Yoko Ono To Receive Songwriting Credit For ‘Imagine”
In a 1980 BBC interview, John Lennon admitted that his wife Yoko Ono deserved a co-credit for one of his most beloved solo songs, “Imagine,” since much of the ideas and lyrics came directly from her poems. He denied her important role in its creation due to his own “selfish” and “macho” attitude (to paraphrase his words), as well as a sexist double standard, adding, “If it had been Bowie, I would have put ‘Lennon-Bowie.'” Decades after the interview and nearly fifty years since the song’s release, Ono is finally getting the credit she deserves; the National Music Publishers Association awarded “Imagine” with its “Centennial Award” on Wednesday and announced that Ono would finally be listed as the song’s co-writer. Imagine that!
LCD Soundsystem Surprise BK Steel Shows Sell Out in Minutes
On Monday, LCD Soundsystem announced a second run of Brooklyn Steel shows (to follow up the run that opened the venue last April). Tickets went on sale Thursday morning and were sold out almost instantly, but began popping up in secondary markets like StubHub shortly thereafter – well above face value. LCD frontman James Murphy was not happy; he took to Facebook to condemn scalpers, bots, and folks selling fakes, calling them “parasites” and promising fans they’d get to the bottom of the lightning-quick sell-out. LCD Soundsystem’s new album is apparently complete and although no release date has been set, they debuted a couple of new songs on SNL. The Brooklyn Steel run starts tonight.
DIY Venue Suburbia Shut Down By Cops
Unfortunately (really, really unfortunately), Brooklyn DIY space Suburbia was shut down on Saturday night. If you didn’t see it happen, information about the event is scarce; the venue’s Facebook page mysteriously states they can’t comment because the page is being monitored, and asks that specific details not be shared to protect the privacy of those involved. Several upcoming shows (such as Camp Cope’s) have been moved to other venues. Stay tuned for updates.
A new Lee Ranaldo album is imminent, a posthumous album from Alan Vega of Suicide is coming, Christine McVie and Lindsey Buckingham did a thing, listen to the new QOTSA track, & why is this thinkpiece picking on Carly Rae Jepsen?
“What a drug this little book is; to imbibe it is to find oneself presuming his process.” In her latest memoir M Train, Patti Smith speaks of W.G. Sebald’s After Nature with bibliophilic hunger. She is seeking inspiration and therefore turns to a favorite work. Smith continues:
“I read and feel the same compulsion; the desire to possess what he has written, which can only be subdued by writing something myself. It is not mere envy but a delusional quickening in the blood.”
As I read her book with a similar hunger, I realize that I’ve felt this way before, in the precise way she has described it – when I listen to the music I love. “The desire to possess” what has been written, played, and sung. This desire is so strong that it ventures upon wish fulfillment; I often feel as though I am taking communion with the music…eating it, so to speak. For a split second, I near convince myself that I have written it. That it is mine.
I often wonder if this is a personal quirk (a hallucination) or if others experience the same phenomenon. I wonder if it is perhaps the subconscious impetus to cover songs, even. What if instead of mere flattery, or tribute, possession also informed Jeff Buckley’s version of “Hallelujah” or Jimi Hendrix’s take on “All Along the Watchtower?” They certainly made both songs their own. I do not mean a jealous possession, necessarily, but an attempt to be “one with” the song, at the risk of sounding faux-metaphysical.
Cover songs as a genre get a bad rep, it seems. Covers = karaoke, or worse, Covers = Cover Bands. It was after all a throng of home-recorded cover songs that launched Justin Bieber’s career. But cover songs lead a double life. In their pop/rock identity, it is often considered a lowbrow, unoriginal form – sometimes even an attempt at latching onto the search engine optimization of the artists being covered. But in a cover song’s blues/folk/country life it goes by another name: a traditional. Throughout countless genres that could be filed under the umbrella of “folk” or “roots” music, artists recorded their own versions of songs passed down by performers before them.
Much like the poems and fables of oral history, it was common for the original authors of traditional songs to remain unknown. Take for instance the trad number “Goodnight, Irene,” which was first recorded by Lead Belly in 1933, and by many others thereafter. But the original songwriter has been obscured from music history. There are allusions to the song dating back to 1892, but no specifics on who penned the version Lead Belly recorded.
Lead Belly claimed to have learned the song from his uncles in 1908, who presumably heard it elsewhere. “Goodnight, Irene” was subsequently covered by The Weavers (1950), Frank Sinatra (1950, one month after The Weavers’ version), Ernest Tubb & Red Foley (1950 again), Jimmy Reed (1962) and Tom Waits (2006) to name but a few.
The reason so many artists (I only listed a couple) covered “Goodnight, Irene” in 1950 was because that was the way of the music biz back then. If someone had a hit record – like The Weavers, who went to #1 on the Billboard Best Seller chart – it was in the best interest of other musicians to cash in on the trend while it was hot by recording their version of the single. Not as common today of course, but in a time when session musicians were rarely credited and hits were penned by paid teams instead of performers, it made sense.
