Is there a song you'd like to hear someone cover? I'm your man. I can never promise quality. And I certainly can't promise you'll like it. So suggest a song and if I pick it, you'll hear my interpretation.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Cover Girl

I bought the New Kids on the Block cd back in 2002. They had it used at Zia for like $2.99. At that price, you can't afford to not own it. As I drove home that day, I listened to the album front to back. The first thing that struck me was the low quality of the production. Like they went to Target and bought some First Act keyboards. The next thing that struck me was "Cover Girl". I didn't remember that song. I only knew what was showcased on MTV and I'm not sure this ever had a video. You can see a performance (???) on the New Kids concert videos, though.

So it was a good choice for me. One of their deeper cuts, if you will. And I promise to do my next cover a little straighter. Or not. Sometimes you can't help what you do.

Let me know how you like it/hate it. I'm interested. And be sure to suggest a song for June's cover contest. We're off to a great start.

My cover:
Cover Girl (New Kids on the Block cover) by Eric VanAusdal

The original:

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Progress Report #1 (Cover Girl)

When I pick a song for the Cover Challenge it's mostly due to how immediate I hear myself doing it. Kind of a "ooh! I could do a _______ version of this song". But with last month's The Trooper I went from Pet Sounds era Beach Boys to late 60's Kinks to something else (all I know is it didn't end up sounding like the Kinks). The same thing is happening with this month. When I picked the song I wanted to do it pretty straight. Give it some dirty, sloppy guitar and scratchy synth, but it would be basically everything you hear on the original.

Well, I got most of the guitar/bass down this afternoon and then just scrapped it.

I'm really pleased with how it sounds, but it does feel like cheating. The original melody is kind of weird and harder to sing than you'd think. It's to the point where the record just doesn't sound right. So either they were breaking ground melodically or they were just rushing to get product in the stores.

But I'm not beating them down. I once lived with a guy that was a GREAT musician. He was a performance major at ASU and in one of his composition classes everyone was giving country music a hard time. You've got to understand these are kids that would play the same 6 measures of a classical piece over and over again for 4 hours. Simple country music was beneath them. So their professor challenged them with a "If it's so easy, then you do it. You each need to have one country song in by next week". So my friend told me everyone in the class struggled with the assignment. Few of them actually even finished it.

Pop music is in the same vein. The New Kids, Backstreet Boys, Justin Bieber, etc get a hard rap from the music community. It gets ragged on for being simple. But the same rule applies: If you think it's so easy, then you write a mindless pop song that sells millions. And sure, the intense marketing helps these guys out. But for every bubble gum pop success there are 5 other acts that had the same marketing budget. But for whatever reason, a song like "Hangin' Tough" clicks and you can sing it 20 years later.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

May's Cover is...

In 3rd grade I was already settling in to my role as the uncultured/uncool kid. The defining moment was when I told Lori Whatshername "The New Kids on the Block suck!". To which she responded, "You suck!". Touché. I don't remember why I told her they suck. I'm positive I didn't just say it out of nowhere, but it's still pretty lame to rip on her boys like that. I guess I deserved what I got.

10 years later Lori was in my graduating class at Ironwood. I made sure to tell her at least once a month that I was ahead of the curve on that New Kids sentiment. She'd stand by her boys, though. And that's something I've learned about the New Kids: Staying power. Almost 20 years later and they are quite literally hangin' tough. Their current tour has been a success and they're working on a new album.

I was kind of given a blank check with this one. And when you have one NKOTB jam to rock, you have to go with Cover Girl. I think the band's manager, Maurice Starr, is partly responsible for this song. One or two other New Kids had a hand in writing this. Which is kind of amazing, because some of the lyrics are totally weird. Weird enough to make you wonder why nobody spoke up. i.e. "I get up in the morning and I see your face, girl / You're looking so good, everything's in place". Everything's in place? WTF?

If you're not familiar with this song, watch this strange clip.

