The Beatles

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 (Dec. 29 Edition)

News, videos, and other end-of-the-year paraphernalia as you transition from one holiday weekend to another…

We gave the Rust Is Just Right staff an extra day off last week, so we’re going to combine our linkdump days this week and get to a couple of stories we neglected to share; we hope you didn’t miss us too much, and hopefully this makes up for our absence.

We’ll kick things off with a music video, as TV on the Radio just released one for the upbeat and frenetic “Lazerray” from their album Seeds, and footage of skateboard tricks somehow seems to be an appropriate take on the song.

For those in the mood for more music videos, NME provides a slideshow of the best music videos of the decade so far, and I’d have to say I agree with the number one and number three selections in particular.  In other “lists” news, Pitchfork now has their Readers Poll results up (which differs only slightly from the staff selections, for the most part), and Under the Radar has their Top 140 albums.  A more interesting feature offered by the latter is their annual Artist Survey; we enjoyed the one from Max Bloom of Yuck in particular.

Everybody heard about PAPER magazine’s “Break the Internet” issue for other reasons, but hidden within its pages was a fascinatingly hilarious interview with Snoop Dogg, discussing mainly his newfound passion for painting.

Stereogum has the video for a compilation that asked artists over the years a simple question: “Lennon or McCartney?”  I believe that the choice of one over the other says a lot about the person, but I shouldn’t have to tip my hand one way or the other.  I will say that Bo Diddley offers the best answer of all, however.

Elsewhere on the Stereogum site, they have a list of the 101 Most Anticipated Albums of 2015, and you’re correct we’re using it as a cheat sheet to remind us what’s coming out next year.

And finally, we recommend that you read this remembrance of Joe Cocker from Jason Heller of the AV Club, which does an excellent job of explaining the power of his voice and his unexpected influence on younger generations.

Catching Up On The Week (Oct. 31 Edition)

Some #longreads as you deal with the candy hangover this weekend…

The recent release of The Best Day is allowing Thurston Moore to talk to a range of news outlets over the past couple of weeks.  This week, there are interviews with SPIN and Esquire to check out.

Pitchfork has an in-depth cover story on Run The Jewels, and considering they just released one of the best albums of the year, you should probably give it a look.  And just in time for the holiday, elsewhere on the site they have Jason Heller talking to Peter Berbegal about the connection between the “occult” and rock and roll.

David Lovering, the drummer for the Pixies, talks to Diffuser about touring for the new album, and also touches upon his work as a magician.

Wayne Coyne has been making the rounds discussing With A Little Help From My Fwends, the tribute album to Sgt. Pepper’s that The Flaming Lips and various colleagues put together, including this interview with Newsweek where he discusses favorite and least-favorite Beatles tracks.

If you read any takedown on how brotastic bastardizations are ruining country music, it should be this review of a recent Jason Aldean/Florida-Georgia Line concert.

FADER talks to female music producers about the lack of gender diversity among producers, and asks them what can be done to fix the issue.

And finally, The Black Keys are arriving in town tonight, so we’ll link to an interview that Patrick Carney did with The Oregonian.  We’re looking forward to a great show, and we’ll be back with a review next week.

Catching Up On The Week (Oct. 17 Edition)

Some #longreads as you try to figure out a Halloween costume…

It’s the 30th anniversary of The Replacements’ classic album Let It Be, and Consequence of Sound has an all-star roundtable of musicians and writers to discuss the legendary record.  While I personally disagree with the title of the piece (I prefer Tim, though it’s a close battle), I nevertheless agree with the general sentiment that this is an album that merits reflection.

We here at Rust Is Just Right are big fans of Pearl Jam, and it’s not only because of their music.  Over the years, we’ve read several stories that show just how great these guys are as people, and this one of a promise fulfilled to a fan 22 years later is a great example of how much the band appreciates their fans.  In addition, check out this tribute that the band did in remembrance of Ikey Owens.

In this piece for the AV Club, Sean O’Neal examines what makes the memorable riff from David Bowie’s “Rebel Rebel” so brilliant, and would be worth reading for the additional background information from Bowie linked to in the piece.  Elsewhere on the site, Noel Murray writer contributes to the “Primer” feature with a guide to The Beach Boys, an endeavor we fully support.

Mark Lanegan shows off a bit of his sense of humor in this fun interview with Diffuser, as he releases a new solo album once again.

Pitchfork talks to Dhani Harrison about the elusive qualities of his father’s guitar style, as well as other musicians who provide insight into the subtleties that made George’s guitar-playing so timeless.

And finally, if you’re desperate for a hate-read this weekend, there’s this New York Times piece where the online equivalent of the asshole at the record store who sneers at whatever you purchased bemoans what streaming has done in diminishing the effort to be an elitist douchebag.  However, I did enjoy the auto-generated Spotify playlist that was juxtaposed next to his rant.

Catching Up On The Week (Aug. 1 Edition)

Everyone else seems to have settled into the August doldrums, so we’re keeping it short and sweet this week.