The history of traditional folk songs or “standards” is a fascinating one because it is like a musical game of telephone. The songs’ arrangement and lyrics change with the times, the performer, and the context. And that same model of change can be applied to both the artist’s motive for covering certain music, and the listener’s reaction to it.
For years I quickly dismissed cover songs, finding them boring at best and unbearable at worst. But in my recent quest to become more open-minded, I have revisited many covers…and become a bit obsessed in the process. The first cover song to move me was The Slits’ version of “I Heard it Through the Grapevine,” which in itself is a pop traditional as it has been covered by everyone from Marvin Gaye, to Creedence Clearwater Revival, to The Miracles. Gaye’s version is the most widely recognized, however, making The Slits’ rendition all the more fascinating. Their 1979 stab at the Motown classic was what taught me that a cover song could be more than just a karaoke version of something. It can become a completely new medium of expression when the artist tears the original apart and stitches the pieces into a new form. The Slits did this so effectively, to the point that theirs and Gaye’s versions are incomparable.
The Stranglers achieved a similar result by reconfiguring the Dionne Warwick classic “Walk On By” in 1978, morphing the lounge-y original into a six-minute swirl of organ-infused punk. Another master of pop modification was the one-and-only Nina Simone, who somehow took the already perfect “Suzanne” by Leonard Cohen and managed to make it…perfecter. I remember a friend playing this cut for me three and a half years ago, and I haven’t gone so much as a week without putting it on since. Nina’s phrasing can make Dylan’s seem predictable, and she dances through Cohen’s poetry in a way that astonishes me to this day, no matter how many times I’ve heard it. I feel that her version is, dare I say, better than the original, though I love both dearly.
But of course, not all covers exist for the purpose of possession. Sometimes the simplest answer is the correct one: that a cover is an opportunity to pay tribute, not ironically, but with reverence. Of course, even artists performing the best reverent covers make the songs their own. Take Smog’s version of Fleetwood Mac’s “Beautiful Child,” which is such a gorgeous recording that I was heartbroken to learn it was a cover, and disappointed upon hearing the original. Ditto Bill Callahan’s more recent take on Kath Bloom’s “The Breeze/My Baby Cries.” Bloom’s take isn’t short on oddball, winsome charm, but Callahan brings a barge full of sorrow, which always wins in my book.
In similar form, Robert Wyatt somehow out-Costello’d Elvis Costello when he covered “Shipbuilding” in 1982, which reaches another dimension of despair with Wyatt’s wavering vocal performance. Another favorite is Morrissey’s interpretation of “Redondo Beach,” an oddly bouncy rendition by the King of Sad.
Though I once turned my nose up at cover songs, I seem to fanatically collect them now. I often dream up cover song commissions that will likely never come to fruition: Cat Power singing Bob Dylan’s “Most of the Time” or King Krule doing “Bette Davis Eyes” by Kim Carnes. I’d pay them to do it myself if I could damn well afford to. Until then, let the covers of others stoke your desire to possess.
Whatever it is about the change of seasons in New York City from summer to fall that makes me feel especially nostalgic is something I hope I never lose. Maybe its the crunching leaves underneath my foot as I rush from my apartment to the subway and onward to class every day. Or maybe I’ve already consumed more pumpkin-flavored food and drink than one person should in such a short period of time.
Because of this overwhelming sense of nostalgia, when I’m presented with the idea of sharing the songs that have gotten me through tough moments in my life, I had the problem of having one too many songs to choose from. Music has always been a fluid element in my life; it weaves through the moments and people and feelings I encounter. The most meaningful musical moments weren’t always the ones that let me wallow or the ones that incited me towards action; they were the ones that allowed me to just exist in a singular moment and reflect. The songs that feel like a warm blanket on a cold day are always been the most comforting.
This collection I curated is ten songs that have done, and still do, just that.
“With a Little Help From My Friends” – Joe Cocker
I could’ve very easily gone with an Elvis Presley tune in place of this one. I wanted a song that reminded me of my grandpa, and Elvis had been a constant presence in our relationship. However, even more constant in hazy childhood memories from the dusty basement he spent all of his time in and the rickety blue pick-up truck that took me to and from elementary school is the sound of my grandpa mimicking Joe Cocker’s voice. It would echo through our house on Saturday afternoons while accompanied by the blaring noise of his stereo. When my grandpa passed, I listened to this song on repeat because it felt like I could still hear his voice. The soulful rasp of Cocker’s belt is warm and inviting as he wistfully answers the questions posed by the gospel choir backing him. His uncertainty comforts and eases to the point where I feel like I should respond, too.
“Silent All These Years” – Tori Amos
My mom played this song for me when I was still in the single-digit age bracket. I remember she played the track on our relic of a computer for me while my grandma cooked dinner in the kitchen. My mom was only 21 when I was born, so her taste consisted of 80s pop hits and angry 90s alt-girl singer-songwriters. I didn’t understand a single line of the song then, but I would put the track on repeat every time we were in her car before flipping to RadioDisney after the tenth, twentieth, thirtieth play. I’d spend my time dissecting the lyrics and wondering if she was saying “mermaid” or “moment.” But the title and chorus resonated with me outside of the mysteriousness of the context. Shy and always too scared to speak up, I knew what it was like to be silent for too long. And I was glad Tori Amos understood.
