Retro Reminiscence: Three Strange Days by School of Fish

Apologies for yet another day of no postage as I had no machine upon which to post : (. My laptop deserted me utterly but it’s been rebuilt and will be up and going again tomorrow at last! : ).

Here’s a great little schoolboy pop-rock track from a band that didn’t make much of a splash over here beyond this one song. The vocal is delivered in a fairly staid way but the melody and the main guitar riff is catchy and memorable.

Oi! the most notable personal tale from School of Fish’s history is the death of frontman Josh Clayton-Felt by testicular cancer in 2000 at the age of 32 : (. Of the other members, guitarist Michael Ward eventually joined Jakob Dylan’s Wallflowers and drummer Chad Fischer went on to create the Scrubs original theme “I’m No Superman” with his band, Lazlo Bane.

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Hip hop with Atmosphere

Still no adequate PC access so this is a quick drop of an “underground” hip hop act that’s been in my “Considering…” list (to the right there) for a few days now. Like The Roots, Atmosphere now tour with live instrumentation and this track has great flavour for a hip hop track; backed solely by a clean guitar riff, rapper Slug’s emotional social commentary is compelling and weighty.

“…my better half is mad at making magic out of canned goods / my tax bracket status got her questioning my manhood / my shorty got caught smoking weed at a concert / and if I smack him everybody treats me like a monster…”

If you like your hip hop to have something to say other than “I’m the greatest” and videos without the classic hip hop standards (fish eye lens, shots of rims and woodgrain) then check ‘em out.

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Pop Drop: Into the Galaxy with the Midnight Juggernaughts

Gah! Computer issues all of yesterday, hence the lack of post-age :(. I shall return forthwith – for now: thanks, Sthy, for filling me in on the rocktabulous Midnight Juggernaughts. This is my favourite song of theirs – and this video, specifically; not the other one they’ve brought out with the biker in France…

I knew as soon as I missed a Triple J Hottest 100 release I’d miss some good stuff… Triple J can always be trusted to deliver the goods.

∞ Random Interest Snippet: the Triple J Hottest 100 annual poll attracts over half a million votes every year and is apparently the world’s largest music poll (Triple J is an Australian youth radio station).

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Retro Reminiscence: Bran Van 3000

This late 90s pop psychedelia single evokes hazy memories of laid-back summer days on my cousin’s porch.

Canadian electronic collective Bran Van 3000 merge stoner fuzz guitar, trip hop trance electronica, mumbled Beck-ish “rap” and an r&b soul chorus hook in a stoner anthem with a slightly melancholy vibe.

The Twang recorded a less than perfect cover of the song last year.

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Cover Nostalgia: Smashing Pumpkins go adult contemporary

I came across this cover whilst poking around nostalgically through some great Pumpkins songs of yesteryear – songs like Rhinoceros and Cherub Rock; songs from the time when Billy Corgan was coming up to (Gish), hitting (Siamese Dream) and just dropping off of (Mellon Collie…) his peak.

Oi! Corgan has stated that the line “but can you fake it / for just one more show” refers to the band’s headlining slot on the 1994 Lollapalooza tour, where they supposedly became disillusioned with the idea of “alternative” rock. [Wikipedia]

Young swede singer Frida Snell takes the simmering energy of “Bullet With Butterfly Wings” down a notch or ten and adds the thirds back ;) to create an adult contemporary tune a la The Corrs. Without the nasal snarl Billy had begun to develop around the time of Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, the alt-pop minor melody of “Bullet…” shines through.

Give it a chance to get rolling (I was skeptical at first); the arrangement of Frida’s version is dynamic enough and the sound expands with the progression of the song e.g. I liked the way she held back on the so familiar riff until the second verse. What do you think?

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Kerli – goth pop princess channels Bjork and Amy Lee

Kerli Kõiv (pronounced “curly”) hails from Estonia and her debut album released yesterday showcases a new pop talent leaning to the contemporary side of goth (even more so than Evanescence’s Amy Lee). She sounds like Bjork which is no surprise as she says Bjork is her favourite singer of all time.

