Kim Thayil

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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Catching Up On The Week (Nov. 28 Edition)

Some #longreads as you awaken from the Thanksgiving food coma…

We’re going to put the spotlight on Seattle this weekend, since we have multiple articles discussing the city’s place in music history.  First, Seattle Weekly talks to Bruce Pavitt, co-founder of the now-legendary independent label Sub Pop.  Next, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer has a profile of Dave Grohl as the Emerald City episode of his Sonic Highways is set to air.  And finally, Kim Thayil of Soundgarden talks to Loudwire about the band’s new rarities release Echo of Miles.

Seattle, though often grey, is still pretty.

Seattle, though often grey, is still pretty.

We’ve been enjoying the latest album from TV on the Radio these past couple of weeks, and before we unveil our official review on Tuesday, read up on the making of the new album with profiles in both the New York Times and Consequence of Sound.

The Atlantic has an article about how the internet helped spark a revival of interest in Nick Drake, far more than he had enjoyed in his brief life and career.  While we mentioned the seminal Volkswagen ad in our “Pink Moon” Covered feature, this piece helps fill in some additional interesting details.

In the past we’ve looked at different aspects of the streaming debate, mainly focusing our attention on Spotify and their payout model.  East Bay Ray of the Dead Kennedys sheds some insight on another service we’ve neglected, YouTube, showing how the company pays even less to artists than its competitors.

Though he’s mainly known for the off-center comedic empire he’s built with partner Tim Heidecker, Eric Wareheim has had a successful side-gig as a director of music videos.  The AV Club interviews Eric for its Random Reels feature, and he sheds insights on such videos as the frightening “We Are Water” video he did for HEALTH (and cited in our Scariest Videos list) as well as the weirdly gorgeous “Wishes” video from Beach House.

And finally, Pitchfork has multiple articles worth checking out this weekend.  Be sure to read this pleasant interview with Pulp’s Jarvis Cocker, then check out this analysis of the importance of Top 40 radio and the significance of different genre stations.  And finally, proving that the publication actually has a sense of humor, here’s “The Most Crucial And Yet Totally Overlooked Releases of 2014 and a Pre-Emptive Guide to 2015.”

Feats of Strength: Soundgarden

Soundgarden released several deluxe reissues of their classic album Superunknown today, and along with their recent rollicking performance of the album in full, it seems like now is the perfect time to spotlight the band for our Feats of Strength examination.  When discussing the brilliance of Soundgarden, it is absolutely required that one mentions the sheer musical talent of each person in the group, and how each contributed significantly to the group’s unique sound.  From Chris Cornell’s dynamic and immense vocal range, to Kim Thayil’s distinctive and exhilarating leads, to Ben Shepherd’s dark and groovy basslines, and to Matt Cameron’s complex patterns and fills, each member represents some of the finest talent to ever pick up an instrument.  For the young musicians out there, any one of those guys would serve as a fine role model for your playing.

The point of that glowing introduction was to illustrate that it would be pretty easy to point to just about any song in Soundgarden’s deep catalog and use it to show off a particular strength of the group.  Oh, you want an idea of Chris Cornell’s range?  Check out that ending to “Slaves and Bulldozers”.  You’re doubting Kim Thayil’s ability to shred?  I have no idea how you managed this, but somehow you’ve apparently ignored rock radio over the last twenty years completely, and so have completely avoided “Spoonman” or “Black Hole Sun”.  However, those examples are the kinds of displays of technical prowess that should be obvious to anyone with ears; you don’t need someone like me to point them out.  Instead, I’ve chosen to highlight something much simpler and easy to overlook over the first few listens.

As I mentioned before, Matt Cameron is known for some complex drum patterns, such as the one used for “The Day I Tried to Live”; part of that was unintentional, and the result of fitting odd riffs to a workable drum beat.  However, the one used for “Limo Wreck” [embedded above] is one of the most basic drum beats in music: the waltz.  Step-two-three, step-two-three; boom-chk-chk, boom-chk-chk.  The genius is not in the selection of the pattern itself, but its use as support for the lyrics.  The waltz pattern, with its echoes of stuffy and old high society, provides the perfect ironic backdrop to lyrics that celebrate the imminent demise of the gaudy and materialistic upper classes.

It took several listens over the years before I noticed this pattern; the waltz is not clearly telegraphed, as is often the case (either in title or in the opening drumbeat).  But now it’s often the first thing I think of when I listen to this song, and it provides an indelible image in my mind of a snooty ballroom dance, with each participant oblivious to the crumbling of society around them.  And while the band has claimed before that they often don’t think of time signatures when writing a piece, I can’t imagine that this subtle touch was spontaneous, but instead planned to perfection.