“True Colors” – Cyndi Lauper
Senior year of high school was filled with change and small steps towards maturation and growth. As we all prepared to move away from home and dive into adulthood, the most meaningful gift graduation gave me was the strengthening of important friendships in my life. Throughout the stress and anxiety of leaving my Midwestern hometown to live a big city life on the East coast, I learned to survive with and from my best friend Jonathan. I dedicated this song to him after he came out to me that year, and since then, we’ve adopted it as our theme song. Lauper’s vulnerable vocals are such a beautiful reflection of what it means to truly love another person for all that they are. Everyone should listen to this song when they’re feeling a bit lonely or missing a close friend; nothing serves as a better reminder of what it feels like to be loved by another.
“Hallelujah” – Jeff Buckley
Buckley’s cover of the Leonard Cohen hymnal sounds deceptively melancholy. The first time I heard it, the song drifted through the speakers in my mom’s car about a month into my freshmen year of high school. It was the first song to elicit tears from me. After repeated listens over the past six years, I’ve begun to better understand the underlying glory rather than the sadness. For some reason, I feel like I turn to this song during some of the most painful portions of my life — death, fights, stress, etc. Buckley’s range and the ease of his emotive capabilities have been able to express my sadness and recovery from all different kinds of pain better than I ever could.
“The Resolution” – Jack’s Mannequin
Andrew McMahon will always top my list of inspiring musicians. His battle with leukemia, subsequent recovery, and lyrical reflection of this battle have been moving to me since I first started listening to his band Jack’s Mannequin. Another song that defined Senior year of high school, “The Resolution” became my personal anthem to make it through the seemingly endless obstacles that separated me from having a sane year. What makes this song lack the cliche of other “inspirational” jams is its honest search for answers and clarity. It’s not about what happens when you’ve reached the end of the tunnel; it’s about figuring out the most effective way to navigate the tunnel first.
“Wicked Little Town” – Hedwig and the Angry Inch
Hedwig and the Angry Inch happens to be one of my favorite films, so the soundtrack holds a special place in my heart. The summer between senior year of high school and freshmen year of college, I watched the film at least once a week with my best friend and listened to the soundtrack almost every night. The chorus’ repeated message of “and if you’ve got no other choice/you know you can follow my voice/through the dark turns and noise/of this wicked little town” resonated at a time when I felt desperate to escape the confines of my small, directionless suburb. It was my own wicked little town, and the omnious lyrics of the song felt like a glimpse into my future if I stayed there.
“Landslide” – Fleetwood Mac
The perfection of this hit record lies in its universal appeal. My mom would sing along to the lyrics in her car whenever it played on the radio. I remember her always directing the lyrics of the chorus to me (“Well I’ve been afraid of changing/‘Cause I’ve built my life around you/But time makes you bolder/Children get older/I’m getting older too”). It felt like a lullaby when I was younger, but as I’ve grown up, the song has transformed into a musical embodiment of my growth into adulthood as I continuously speculate “can the child within my heart rise above?” My mom still sings that chorus to me.
“Chicago” – Sufjan Stevens
Sufjan Stevens’ outstanding track from the incredible album Illinois literally hits close to home. After moving to New York from the Chicago suburbs, I’ve adopted this track as my official homesickness jam. When Chicago and the people I love who are still there feel especially distant, I listen and remind myself just how much “all things grow, all things grow.” The idea of being in love with New York “in my mind, in my mind” feels especially pertinent in those moments when I just want to curl up on an old friend’s couch and be reminded of those high school inside jokes and all the mistakes we thought we had made.
“Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters” – Elton John
Not many singer-songwriters can pluck at my heartstrings the way Elton John can. I had never heard this song until the spring semester of my freshmen year in college, and if there’s ever a situation when a song fell into my lap at the right time, it was this one. “My own seeds shall be sown in New York City” felt like a beckoning to me to never give up on what I came to the city to do. If the subtle inspiration wasn’t enough, Elton reminded me of the wonderful friendships I had formed in this city with his line “I thank the Lord for the people I have found. While “Chicago” draws me back to the past, “Mona Lisas and Matt Hatters” makes homesickness feel like a silly idea in the first place.
“Don’t Rain On My Parade” – Barbra Streisand
With all the stress, anxiety, and whirlwind of emotions life can throw at you, sometimes it’s worthwhile to remind yourself that you actually are the baddest bitch on your block and quite possibly the universe. My ever-growing adoration towards all things Streisand makes me incredibly biased towards any of the tunes she sings. However, this particular track from the classic film Funny Girl keeps me from forgetting during my more anxious moments that it’s never worthwhile to let the world get me down when life is just waiting for me to take a bite out of it.