She’s like a poppier, more accessible version of the icelandic quirk queen and I really like the clip below, which is the title track from her album, “Love Is Dead”.

The pop-savvy blog Music Is The Heart Of Our Soul has the bonus track “Heal” available for download: more simple, catchy melody lines in the same vein as the other songs I’ve heard. I’ll be keeping an ear out for more of Kerli in future.

You can also get her EP – which includes “Love Is Dead” – from Music Is… at this location – thanks Vicki!

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5 eighties songs that still kick ass today

What’s my criteria for this selection? My primary subconscious reasoning (I realised, after the fact) is that these are songs that can be covered by a hard rock band without a trace of irony and still rock a jaded anti-pop crowd. Plus they have a killer riff or vocal melody that incites: a) a fist pump, b) a head nod/mosh or c) a finger snap <— just kidding about that last one…

Eurythmics – Sweet Dreams

No need to dwell on this one – the song is trotted out on a regular basis to pimp everything from hair-gel to David Attenborough’s latest documentary on the mating rituals of african bees: it’s a perennial classic. The warm, pulsing analogue synth that forms the instantly recognisable main riff gives this tune balls and could make a black metal crowd break out in a frenzied mosh.

Manson’s gutter reimagining proves the song’s rock-worthiness but I’ve gone with a remix by dutch D&B legends Noisia called “Street Dreams”. Before you click away from it, at least stick around until the vocals kick in at 1:30 with a criminally phat stomping break-beat that’d make a break dancer’s corpse twitch.

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Cameo – Word Up

My personal favourite of the lot – and I don’t think anyone’s quite nailed the ideal cover yet. The main riff in the song is a classic rock stomper hidden under funk/R&B trappings – a simple three chord power riff over a driving rock beat.

Gun’s version included below proves the point and is the better rock cover imo – I think Korn’s version, while good, just misses… (and let’s not even talk about Melanie B’s version “…which was the lowest selling Spice Girls-related single of the 1990s” and just plain crap >_<. Timbo – what were you thinking?? ;_; )

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INXS – Need You Tonight

This song is quite pop – I can’t really see Disturbed covering it but hey, they covered Tears For Fears so what do I know… Justin Timberlake and Matchbox 20 cover it – and both versions sound great; the quality of the clips ain’t so hot though, hence no embed. Included here instead is a rare acoustic version by INXS with Hutchence on vox.

Pop or not, the guitar riff is a jangly killer that’s immediately recognisable, singable, and could even get your grandmother air-strumming on the dance floor. You only have to hear those first three sharp chords over the beat: dun! dun! dun! – and you can’t stop the last part from ringing in your head: dunnalunnalunnalunnun! <– Sak Mo Dee’s patented “rock guitar speak”. Go on, try not to think of it.

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Talking Heads – Burning Down The House

I’ve already posted the Cardigans + Tom Jones cover of this – not a favourite… Quirkmeister David Byrne is not the first person you think of when it comes to phat, manly rock but this tune has a simple, driving riff that lends itself well to rock cover-age (Michael Hutchence isn’t the manliest rock god either, for that matter, but his sex appeal bought him some phat points ;-).

Toby Rand’s performance on Rock Star Supernova was a bit of a poser festival but if it makes Jason Newsted pull his metal face and bob his head it can’t be too bad.

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Depeche Mode – Personal Jesus

Since Marilyn Manson missed out on the Sweet Dreams cover here he is/they are performing yet another cover live (well, it was either them or Hillary Duff…)

Depeche Mode’s classic song has a marching rhythm and memorable broken line delivery that cements the first line in your head. I’m also seeing a common thread in a few of these songs of deep, dark analogue synths driving a moody bass riff through the proceedings :).

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Honourable Mention

Shameless Self-Serving Inclusion: Nine Inch Nails – Terrible Lie

I have no excuse for including this except to say that it’s a personal favourite and “Pretty Hate Machine” was released in 89 so it makes it in as an Honourable Mention xD.

