because it fulfilled my simple desire of the “uplifting rocker” that I had initially expected: it’s loud and heavy and sounds like a goddamn dinosaur is stomping all over your stereo.  When analyzed with present-day ears, their cover sounds like a grunge-by-numbers take on the song, with its thundering drums, heavily-distorted guitars, and (perhaps overly-)emotive vocals. But at the time when the song was released (back in 1990 the pre-Badmotorfinger days for the Loudest Love EP/”Hands All Over” single), it was a much more innovative and imaginative approach.  Even if you’re unconvinced by that assessment, there is no denying that Kim Thayil’s guitar really wails on that fantastic McCartney riff and Chris Cornell  sings the hell out of those nonsensical lyrics, with everything working in perfect harmony for that memorable chorus.  Academically, it may not be genius, but it rocks.

For years I had been longing to have this cover on disc, but those particular releases were incredibly hard to find, even for a crate-digger like myself.  So when Soundgarden finally released their rarities collection Echo of Miles: Scattered Tracks Across the Path with a specific disc devoted to covers, I was beyond excited to finally having a copy of “Come Together”.  However, the initial price of the compilation was extremely high–it was quite a bit more expensive than the similar odds and sods Wilco collection Alpha Mike Foxtrot, even though the latter had a whole extra disc.  I eventually got my hands on a copy (after waiting a couple of months for the price to drop a bit and using up a gift certificate), and even on a disc filled with excellent covers somehow “Come Together” still holds up as Soundgarden’s best (though their version of “Big Bottom” comes close to topping it).

And now that I have a copy, I’m free to rock to this version and pretty much ignore the original, because I’m a total heretic [raises up a double-fisted rock-hands salute].

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