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I’m in love. What’s that song?

June 28, 2012

A little while ago I picked up a new Counting Crows CD that I didn’t know about until I saw on the rack at the music store. While listening to the CD, I learned that it was a covers album.

The fact that the disc was a bunch of unoriginal songs didn’t deter me. The Counting Crows, for the most part, picked some good tunes and performed them as songs that sounded in line with the Counting Crows style.

One of the songs that really stuck to me was a track called “The Ballad of El Goodo” which was written by Alex Chilton and Chris Bell. Alex Chilton has been a name that jumped off the page when I saw it in the album credits. His is a name that I’ve seen in a bunch of different places. It’s the kind of name that gets brought up by musicians just outside of the mainstream trying to sound deep (and gain some art house street cred) by referencing the most obscure artists they can find.

Side-tracking a bit, but that’s basically how Lou Reed got famous. He was just some guy in a band that sucked, but sucked in a whole new way. The Velvet Underground deliberately made music that was difficult if not aggressively annoying. Well, when Andy Warhol found them, the Velvet Underground sounded like what Warhol was doing, art that was deliberately difficult and aggressively annoying. From there, a bunch of popular musical acts came out publicly and stated that they were fans of the Velvet Underground. Jim Morrison claimed he got into music partly because of the Velvet Underground. In reality it was because his poetry wasn’t getting him laid. And name-checking Lou Reed made him sound cool.

This stuff still goes on. Anybody remember that awful cover of Don Henley’s “Boys of Summer” by some pop-punk band, their name escapes me but that’s alright, they’re not worthy of remembering. The song’s lyrics make a rather interesting statement about America in the 1980s “I saw a deadhead sticker on a Cadillac.” That means something. That is a distinct image. But pop-punk flavour of the month over here changed it to “I saw a Black Flag sticker on a Cadillac.” That means nothing. That image is void. They were just trying to sound cool by name-checking an old-school hardcore punk band.

Back to my point, Alex Chilton has been a name thrown around to make other musicians sound cool. Therefore, Alex Chilton must be cool, right? Yes. Talented, listenable, entertaining? No. Not necessarily. Worth a try? Sure, why not?

I picked up three albums by Alex Chilton’s band from the early to mid 1970s, Big Star.

Are these three albums collections of non-stop great songs? No. Are they very listenable and contain some interesting tracks? Sure. I’ve been listening to these three albums on and off for the past couple of weeks. I’m not regretting these albums. They worthy of a place in my collection.

Listening to Big Star, I can easily hear why they never got famous. The music is not radio-friendly. The ballads are soft but humble and sweet. The rockers are not that hard and these were made in a time when rock songs were hard, pounding anthems of glory. And honestly, Alex Chilton’s vocal delivery is just not up to snuff against his contemporaries from the ’70s (Steven Tyler, Ronnie Van Zant, etc…). But in today’s emasculated ear, he is quite competent, maybe even ahead of his time. It’s no wonder Michael Stipe, the godfather of today’s emasculated ear, name-checked him to sound cool.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. June 28, 2012 8:54 pm

    Wow, someone covers Don Henley?

    I haven’t heard Counting Crows in a long time. That’s a name which takes me back.

  2. June 29, 2012 1:39 am

    The band was the Ataris that covered Boys of Summer.

    You did not just diss Michael Stipe, did you?

    Hey – Lou Reed does some guest vocals on the new Metric album.

    Also, cover albums can be quite interesting – ie Tori Amos’ “Strange Little Girls”.

  3. June 29, 2012 3:28 am

    When I heard “I saw a Black Flag sticker on a Cadillac” I thought they meant the bug killer and I figured they sniffed a little too much of it as teenagers. The remake of that song sucks.

  4. Riot Kitty permalink
    June 30, 2012 12:43 pm

    Duran Duran’s “Thank You” album was a good cover album, more or less.

  5. June 30, 2012 6:47 pm

    Me likey. The ballad is very pretty.

  6. July 2, 2012 7:14 am

    Definitely a band of the ’70s – I suddenly feel about 10 years old!

    OK I always feel about 10 years old…

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