The little girl in this video will grow up to be in a "Friends" Ripoff.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

May's Challenge

1) Working Class Hero by John Lennon. John Lennon does a great cover of this Green Day classic.
2) Kiss From a Rose by Seal. I've always loved the melody on this song. From that magical time when soundtracks made more money than the crappy movies they supported.
3) I Wanna Pick You Up by The Beach Boys. Stop what you're doing and throw this up on the YouTube. I'd never heard it before. It's crazy, sweet, and still totally brilliant.
4) Some Song by R.E.M.. Sorry. I can't remember the name of this song. Joe will correct me and I'll fix this tomorrow.
5) Manic Monday by The Bangles. This is the first of a few great tunes penned by Prince. And the Bangles had it going on. Hotties with Rickenbackers? I'll take 4, please.
6) Sexy M.F. by Prince. The irony of me performing this song is not lost on anyone.
7) Morning Train by Sheena Easton. Or, if you're from across the pond, "9 to 5" by Sheena Easton. They had to change the name in the States so people wouldn't go to record stores for Sheena and end up with Dolly. But it's a win/win, really.
8) Slide It In by Whitesnake. When my brother-in-law suggested this song, I thought he made it up. Too perfect. But silly me in forgetting that 80's rock made a living out of crossing every imaginable line. This song is very real.
9) Suspicious Minds by Elvis Presley. If you ask my wife, this is the "we caught a trout" song, Which is awesome. It was a favorite when my dad would play his Elvis tape.
10) "Anything" by New Kids on the Block. Though they may have a song called "anything", this suggestion was more about me getting to pick anything from their vast, respected catalog. Kid in a candy store.
11) Disco Duck by Rick Dees. A testament to the fact that Americans will buy ANYTHING.
12) Besame Mucho by Various. I wanted to say that it was by "Various Rucker", but people probably wouldn't get that I was making a joke. Or it's just a dumb joke. This song has been covered by everyone. It also failed to land the Beatles a record deal. I'm looking at you, Decca.
13) Eternal Flame by The Bangles. Yum. More Susanna. I made a cd for my wife when she was in college. It was songs you'd hear in Cost Cutters or the Dentist. This track was on that disc and it was just as killer then.
14) Southern Nights by Glen Campbell. When the Rhinestone Cowboy isn't getting arrested in Phoenix for being out of his mind on fire water, he's slinging praises to those southern nights. Or doing concerts on PBS.
15) Sugar Shack by Jimmy Gilmer and the Fireballs. If you've ever wondered why people went so bonkers for the Beatles in '63, listen to this track. The oldies station in town used to play this song a lot. I can only imagine what the beatniks thought about this song. But as much as it sounds like I'm ripping the song, I'd love to know how to get that bass sound.
16) Reading Rainbow Theme Song by Death Star. I don't know who actually did the song. Death Star would be a great name for them, though. And we're talking about the old school version. They've since changed the theme song. Same song, lamer version.
17) Diamonds and Pearls by Prince. I originally thought this track was the end of the funky Prince. But if you get the extended single for Diamonds and Pearls you'll see he still had the funk-o-meter dialed up to 11.
18) Raspberry Beret by Prince. The fourth (technically) Prince song and another absolute jam. One of my earliest memories is sitting in my oldest sister's room listening to music. Either Raspberry Beret or Yaz's "Only You" was my first favorite song.

Great suggestions everyone! I'll have my selection posted tomorrow!

Saturday, May 1, 2010

The Trooper

Iron Maiden is one of those bands everyone has heard of, but most people can't name 3 songs. Which is equal parts impressive and intriguing. Did we just see the album covers the Warehouse (Where? The Warehouse) or the mustachioed rockers with the t-shirts at school? The kid that only listens to music parents don't like. Your Nine Inches of Nails, The Panteras, Seventura, etc. Probably had the "jans" and "r" on his Jansport backpack marked out so it just said "po t".

