Wednesday!

Let’s say you’ve got the traditional four instruments (lead guitar, bass guitar, drums, and either a piano or a rhythm guitar), a decent enough lead singer, and a nice sentiment to sing about. Add some sweet production values and voilà. You might find yourself with a catchy song.

How can we tell the good songs from the great songs, though?

Strip everything away and make a minimalist version of it.

Watch this. See how this song…

English Beat – Save it For Later

Turns into *THIS* song…

Pete Townshend – Save It For Later (In The Attic 6-25-06)

Now, of course, it’s unfair to compare any work that isn’t played by Pete Townshend to a work that is, but in stripping the song down, he’s effectively stripping the gaudy paint off of a classical statue and a good song is revealed to have a great song hiding underneath it.

As I forgot to start a fight yesterday, I’ll start one today by saying that this is the best minimalist cover and, indeed, making minimalist versions of a song is the best way to unearth whatever is lying underneath a good (if overproduced) song.

Of course, if you don’t want to fight, you can always just talk about what you happen to be listening to.


Staff Writer
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Jaybird is Birdmojo on Xbox Live and Jaybirdmojo on Playstation's network. He's been playing consoles since the Atari 2600 and it was Zork that taught him how to touch-type. If you've got a song for Wednesday, a commercial for Saturday, a recommendation for Tuesday, an essay for Monday, or, heck, just a handful a questions, fire off an email to AskJaybird-at-gmail.com

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29 thoughts on “Wednesday!

  1. Yesterday I had “River” going in the car. This is a collection of covers of Joni Mitchell songs done by Herbie Hancock with a variety of vocalists. I leave you with “Court and Spark” sung by Norah Jones.

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  2. I’m not going to argue vehemently against this. I usually think women look best in a t-shirt and jeans, so I’m sympathetic to your argument.

    But minimalism works better for certain kinds of songs. Evocative ones. And in that sense, you can’t really call a performance by Pete Townshend “minimalist”. His guitar work and vocals are subtle but masterful. He can put things into a song that you’d never spot, but the overall effect is awe-inspiring.

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    • An example of what I’m talking about is “Crazy”, the Gnarls Barkley song. Not a very good song, and poorly produced. Ray Lamontagne did a cover of it that stripped off the noise, and it’s enjoyable to listen to. But did he find a good song underneath? Not really.

      A counter example is “Hey Ya”. The song is more like three or four songs thrown together, one of which has a nice tune and evocative lyrics. The Outkast version drowns the good and bad ingredients in hip-hop until you can’t distinguish the flavors. Obadiah Parker did an acoustic cover of it that reclaims the best parts, and there’s a very similar version on an episode of Scrubs. The Scrubs version (available on YouTube) is really beautiful, as it plays behind some great romantic moments, and dialogue drowns out the most hip-hop moments. But I think it counts more as a salvage job than a cover.

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      • There are a lot of songs that were on the radio all summer long during a particularly pleasant summer and it’s always nice to go back and listen to that song again.

        “Crazy” is probably on that list for a lot of people.

        Stuff like that does a good job of obscuring things.

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        • Here’s a stripped down cover of Crazy by xenial ingenue. I invite people to draw their own conclusions.

          (eta – I personally find the Gnarls Barkley version just the right amount of produced, particularly in an era when the overproduced (and way overhyped) Black Eye Peas were dominating that pop chart niche)

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  3. Alternate 80’s minimalist/acoustic remakes? Did you somehow hack my Spotify? Where’s Glyph when you need him?

    I’m not sure I’ll go to the mat for any of these songs, but I like several versions that have stripped of their 80’s wall-of-sound+techno-twitch that were requirements for the era.

    Here’s a fun Squeeze stripped down live/acoustic of Take Me I’m Yours I like the piano pulled to the front.

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    • The whole “MTV Unplugged” era gave us a great many delightful performances and either exposed or revealed bands as being propped up by their producers or held back by them.

      Going back and listening to Great White’s “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You” is excruciating today. (We must have missed Led Zep.) OH! And Clapton’s Unplugged version of “Layla”? I’m getting mad just thinking about it! AND THEY WOULDN’T STOP PLAYING IT ON THE RADIO

      I ain’t even gonna link it.

      We all bought Nirvana’s Unplugged tape and listened to “The Man Who Sold The World” until it wore out but Fiona Apple had a good one (if overstuffed… they went from just the guys playing their own stuff to “let’s bring in a percussion section!” which was the beginning of the end, if you ask me) and they had really interesting unplugged sessions with LL Cool J and Jay-Z.

      They should bring Unplugged back.

      But the stripped down version. Not the “let’s bring in an orchestra and call it unplugged” version.

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      • Not the “let’s bring in an orchestra and call it unplugged” version.

        That’s one of my other playlists.

        It certainly exposes a lot of things about the music; as you say, some good, some bad. I have an acoustic versions of Nik Kershaw (obscure 80’s guy) and his pickin’ is amazing… alas, he still sounds like Nik Kershaw. Some of the 80s lyrics get exposed as pretty silly (not that there’s anything wrong with that)… on the other hand, I found an acoustic version of Depeche Mode’s Personal Jesus and holy fuck is that creepy. It pretty much only works as an Anthem at full blast. Acoustically it makes mothers grab their children and hide in the safe room.

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            • Creepy Depeche Mode.

              And now… a digression.

              Back when I was in high school, there was a female co-student who was pretty awesome. She was dating this guy, though, and so it wasn’t worth hitting on her. Well, college happened and wouldn’t you know it, she was on again off again with this guy and so she and I went on a handful of dates. Good dates, all told. I mean, we never became boyfriend/girlfriend or anything like that but these would have been good dates to show in a 1950’s educational film on how to date. We went on picnics, we went ice skating, we listened to music together, we went dancing… it was nice. Sigh.

              Anyway, she became a high school teacher at the high school we went to.

              Flash forward to this summer (like a couple of weeks ago). My job had a couple of high school interns who were in the computer science division of their schooling and both excelled to the point where they got sent to the local college to get college credit for their computer science stuff and as part of that, they got shipped off as interns to patient businesses who were willing to devote a handful of hours to mentoring.

              I gave them a speech about computer security.

              Anyway, in talking to them about their lives (OH MY GOSH ONE WAS BORN AFTER 9/11), I found out that one of them went to high school at the high school that we went to and, yes, one of his teachers was the person I talked about way up there. I mentioned “I went to high school with her!” and he gasped at how old I was and asked for gossip about what she was like back in high school.

              Here is the only thing I told him: “She introduced me to Depeche Mode.”

              There. That’s my story.

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  4. It’s not exactly the thing described, but I really like both NiN’s original and Johny Cash’s cover versions of Hurt. Both are pretty minimal, if anything the original is sparser.

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    • I was going to post one of the covers of Neil Young that was pared down and sparse and then I listened to Neil Young do it and, hrm… his original was just him and an acoustic guitar.

      And I thought “well… *THAT* doesn’t count!”

      Which is not to say that I’m saying that to *YOU*… but I said it to me.

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      • The boldest remakes of Neil Young songs are likely to be done by Neil Young. He’s an interesting one. He’s fearless. He’ll redo any song from any genre into any genre. He’s been so big for so long (he was essentially a British Invasion rocker from Canada) that nothing intimidates him. Coincidentally, he’s done a cover of All Along the Watchtower in his live shows – how many other people could do that un-self-consciously?

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