Cover me badly: Spirit ‘Taurus’

Disclaimer to my mom: Sorry, but a gal’s gotta do what a gal’s gotta do.

Spirit are one of those lost and forgotten prog rock bands from the late 60s, early 70s who have a beautiful orchestral and quite aloof sound (so no King Crimson madness and instead the roots of art rock that sometimes even hint at what Ween might have listened to before they came to be Ween). Their song “Taurus” – coincidentally my favourite zodiac sign if I had to choose – is a lovely relaxed guitar piece backed up by a luscious orchestra and even a cheeky cembalo. It’s one of those slightly humorous ventures into anachronistic sounds of the courtyards of yesteryear because despite its sometimes gaudy reputation (thanks to the gaudy leanings by the late 70s early 80s), early prog rock was quite smart and witty.

The song was on Spirit’s self-titled debut album which was released 1968 and toured heavily. One of the supporting acts, Led Zeppelin, apparently liked the song so much that they did their own cover version. However, they failed to grasp the concept of a cover song and kind of renamed the whole song and left out the original credits and added a bunch of stuff so their guitar player could noodle along for a while.

http://www.metatube.com/en/videos/237801/Taurus-by-Spirit/embed/

(sorry; I could not properly embed the video)

Now, the cover “Stairway to Heaven” is hailed as one of the greatest rock songs of all times and – as with quite a few cover songs – the original got shoved a little into obscurity.

Unrightly so, because “Taurus” is a great song, a little pretty ditty gently placed in the middle of an album that is overall a very impressive debut, especially given that these guys didn’t rip off a whole catalog of blues musicians of that time like some other bands might have done (or would do a little later).

Besides, the weird thing about “Stairway to Heaven” – but this is solely subjective – is the fact that I personally think that the way that “Taurus” was implemented into the intro is not very delicate. The real strength of “Stairway to Heaven” doesn’t lie in the watered down original melody, it lies more in Robert Plant’s climactic vocal delivery (and the noodling, I guess), so the rip-off is pretty much wasted (again, in my humble opinion). Additionally, the lyrics provided by Led Zeppelin really don’t do the song a favour because they are…not very good (as many lyrics are that try to be a lot more philosophical than they actually are – crying spirits and random ladies and pipers usually don’t make for good song lyrics in my experience).

So, to get that sub-par cover out of your heads, here’s “Fresh Garbage” by Spirit. A pretty fun song.

Lazy Sunday: Even Cthulhu has to shop for groceries

cthulhus shopping cart

I wonder if you can get canned human souls at Edeka…

Celebration ‘Albumin': The kind of art rock your blood needs

Celebration deliver every single time. There’s no way around it, this band has such a strong vision whenever they record an album that the end result always is a dense, dangerous and strikingly beautiful sculpture of whirring, eclectic sounds crowned by Katrina Ford’s mystical voice.

“Albumin” took quite some time (as did the previous album) but it’s worth every single second that we stood at the windows, watching planes fly across the sky in the night and being sad for the fact that you hardly ever see stars in the city.

The album starts with the looming “Razor’s Edge”, a song quite upfront in its title about its nature. There are some electronic bits in this new offering but it always sneaks along David Lynch-shadows of uneasiness and so do the particularly dissonant 50s elements – it’s like Carrie’s prom with the exception of the marvelous and probably poppiest song Celebration ever created. “Walk On” is outright absurd within all these shadowy prog-tunes but it feels right and it’s quite beautiful especially when the “And the colored girls sing”-choir sets in and you just want to choreograph a little dance and get a cane and a top hat to dance along some stairs.

The mood, by the way, despite all the Celebration-isms, is heavily uplifting in contrast to the previous album which – according to some interviews of yesteryear – was a sort of cathartic exercise to get over the frustration of major labels being horrible and maybe also some other things, who knows, life can be quite dark at times. But “Albumin” seems to have overcome the darkness and revels in the eerie glee of the 50s, some 60s Ike & Tina-Blues and of course the brilliance of using prog-features to transform the songs within themselves so you feel like you stepped into a hurricane in Kansas only to wake up right on a dead witch.