Like “Sweet Dreams” the major component of this song is the deep, phat, warm analogue synth of the chorus that could go up against a Metallica riff for pure rock phatness. (Totally Unrelated Note: speaking of Metallica phatness – have you seen this clip of Nickelback playing well outside their Macho Level?)

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How wrong am I? Surely someone’s dying to lambast me for missing an obvious 80s rock-cover-in-waiting? xD If I get any suggestions that demand inclusion I’ll update the post :).


Thanks P Dogg for the Personal Jesus suggestion xD.

Go here for 5 more eighties songs that still kick ass today.

The 5 best covers of Rihanna’s “Umbrella”

Well-written songs draw covers like flies – and Rihanna’s “Umbrella” won many accolades as a single (I listed the stats in a previous post); sure enough, not long after its release covers were popping up out of the woodwork.

Oi! Umbrella songwriter, Christopher “Tricky” Stewart was initially reluctant to have Rihanna record the song (it was originally intended for Britney). But when he heard her sing the “ella ella” refrain in the studio it apparently gave him goosebumps: he knew they’d nailed it.

The most important question about these versions is, of course: can they pronounce “um-buh-rella” correctly?

Link to guitar tab is at the bottom.

The Baseballs (New Addition)

Ok with this version of the song we’re now at the 7 best covers of Rihanna’s Umbrella… but I had to add this one too, I’m sure you’ll agree (thanks leluchela!). Bringing a Beatles-esque sheen driven by an Elvis-ian vocal The Baseballs create an unusual and striking version of Rihanna’s song.

Can they sing “um-buh-rella”? The boys don’t even attempt the “ellas” but they make a good go at the um-buh-rella part.

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Manic Street Preachers

In this rehearsal room version the Manics bust out a fairly straight interpretation of the song with very little in the way of rock star theatrics.

Can he sing “um-buh-rella”? Ole J D Bradfield does a pretty good job of singing “um-buh-rella” here, although he doesn’t quite nail it. He also sounds like he’s phoning it in just a little bit… Maybe doing the cover was all Nicky’s idea?

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Vanilla Sky

Italian pop punkers Vanilla Sky made this low budget video for the cover they recorded in their practice room. On Youtube the video went to number 1 as the most played stream in Brazil and number 64 worldwide.

Can he sing “um-buh-rella”? Almost flawlessly! He sings “um-buh-rella” like he’s an 18 year old Barbadian girl. Out of all the versions he’s also the only one to nail the delayed drop-off note at the end of each “ella”.

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Mandy Moore

It starts off slow – I thought too slow at first – but it picks up after a bit and turns into an adequate contemporary version of the song by the end. Watch for the creepy close-ups of Mandy’s intense stare

Can she sing “um-buh-rella”? Nope – she doesn’t even try, which makes the pronounciation sound a bit rushed. Apparently the backing vocalist gets it though xD.

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All Time Low

Extra points for the new harmonies they’ve added to the song. And for their pretty haircuts.

Can he sing “um-buh-rella”? He doesn’t do too badly at all. The half-time feel in the chorus staunches the flow somewhat though, and the missing delayed drop-off in the “ellas” is even more pronounced with the choppy backing underneath.

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Alejandro Manzano

Alejandro’s solo acoustic version of the song is great. He turns a pop diva anthem into an introspective snag ballad. Apparently it’s quite popular too.

Can he sing “um-buh-rella”? Nope – Alejandro’s the worst of the bunch; he just kinda mumbles the word and doesn’t even pronounce the “B” clearly >_< : “uhmm… rella…”

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This is my personal favourite. Heavier and phatter than All Time Low and the Manics, these guys rock and they keep more of the feel, if you ask me, given that All Time Low turn the song into a classic emo punk-pop “doo-bah” carnival and the Manics sound like… the Manics.