Jason Heller wrote an appreciation of Steve Albini for Pitchfork, highlighting some of his greatest moments as a musician.  It’s a nice change of pace for music fans of today that know only of his legendary work as a producer (or as an “engineer”, as he preferred to be called), and should help provide an intriguing playlist for your weekend.

That is, if you need a playlist for your weekend–Lollapalooza is happening right now in Chicago, and you can catch a stream here, courtesy of Pitchfork.

The Colbert Report had a couple of excellent musical guests this week, with Beck stopping by the studio to play from both Morning Phase and his Song Reader project, which just saw its official release this week.  “Heart is a Drum”, the song that was played on the broadcast, also had its official music video released this week, and it’s embedded above.  The next night, Colbert had Jon Batiste and his Stay Human group, and they proceeded to blow the roof off the studio with a memorable performance of “Express Yourself” that you need to watch now.

The AV Club reminds you that it’s a good idea to listen to Suicide, and also inform you that The Killers wrote apparently the weirdest lyric ever (personally, I think “I Am The Walrus” is weirder, and that’s not even getting into the fact that the list is just pop music and it’s easier to find “weirdness” when you go further beyond the boundaries of Top-40/Classic Rock).

With the news that TV on the Radio will be releasing a new album this fall, Stereogum took the opportunity to list their 10 Best Songs.  Not a bad list if you ask me (though “Staring at the Sun” is underrated), and I’m glad they didn’t decide to be pricks and avoid the obvious choice for number 1.

And finally, here’s what looks like an interesting piece in SPIN that talks about a composer who “after coaxing Kevin Shields and Mark Hollis out of hiding” is finally releasing an album, satisfying our longread requirement.

Covered: “Have Love Will Travel”

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. 

As we’ve mentioned before, the big news next week is the release of the latest album from The Black Keys, Turn Blue.  That means it’s a perfect opportunity to do one of our regular features for one of our favorite bands, so we’re going to give the Akron, Ohio duo the Covered treatment this week.

Much like their blues predecessors, The Black Keys have displayed a keen aptitude for covers over their career, so there were many options that we could have chosen for this feature.  Dan Auerbach and Pat Carney have shown that they’ve drawn inspiration from a number of sources, from the Beatles’ “She Said She Said” on their debut, to the Kinks’ “Act Nice and Gentle” from Rubber Factory, to blues legend Junior Kimbrough, for whom they did an entire EP of covers, Chulahoma.  We were tempted to showcase their excellent version of Jerry Butler’s classic “Never Gonna Give You Up”, but decided to highlight the earlier “classic” style of the band, instead of their more recent turn to 70’s R&B and classic rock.

The true mark of the brilliance of The Black Keys is how seamlessly their covers fit within their albums.  There is never any indication or signal from the band that “THIS IS A COVER”; all songs bear the same signature aesthetic of that trademark Black Keys “sound”, and they never disrupt the flow of the album.  In other words, as one listens through each of their albums, the novice listener would probably be unable to pick out which songs are the originals and which ones are the covers.  Perhaps this is a function of the basic setup of the band–drums and guitar, with the latter using a fairly consistent tone.  The simple structure (balancing between only three elements (drums/vocals/guitars) and relying on the same instrumentation) helps the band maintain a consistent aesthetic.

This is especially true of “Have Love Will Travel”.  It wasn’t until years after my first listen to thickfreakness did I realize it was a cover, and that was only after checking out the album credits on Wikipedia.  It’s got the same great dirty, fuzzy guitar tone found throughout the album, and features several tasty leads and solos.  Dan gives an impassioned performance with the vocals, matching the intensity of the guitar, and the production style of making it sound as if it was recorded through a tin can enhances the retro feel of the song.  Pat does a great job of mixing between shuffle and a more basic rock beat, and his single-beat hits before the last line of each chorus really liven up the song.

The song has a long history, having been covered by several artists since its release in 1959.  The version that probably inspired The Black Keys was rendition done by The Sonics.  It’s simply a perfect slice of garage rock.  It’s a bit quicker than the Black Keys version, leaning a bit harder on a basic swinging rhythm.  Here, the guitar sticks to the basic riff, but there’s a killer sax solo that kicks the track into a higher gear.  There is a bit of a different approach to each performance: while the Black Keys were committed to wringing out each possible bit of angst from the song, the Sonics would seemingly be content to just toss this one in their set to keep the energy up.

Considering the relative similarities between the versions presented above, hearing the original is quite a shock.  It’s a doo-wop song with a much more straight-ahead rhythm (listen to the instruments hit every single eighth note–the only hint of swing is found in the bass line).  The carefree nature of the original mirrors The Sonics much more than The Black Keys, but one can see how The Black Keys came to their interpretation through The Sonics version.  It could be argued that by focusing on emphasizing the bluesier aspects of the song, that The Black Keys were accentuating the origins, but even I think that’s a bit much.  Still, in the end I think I prefer The Black Keys cover most of all–they keep the integrity of the garage rock version of it, but they add their own spin to it that makes it sound like a “Black Keys” song.