The last songs then…oh, the last songs. “Only the Wicked” channels “Cabaret” and even though Katrina’s voice is often part of the instruments on this album, it shines in this song and leads you through this rag tag group of shady performers (who all know their stuff and probably already played King Crimson in their cribs). And the final song, “Don’t stop dreaming” starts with a certain nautical vibe but doesn’t lose the theater-quality of its predecessor therefore reminding of those last songs in front of the curtain, in the spotlight by an artist whose make up has been dripping in the heat of the lights and who is tired and just sitting there on a bar stool, singing into the air as if someone would listen. Maybe it is us, after all, this album occasionally does sound like a dream.

Cover me badly: The Ronettes ‘Be my Baby’

It’s no coincidence that motown (-ish) songs of the 60s are amongst the most covered songs in history and yet, the originals (or the endless cover-versions in that time-frame) hardly ever pale in comparison to the endless strain of interpretations by the most known and skilled of modern artists. It was a different time and there was a clarity to the music and execution that a lot of the cover versions unfortunately don’t share (even though there was often the pomp of orchestral background, the vocal delivery was precise and far from the pretentious exercises that artists like Mariah Carey introduced to the music scene).

That’s why they are so great – there’s a great melody that is not buried under vocal trailings, there are very strong voices (so incredibly strong that modern RnB – especially by male artists – for a very long time suffered from whistly breaths instead of the self-assured voices of Sam Cooke and Co) and there is a way of orchestrating that is pretty grand but hardly ever over the top (that, most RnB producers left to the less skilled producers who copied this style for the segregation-loving audience).

“Be my Baby” was originally performed by the Ronettes and written by the infamous Phil Spector along with songwriter duo Ellie Greenwich and Jeff Barry (you’ll find that quite a few of your favourite songs of that time were usually written by a female/male-songwriter duo). This song is layered like a wedding cake and I guess that the production team and especially the sound editor went crazy over it but it’s not overlayered (like, for example, Meat Loaf’s early 90s phase of cheesing all hell out of Rock and Roll). It’s a lovely song, especially if you can exclude all pop-cultural associations* and lo and behold, Darlene Love and Sonny & Cher provided background vocals for the original recording (mind = blown).

Now, I won’t get into the hundreds of cover versions of the song, in fact, I am only writing this because only recently I heard a version that is the perfect example of what’s wrong with a lot of modern cover versions (I actually wrote about it before but let me drive this point home again).

People, this is not how you do a cover song. You don’t spit in the face of the songwriters by transforming the melody so much that only the lyrics hint at the original. You just don’t. And there is so much of this going on nowadays, it makes me mad. Sure, a playful cover version that rearranges this and that is amazing and that even a highly altered interpretation can add to the original songwriting has been proven over and over again but this is just butchering a great tune, meandering along and turning a very clear song into bedspreads of sadness that go nowhere. And you can add the fact that way too many great peppy RnB-songs get turned into sad little puddles of misery by indie-bands. Why are you so miserable, indie-bands? What is wrong with you that you can’t feel joy when you listen to Ronnie Spector (aka Veronica Bennett) and instead want to channel funeral marches in your cover version? What went wrong in your life?

*Full disclosure: I hate “Dirty Dancing”. I watched the movie as a teenager and even though I loved the music (and back then, I could fall in love with movies solely for their soundtrack-choices), the movie itself held no appeal for me and the older I got, the worse the movie transformed (I experienced the same with “Pretty Woman”, by the way). It’s not even just a single thing that bothers me, it’s the whole movie, all character motivations, all character backgrounds, the actual lack of a proper story (there is none, there really is none), the very sad attempts at forced romantic moments and the fact that the female teenage character who falls for a much older guy is called – of all names in the world – “Baby”.

Lazy Sunday: Chain Blog Awards and 7 things about myself

Loosy from “Loosy says” nominated me (and 14 other bloggers) for the “One Lovely Blog Award” which is one of those never-ending blog-chain-mails that go on forever (did I mention that they never stop?). I am kind of a douche when it comes to these things because I never forward them (I remember chain mails from school and just can’t be bothered with it). I am too lazy of a mofo to find and write 15 bloggers with this (my lovely blogs are in my blogroll or get linked when I mention them in articles, that should be enough, you guys). But I am not ungrateful, plus I love talking about myself and one of the “rules” of this thing is to write 7 things about oneself. So, first, thank you Loosy, that’s super nice of you to think of my humble blog. Secondly, let’s do this and get into the magical and mysterious world of Juliane W.