Can he sing “um-buh-rella”? This vocalist gets pretty close but suffers from the same affliction as everyone else (except for Vanilla Sky) when it comes to the “ellas”.

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Honourable Mentions

Plain White T’s – live acoustic version. He lost points for reading the lyrics off a lyric sheet >_<

Mixal – Heavy Metal version. A great metal reimagining with new chords and melodies (only excluded from the list – reluctantly – because of the radical change to the song itself).

Marie Digby – acoustic chick singer version. Not the most imaginative version – similar in style and feel to Mandy Moore’s (if Mandy hadn’t had a full backing band).

Update [20-07-08]:
ningmusic (Youtuber) – Piano & Cello cover. A nice classical take on the song :-).

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Download the complete Guitar Pro 5 file (.gp5) (including drums, synth arr. for guitar, vocal, lyrics, etc.) from here.

If you don’t have Guitar Pro you can download the demo here.

The 10 Most Unlikely Duets of the last 30 years

Duets and collaborations are a time-honoured tradition in music wherein artists of similar or complementary style come together to create something special (and to take the opportunity to milk each other’s fans). For example, some classic collaborations throughout the years: Lionel Ritchie & Diana Ross, Seether & Amy Lee, Eric Clapton & Sting, INXS & Jimmy Barnes, PJ Harvey & Josh Homme. (The term “duet” is used loosely here to encompass “collaborations” as well.)

On the other side of the coin… there are duets that seem to be made of artists plucked randomly from opposite ends of the spectrum and jammed together haphazardly to see what falls out…

In light of that, these are the ten duets from the 1980s and the 1990s that caused a moment of sheer bewilderment upon their discovery. Some of them defied expectation and worked well, some – in my opinion – didn’t.

Feel free to ridicule me, correct me, or add the duets I’ve missed in the comments below! (And thanks for the post suggestion, Duls!)

Wu-tang + Texas

I wouldna picked this one in a million years to be honest… Apparently Sharleen Spiteri and crew are big Wu-Tang fans O_o. And Sharleen must be fond of strange collaborations since she’s done another one with german rabble rousers Rammstein

What’s so strange about it? Well… Wu-Tang are seminal hardcore rap legends and Texas… are soft-rock/pop with a chick vocalist… nuff said?

Did it work? I think it worked nicely – in a bizarre kind of way – although that may have more to do with Rza’s production and that awesome sample in the chorus that ends every first and third line on the most discordant note in a pop song ever xD: totally makes up for all the sugar from Sharleen in the verses :)

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Kylie Minogue + Nick Cave

Nick wrote a song about a guy who brains a chick with a rock, chucks her in the river, and shoves a rose in her mouth so the memory of her beauty won’t fade… And have you read his book, “And The Ass Saw The Angel” about that one mute dude with the abusive father who ends up going ballistic on his home town? Yeeeaah… O_o … someone should be watching Nick Cave closely…

What’s so strange about it? Nick’s an alternative doom rock maven and Kylie’s a pop princess: cerebral gloom with sugary pop frivolity… on the surface it makes no sense but – given the story of the song – the beauty and the beast dynamic has a very definite place…

Did it work? I think it worked well – the two suited their roles in the story and their voices complemented each other nicely. But I still think Nick Cave should be kept away from automatic weapons and high places in crowded areas…

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Eminem + Elton John

This only happened live at the 2001 Grammys but it’s an occurrence of note.

What’s so strange about it? Eminem was notorious for the abundance of anti-gay vitriol in his songs and Elton John is… well… gay. Cynics say it was a calculated political move from the candy-monikered-one to salvage his image with the pink party…

Did it work? It may have curried favour for Em with GLAAD (the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) – or, in fact, turned GLAAD against Elton – but I thought Elton’s voice and style in this context was a major step backward from the sweet tones of Dido and the whole thing ends up being primarily an exercise in PR rather than a memorable live rendition of the song…

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Tom Jones + The Cardigans

Tom made a whole album of strange duets so this is just a personal choice of the ‘pick-of-the-bunch’.

