A quick note: After watching the LCD Soundsystem show online last night (I am writing this on Sunday), I wanted to add a few thoughts on the show and on the band in advance of the actual “Various and Sundry” column. And thanks to those who post videos on YouTube so I can embed them …
Like many of you, I watched the final LCD Soundsystem show via the live stream on Pitchfork this past Saturday night. I can’t say the show had my full attention for the almost four hours but I am glad I was able to watch it and kudos to Pitchfork for having a near-perfect stream.
Following the Twitter comments throughout the show made me realize the reverence many hold for the band – and lets be honest and just say 99% of that is directed at frontman James Murphy. I saw some rather strong claims about their significance within the realm of current snob-blog-rock. A few went as far to say that James Murphy is the last great frontman or that the band holds a place in infamy with some of the legends of rock.
I find those assertions to be a bit strong, but that doesn’t diminish the impact the band has had.
LCD Soundsystem – “North American Scum” ft. Arcade Fire (live)
Every generation is partial to their own music. Yes, it is hard to see the life-cycle end for a band that many of us have watched develop and grow in popularity since their infancy. The early 2000’s launched the latest batch of “Super-star” indie/post-indie bands: The National, The Decemberists, Arcade Fire, The Raveonettes (who I must include if only for personal reasons), Phoenix, Broken Social Scene and yes, LCD Soundsystem.
Of those one can make an argument – and a strong one – that Murphy had more influence than the collective mentioned above (especially if you exclude The National). But the retirement of the band is not the retirement of the man whose work outside the band supersedes his work with it. All you have to do is look to Trent Reznor to see the path Murphy is taking.
I can’t say that I ever appreciated LCD Soundsystem as much as I should have. Maybe if I had been a decade younger I would have focused more on the content than the popularity of their tracks on the dance-floor.
This weekend allowed us all to have one last appreciation for a band whose influence was as great as any of of its time. LCD Soundsystem, so long.
Time to swing the pendulum to the original direction of this edition of “Various and Sundry” …
Some time in late-February or early-March I first heard the Dum Dum Girls’ cover of one of my favorite songs recorded by The Smiths – “There Is A Light That Will Never Go Out”.
Typically, when a band covers a song they go one of two ways with it: They either try to do an exact reproduction of the song or alter it so it varies quite drastically from the original. The vast majority of the time the cover just flat sucks.
In the 1990’s third-wave SKA artists did a nice job covering New Wave songs of the 1980’s. Frankly, it’s hard to beat a good cover by a SKA band. But as well all know, SKA is a niche, not a commercially or critically viable genre. So most bands leave covers to their live shows. A few will record a cover as an album track; and fewer still actually release a cover for airplay.
So when a band or artist releases a cover song and does (or can) results in a drastic alteration of their career trajectory, I stop and take notice.
Through the last five decades of music, it has been rare to find a commercially successful cover song. It only happens a few times a decade … but when it does, the results can be staggering. A few examples:
Elvis Presley is the King, alright. He’s the King of cover songs. Back in the 1950’s everyone covered everyone. If a good track came out – everyone cut their version of it. But no one leveraged it better than Elvis.
Here’s a little test: Clear your mind. Now name the first two Elvis songs that you can think of … got it?
Was one of the two songs, “Hound Dog” or “Blue Suede Shoes”?
Yes? Then you see my point. “Hound Dog” was a hit for Big Mama Thornton. “Blue Suede Shoes” was a hit (and written) by Carl Perkins.
Big Mama Thornton – “Hound Dog” (ft. Buddy Guy)
If Elvis wouldn’t have recorded either of those songs would he have been a superstar? Maybe. But whose to say he wouldn’t have just been another period star and not a cultural icon.
If you don’t love Aretha you have no business being a music fan. I can’t say anything bad about her because she is one of the top two or three female vocalists of all-time. The diva’s diva.
But let’s play my little game again. Clear your head. Now name the first two songs that come into your head by Aretha … got it?
Was one of those songs, “Respect”?
Be honest, it was, wasn’t it? If you didn’t already know this, that song was a huge hit that was written and recorded by the one-and-only Otis Redding. When Aretha recorded it, it became her signature song.
But as with Elvis, what would her career have been like if she hadn’t recorded the song? A star? Probably. But would Aretha have really been Aretha without it?
Otis Redding – “Respect”
I’m aware of Sugarland for two reasons: They are from Atlanta and a few years ago I was flipping TV stations when I heard some band covering “Life In A Northern Town” by The Dream Academy. All things considered, they did a nice job covering the 1985 cult hit.
But for people who had never heard of The Dream Academy or their original version of the song – i.e. almost everyone associated with anything having to do with country music – “Life In A Northern Town” catapulted Sugarland to superstars in this current mess known as “country” music.
Without that song, they might have just been another band with a few records and a few songs that disappear as quickly as Restless Heart did 20 years ago.
The Dream Academy – “Life In A Northern Town”
Yes, there are a other examples out there, but you get the point, sometimes a cover song can rocket an artist to super-stardom.
But there are also the covers that are so good it makes you stand-up and take notice of a band that you may have otherwise glossed-over and forgotten about within a few months.
One of my favorite cover songs of all-time is Lazlo Bane’s 1997 version of Men At Work’s “Overkill”. Lazlo Bane’s cover was different for one major reason – the fact the original singer of the song, Colin Hay, actually joined Lazlo Bane on the track. This made for a wonderful rendition of “Overkill” and the oddity of a cover song that was also a re-make.
And a side-note about Lazlo Bane. The band formed when Chad Fischer left early alt. rock band School of Fish. And while they have had a long career, they are probably best known for providing the song “Superman” to the TV show Scrubs.
Lazlo Bane – “Overkill” (ft. Colin Hay)
Dum Dum Girls
Finally, I get to my point with the Dum Dum Girls. I liked what I heard from their debut album but I lumped them together with the wave of some-what similar artists like, the Vivian Girls, the Pipettes, Best Coast, etc. Yes, I liked, “Bhang, Bhang, I’m A Burnout” but I didn’t dig any deeper on the band or their music.
That all changed the instant I first heard their cover of “There Is A Light That Will Never Go Out”. As covers go, it had all the right elements. It was true to the original version but done in a way that the covering artist made it their own. After hearing it several times, I bought the EP, He Gets Me High, so I could have the song in perpetuity.
This one cover completely changed my view of the band. I found myself willing to listen to interviews – and finding that I connected with what I heard. Now, I take notice of the Dum Dum Girls and their music and will continue to do so.
Dum Dum Girls – “There Is A Light That Will Never Go Out” (live)
Will “There Is A Light That Will Never Go Out” alter the way that mainstream underground views the band? I think it will. It has already elevated their profile with many of us in the quasi-music media. I’m not here to say that Dum Dum Girls will be one of the next wave of artist or bands that will define the next generation; but we shouldn’t discount what they may be capable of, either.
The nice thing about music is that you can always hitch a ride with the next thing that comes along. Sometimes you have to jump off quickly – and sometimes you get to enjoy things for a decade. For those of you being forced off the LCD Soundsystem’s bandwagon, you’ll be jumping board someone else’s soon enough.