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Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Over The Bridge We Go...

Today I'd like to introduce what I hope to develop into a semi-regular feature. I'll be calling it Side-By-Side, and that's pretty self-explanatory: I'm going to take multiple recordings of the same song and put them up at the same time, side-by-side. If the mood strikes me I might try to write a little comparing the different versions, but for the most part I'm offering them simply because I myself often get a kick out of hearing different artists' takes on the same tune. During the course of my collecting I've come across many covers, as I'm sure most music fanatics have. Sometimes the difference is very subtle, other times it's so dramatic that it hardly seems like the same song, but very rarely is it any less than interesting. Occasionally covers even manage to provide insight into the essence and basic structure of the song, making the listener wiser simply for having heard it. Some covers are so bad they can actually enhance one's appreciation of the original, whereas others are so good they replace the original in the listener's heart and mind. Johnny Cash's cover of "In My Life" is a good example of the latter; sometimes I forget that The Beatles recorded it way back in the 60s. All of this is really to say I enjoy covers, and I hope you enjoy the ones I post.

So, for this inaugural edition of Side-By-Side, there is this:

The Velvet Underground - "New Age"

Tori Amos - "New Age"

Right off the bat I'll confess that I don't understand why Tori Amos' covers album, Strange Little Girls, was so totally trashed by critics when it was released in 2001. I'm not a card-carrying member of the Tori cult and having only ever heard Under The Pink and From The Choirgirl Hotel I don't have much to compare it to, but judging solely by the music I think she got a raw deal - perhaps because the album failed to live up to it's promise to fuse gender studies with pop songs. Without a doubt several of her covers are superfluous and the entire album is overproduced, but only "Happiness Is A Warm Gun" and "I'm Not In Love" are unpleasant. It definitely sounds good to hear Tom Waits' classic "Time" given a woman's touch, she does a good job with "Enjoy The Silence" and "I Don't Like Mondays" and I actually prefer her version of "Heart Of Gold" to the original, though I'm not much of a Neil Young fan in the first place. However, the album opener, her cover of "New Age" is the album's true gem. It's a good example of what I wrote above: her dramatic rewrite is so different from The Velvet Underground original that they could almost be completely different songs. They end up sharing only a few scattered lines and a chorus really, and barely that. Where The Velvet Underground's version is a snotty poke at a washed-up actress, Tori's version manages to capture the desperation and detachment of that same character in equal measure. I think it's quite an achievement on Ms. Amos' part; her rewrite is different enough in tone and lyric to represent the highest level of potential for cover songs. Ultimately they're both terrific and they fit well together, like two sides of the same sad coin.

As mentioned above, Tori Amos' cover of "New Age" is available on her Strange Little Girls album. The Velvet Underground original comes from their 1970 album Loaded, which is available on CD as a two-disc "fully-loaded" edition. Both should be readily available at most record stores.

P.S. I realize that there are some bloggers that dedicate themselves almost entirely to covers, and I certainly don't want to be stepping on their toes because I think that's awesome.


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