1.

The first dream job I ever uttered was forklift operator back when I was 5 years old (I think I even have a drawing of a forklift driver somewhere). Back in the GDR we apparently visited the exciting world of a warehouse once and I thought that this was the coolest job ever.

forklift operator

The back of the picture says: “My favourite moment at the firm of Daniel’s mother” – I assume that Daniel was a kindergarten mate. The date is 2.10.1989 – I clearly never was destined to become a great artist because there are so many things in this picture I can not identify. The whole left area will forever be a mystery.

2.

Amongst the many things I started to learn but never finished were Judo, guitar lessons, Tae Kwon Do, Breakdance and Swedish. In contrast to terrifyingly many people, I never present my half-assed skills in the hopes of actually being better than expected (because I am not and I know that).

3.

According to my dad, the violin player of the famous German band City once complimented a very young me (I guess I was 8 or 9 years old) on my expert recorder/flute playing. I suspect that he was just nice to a dorky little kid and therefore never pursued a career as professional recorder player.

4.

Among the maybe three jokes I actually remember and could tell to other people, my favourite one is: Why did the mushroom go to the party? Because he was a fungi.

5.

One of the worst nightmares I ever had involved the game “Bravo Traube” and my family as the grapes. To this day I think it’s absolutely absurd and sick to invent a game with anthropomorphized grapes that get tortured to death.

6.

I don’t like Olives but once was told that I look like I do.

7.

I became a full-fledged atheist whilst studying Theology.

In other blog news: The German is back

Just for your information, dear (German) blog readers (or German speaking blog readers or blog readers who actually are able to understand whatever google translate spews out), I resurrected my German blog over at sickcellmate.wordpress.com. The frequency won’t be has high as on this blog but there will be some pictures and some texts whenever I feel like writing about it. Why? Because I feel like it and apparently working in a super fancy office building like in “The Office” (UK) is a lot more inspiring than working at a hip gossip news agency. Who would have thunk?

Also this, because no one wants to have Arnold Schwarzenegger stuck in their head for the rest of the day.

Favourite Song: Stephen Rennicks ‘I love you all’

The soundtrack for the music drama “Frank”, very loosely based on Chris Sievey’s alter ego back in the 80s and 90s, is absolutely marvelous in every single sense. The movie is mainly about a band that records a new album and then tries to make it big – or, at least one of their members tries for them to make it big. The soundtrack, written by Stephen Rennicks who seems to be the second coming of experimental art rock, captures not only the writing process of very good and very bad songwriters but also the hilarious but pretty accurate steps a band like the unpronounceable The Soronpfrbs have to take to create their layers of sound. The beauty of the end result is songs that should be dissonant and exhausting but instead slowly spiral into incredibly breathtaking popsongs (even if the movie is mainly about the fact that the Soronprfbs are everything but pop).

My favourite song is “I love you all”, a song that starts as if it was meant to be a Joy Division song but then gets lifted into mid 70s psychedelic choirs and then suddenly gets thrown to the Residents and then fades out. This might be easily one of my favourite fictitious band efforts in a movie ever because they are so out there. There is nothing easy or simple or mass pandering about this music but it still works, it still is so moving and emotive and much more impressive than any classic indieband could have been. Kudos for the balls to use the weird for the soundtrack and all my love for turning it into something this insanely beautiful.

The movie itself is also fantastic and pretty hilarious at times, despite some rather dark themes. Mild spoiler ahead: It starts like many movies you’ve seen before and already are tired off but within 10 to 15 minutes breaks all your expectations into pieces and throws them into the sea. The trailer is also a little misleading as it suggest something like a summery teenage-indie-movie but it isn’t (thank god for that). Maybe it was the fact that I watched this around 2am but I am absolutely overwhelmed by it.

I gotta give it to Chris Sievey’s original head-creation (which is only slightly altered for the movie) because it is such a neutral face that it can both be terrifying and hilarious, depending on the scene. The actors all actually played their instruments and sang in the scenes which is always a plus (they did a live show after the premiere of the movie).

This is pretty amazing.