What’s so strange about it? Tom’s like… a crusty old piece of leather-fied nostalgia with funny hair… and The Cardigans sing about Playstation games and have swedish eye-candy Nina Persson fronting the band…

Did it work? Not in my opinion… I didn’t like Tom’s or Nina’s voice for the song… imo the success it had is due to the quality of the original song itself – go the Byrne-meister!!

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KLF + Tammy Wynette

In 1995, Splendid Magazine said:

Were a decision reached that all pop music was deemed unfit for human consumption and had to be destroyed, save for one song to keep us fickle masses in choruses, this would be have to be the one, folks.

Hyperbole, much?

What’s so strange about it? Tammy is the goddess of country and KLF were stadium house pioneers on the raucous bleeding edge of avant garde performance art… not the most obvious pairing… or is it? Some say it suited KLF’s rabid rejection of convention and expectation to a tee…

Did it work? Arguably anything works in KLF’s eclectic dance mish-mash… and gushing quote aside, the song was received very well in the UK and Europe with great chart success and more hyperbolic reviews.

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U2 + Mary J Blige

What’s so strange about it? Political rock band plus R&B diva… I wouldna picked this one either… Okay, there’s the soul connection with BB et al during Rattle & Hum but R&B diva…? Really?

Did it work? My U2-loving mates have given a resounding “NO” but I like both Mary and U2 and I didn’t mind it… I don’t know that it’s true to the spirit of the band but it makes a nice diversion, at least.

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George Michael + Aretha Franklin

What’s so strange about it? Aretha Franklin is the respected Queen of Soul and George Michael is ‘that dodgy greek guy who hangs around the toilets in the park’.

Did it work? George managed to not drag the proceedings down – even though he was singing with one of the most honoured women in Grammy history (Aretha has twenty little gold-plated gramophones on her mantle…) and the UK public gave him his third No. 1, so someone liked it. I seem to remember being hammered by it relentlessly on the NZ charts too…

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Bone Thugs N Harmony + Phil Collins

What’s so strange about it? Bone Thugs be gangsta, mayn… and Phil… ain’t.

Did it work? I say no – Phil’s sustained, reverbed-out, chorus lines just don’t seem to go with Bone Thugs’ rapid staccato melody rapping… imo the worst duet on this list.

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Cliff Richard + The Young Ones

Cliff sings a sweet song and the Young Ones footle all over it.

What’s so strange about it? Well, Cliff Richard is the paragon of virtue and middle-of-the-road purity (see his conversion to Christianity and his claims of virginity) and the Young Ones are a chaotic, loutish rabble who were as irreverent as you could get (for the time) without being R18…

Did it work? If you liked the Young Ones it was just another Young Ones skit with pretty music every now and then so it was fine :). If you didn’t, their schtick may have gotten annoying quickly…

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Honourable Mentions

Frank Sinatra + Bono – they didn’t even get to meet before they recorded – in different studios in different states…

Roy Orbison + K.D. Lang – K.D. Lang is awesome in a cabaret sort of way xD. Roy Orbison is a legendary tenor with an impressive, effortless range. They wouldna been my first pick as a duet, though…

Elmo and Andrea Bocelli

My new favourite duet of all of these. Elmo doesn’t want to go to sleep but Andrea (with that beautiful, smooth tenor – still brings a tear to my eye) tells him it’s “Time To Say Goodnight”. (I’m a bigger fan of Elmo than Sarah Brightman anyway ; ).

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Timbaland can write, y’all

Timbaland has won Songwriter of the Year at the ASCAP 2008 Rhythm & Soul Music Awards. Earlier in the year he won Songwriter of the Year at the ASCAP Pop Music Awards. Told you he deserved some respect, haters! xD

This is my favourite song of his – “Give It To Me”. This was his first number one on his own (he’s produced and written plenty for other artists) and was the third biggest chart climber (from number 42) on the Billboard Hot 100 at the time (he also directed the vid… but I don’t think that’s too notable…)

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