Anyway, this song intrigued me because I never listened to the lyrics until recently. Now when I'm not taking requests for cover songs I'm usually recording my own material. I'm working on writing and recording a little E.P. of songs that deal with historical events/people. And whadya know? This song deals with historical events!

The song is from the perspective of a British soldier in the Crimean War. Writer/Maiden bassist Steve Harris draws on Alfred Lord Tennyson's poem "The Change of the Light Brigade". This is the poem that gives us the phrase "Mine is not to reason why, mine is but to do or die" (though it's featured in the poem as "theirs not to reason why/theirs but to do and die"). Which, for years, I thought was something my dad made up.

But this gets me back to my original point about Iron Maiden scaring parents. Why? What an incredible opportunity to get kids interested in literature and history. Maybe it's a little too Mr. Holland's Opus to incorporate Iron Maiden in to the classroom, but seems like a missed opportunity to me.

For the actual cover my first thought was Beach Boys "Don't Worry Baby". I thought the chorus for The Trooper was too big and melodious to pass. But I ran in to trouble with the verses so I ditched that idea. Then I went for a Kinks "Sunny Afternoon" approach. Which was fun, but has since veered off that path. The guitar parts come off sounding a little Baja. Which isn't bad, but I can't think of any Kinks tunes with Baja guitar. In fact, the other night I realized the riff at the end is basically "Besame Mucho".

I previewed the song for my brother on Friday. He was the person that made the actual suggestion, by the way. And no, this challenge isn't going to be all about nepotism. Anywho, he politely pointed out that the line is not "You'll fire your musket but I'll run right through". It's "You'll fire your musket but I'll run you through". It's one word, but it's changes the line significantly. Instead of being a bad ass response to someone shooting at you it becomes more of a playground taunt during a red-hot game of Red Rover. I would have re-recorded that line, but I'd screw up the mic setting and it would sound different than the other lines. Sigh.

I called in for backup from my friend Michael. He's super talented and wicked friendly so I reached out for help on a drum pattern. After some solid advice and feedback, he agreed to add a little mellotron, strings, and space noises. Which was particularly helpful because there's a breakdown about 3/4 through the song that had me stumped. And the lame drum pattern is my fault. I didn't have time to incorporate his suggestion, so don't blame him for it.

Technically speaking, it's my most meticulous mix. Which means I spent an hour or two on it. Michael another friend Bryn spend more time mixing than tracking ( I think), which is why their songs end up sounding so good. One time I got an email from Bryn saying that his plans for the day were limited to "mixing a song". The day?!?!?! Holy crap. But it pays off when you listen to his stuff. The fact is that I really have no idea how to do it that well. I'm learning, but this is the best you're going to get. I was more careful when tracking to stay away from ANY clipping. Sometimes I'll get in the red for just one or two hits and let it slide. But I stayed away from that this time. Then for the actual mix I really brought everything down. The vocals are at about -3 db and I think they're the loudest track. It's panned pretty tight. I used to keep things pretty open but I'm trying to learn how to tow the line of being crowded and being tight. After I bounced it out of Garageband I normalized it... some-odd percent... to make up for how quiet it was. Which may or may not have been a mistake. I'm sure the experienced people will chime in on that issue. Which reminds me... please do chime in.

Whether you love this or hate it. Or if you're in between. Let me know. I'm hoping for some crazy suggestions and I plan on doing some strange arrangements. We're bound to not agree with the direction I take. I don't take it personally and I'll probably be laughing at the really harsh stuff. I imagine this is a cover most Iron Maiden fans will not be pleased with. Which wasn't my goal, just some unfortunate collateral damage. But it's no big deal. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. So open up and share the cover challenge with your friends, family, lunch bunch, nerd herd, mailman, gunnery sergeant, the Progressive lady, whoever.

Without further ado, here is the Eric VanAusdal cover of Iron Maiden's "The Trooper":
The Trooper by Eric VanAusdal

For comparison, here's the original: