Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Let it Be vs. Pet Sounds

In the lead up to this hotly contested match up I found myself listening over and over to two slightly less than completely relevant songs. The first is the Justin Townes Earle's (Steve Earle's son) rendition of the Replacements' "Can't Hardly Wait"*; a song that doesn't even appear on Let it Be. The second is a radically rearranged Oldham Brothers version of the Beach Boys' "Wouldn't it Be Nice" that replaces the perfect harmonies of the original with the Oldham's distinctly imperfect rasp.

As I was listening, I found myself pondering the art of the cover song**. Now, I must admit that I REALLY love covers and at times have been guilty of enjoying even the most atrocious of their ilk. This list includes but is by no means limited to most New Found Glory covers***, Sun Kil Moon's Tiny Cities which is composed entirely of Modest Mouse covers.

At their best, cover songs give you a glimpse into the true inner workings of the ORIGINAL version of a song by allowing you to gaze upon it from a different angle. A good cover is sort of like Monet's series of sunrise impressions in that they give you a completely different and enlightening snapshot of the way in which someone else hears a song in the moment. The Hold Steady's "Atlantic City" which has become as close to a staple on my iPod recently as anything else is a classic example of this. Craig Finn and the rest of the band reimagine Springsteen's bleak Nebraska masterpiece in a way that allows the listener to experience elements of the original that they would never have experienced otherwise. This not only makes the cover great but it injects the original with new life.

In listening to the two covers that I mentioned to kick off this lengthy digression from the original topic of this post, I feel like I learned more about the original artists. I learned that the reach of the Replacements is perhaps the most underratedly tremendous of any seminal American rock band. You can hear those guys in everything from Soundgarden to the Gin Blossoms and they are worthy of mad respect for that because they continue to influence bands that aren't even aware they're being influenced by Westerberg, Stinson, and Co. I also learned that at his best, Brian Wilson wrote songs that were just better than everything else and for all his insanity and multi-tracked orchestration, he also appreciated the beauty of simplicity... his pen brought a newfound sweetness and originality to topics as banal as teen romance and the beach. Having said that, the nod in this matchup goes to Pet Sounds... it might not have influenced rock music in the way that the Replacements did on Let it Be but everything it DOES do is just too powerful to ignore.

*I found this and TONS others at the Live Music Archive which has literally thousands of free and legal sets from acts ranging from Animal Collective to Yonder Mt. String Band... obviously it's a bit jam bandy but there's still a lot to like here
**This entire post will be a digression... be warned.
*** Particularly their admittedly terrible version of Peter Cetera's "Glory of Love" from the Goonies Soundtrack

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