Spinal Tap

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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Over the Weekend (Mar. 3 Edition)

It’s time to settle into another week, and what better way to capture the futility of another Monday than a pointless list from Rolling Stone?  This time, the “fearless” editors decided to rank every single song that Nirvana ever played, and decided that a slideshow of 102 clips is the best way to accomplish this.  Sure, some of the anecdotes are a bit fun, but mainly I’m surprised that someone listened to everything in the With the Lights Out boxset.

I'm sure there's a better way to utilize the asterisk.

These songs were ranked in some arbitrary order by Rolling Stone

As technology and the marketplace has evolved in music over the last decade, new business models have emerged, and not always to the benefit of the artists.  For example, a lot of emphasis has been placed on streaming services in recent years, and while some artists have endorsed this development, others have argued strongly against it, including notably Radiohead and The Black Keys.  We plan on doing future explorations of this argument in the future, but keep in mind this bit of evidence offered up by Zoe Keating, who provided a breakdown of where her income from her music came from in 2013.  Also, something else to keep in mind when you hear mindless preaching about how new technology will save us all: Camper Van Beethoven had a higher net profit than Twitter last year.  $645 million greater.

In a bit of great news for those who enjoyed our essay on The New Pornographers, Under the Radar has an interview with Carl Newman talking about their progress on a new album.

Speaking of our own work, it looks like we’re not the only ones who felt the time was right to take a look back at Danger Mouse’s career so far.  Stereogum has an “Annotated Media Guide to Danger Mouse” that you may want to check out.

SPIN seems to have the British band beat down this morning, with news about Coldplay’s new album (due May 19) and the premiere of the Arctic Monkeys’ new video for “Arabella”.

And finally, what better way to feel better about the week ahead than a reminder about the genius of This Is Spinal Tap.  ShortList has a list of the greatest “real life” Spinal Tap moments.  Some of these are probably worthy of a Jeff Goldblum laugh.