Thursday, November 15, 2007

Hey baby, how ya been?

Under the Covers, Day 4/5
Up for Review: Paul Anka's Rock Swings, 2005

Today we switch things up a little bit -- instead of taking a look at newer takes on older songs, we look at an older take on newer songs... albeit done recently.

If, in 2004, you asked pretty much anyone if the world needed Paul Anka (that, is Mr. "Put Your Head on My Shoulder" and jingle king extraordinaire) doing big band versions of songs by Bon Jovi, Nirvana, Van Halen, R.E.M., Michael Jackson and Eric Clapton, the communal response probably would've been no. If not "I think you've been spending a little too much time on the music blogging circuit."

The good people at Verve Forecast, however, thought it was money. As a business move, it was a bit of genius, really. Even the most flannel-coated, son of '91, Seattle hipster was going to have some perverse interest in seeing how "Smells Like Teen Spirit" sounded with a big band, and while that guy likely was going to be satiated (and probably repelled) by the 30-second preview on iTunes, enough people were going to find the novelty of it somewhat appealing and justify the record's release.

Where this experiment exceeds is in it's careful handling of the songs. Does the world need a big band version of "Black Hole Sun"? No. Does that mean it's not worth doing? Not necessarily. The production on this album is fantastic and (I can't believe I'm saying this, but) Anka lends a sense of authority to the proceedings in that if anyone was going to be at the front of some odd crossover B.S. like this, it should be him, dammit, 'cos he knows what he's doing. Tony Bennett's too old and would make the whole thing piano jazz, no one would by it if Frank Sinatra Jr. did it and Michael Buble's already doing it... just worse. If there's one survivor to pick to head this up, well, son of a bitch, it's Paul Anka. Of course, that's in listening alone. When you actually SEE him do the songs, it's cringe-worthy.

Now unlike the Northam/Novello case in which Grandma Cyd pleaded general ignorance, she did indeed know Mr. Anka. But her attachment to the music of the days before yesterday meant that (surprisingly or unsurprisingly) she wasn't as familiar with some of the material he was tackling.

Here's what was said about today's three selections...

Paul Anka - Wonderwall
Paul: So now we have Paul Anka doing Oasis.
Grandma Cyd: (looks at stereo quizzically)
Paul: Do you like Paul Anka?
Grandma Cyd: I’ve only ever played one of his songs on the show. He’s more ‘60s, so…
Paul: Ah.
Grandma Cyd: I do like this better than the original, though.
Paul: (tries not to take too much offense as a rabid Oasis fan) Oh? Well, yeah, you know what I will say about this album is that they try doing this kind of thing every now and again and when I first heard about this, I thought of Pat Boone trying to do that heavy metal album. This turned out alright, though. This is nice to listen to.
Grandma Cyd: This also really sounds like Sinatra’s Reprise stuff. The horns and drums are really up front.
Paul: Yeah. They got a stand-up bass going too, which I appreciate.
The original as comparison... Note: As a hardcore Oasis fan, I tend to shy away from this song because of its hugeness (even though it's really the song that got me to buy an Oasis album in the first place), but every time I do hear it, I'm still really moved.

Paul Anka - Jump
Grandma Cyd: (as music starts, she laughs hysterically) I've heard this! Steven Tyler and Joe Perry did this with the Boston Pops last summer.
Paul: Oh yeah?
Grandma Cyd: Yeah. It started like that.
Paul: (as chorus approaches) This is the only part I find a little annoying. “Jump!”
Grandma Cyd: (laughs) Yeah… that’s like, find something for the saxophone players to do.
Paul: I imagine Paul Anka standing there trying to imagine he’s David Lee Roth.
Grandma Cyd: Oh is that who does this. It’s not Aerosmith?
Paul: No, it’s Van Halen.
Grandma Cyd: Ah. Yeah okay, then it was David Lee Roth that did this with the Boston Pops. He did it a couple years ago. I saw it on TV.
Paul: Gotcha.
Grandma Cyd: I don’t know about those little “ha!”s he does. They sound too calculated. But Bobby Darin did that kind of thing too.
Paul: Yeah, but that was Bobby’s persona.
Grandma Cyd: Right, you could tell he was just that into the song. Is it “Mack the Knife” or “Beyond the Sea”?
Paul: Well, both. There was something in most of his songs. That “EEP!” in “Mack the Knife.”
Grandma Cyd: Right. Yeah, he just sounded like he meant it. This sounds like he’s going “Okay, here’s where I go ‘Ha!’” It’s like a few years ago my mom took us to see Neil Sedaka and he was kind of acting it up and he did this one song that he dedicated to his father and he started crying on stage, but you could tell it was just kind of an act. You can’t force that kind of stuff. It has to come naturally.
Paul: Absolutely.
Grandma Cyd: (as song’s ending) I like this song more now than I did at the beginning. Why is that?
Paul: You’re used to it now.
Grandma Cyd: I guess.
The original as comparison... Note: There's a fine line between looking like you're having fun and looking like complete knobs. David and Co. do not walk that line finely.

Paul Anka - Smells Like Teen Spirit
Grandma Cyd
: I don’t know if I know this song?
Paul: Come on. Yeah you do. You know “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”
Grandma Cyd: I can’t think of it.
Paul: (miming guitar opening) Dun-duh-na, duh-duh-dun-da-na-na…
Grandma Cyd: (shaking her head) Is that the one that like all guitar players or people learning guitar, that’s the first song they try?
Paul: I think you’re thinking of “Come As You Are.” In my experience, at least, that’s the one everyone figures out first.
Grandma Cyd: I don’t know.
Paul: Well that’s going to be the headline. Grandma Cyd, college radio DJ, doesn’t know Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”
The original as comparison... Note: Come on, Grandma Cyd. Really?!

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Blogger begstealborrow said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

7:38 AM  
Blogger begstealborrow said...

when i heard wonderwall was being done on this i had flashes of mike flowers and richard cheese doing it, but i was pleasantly surprised by anka's! though like paul i'm an oasis diehard, but this really is the only cover besides ryan adams that i can truly appreciate.

jump i think is a definite improvement, but that may be because it's my least favorite van halen song, so it really isn't too hard to improve in my opinion.

smells like teen spirit! you can understand the lyrics! loved it, and great point in that it's definitely better heard than seen. though grandma cyd, kudos to being so passionate to the 30s-50s that you didn't even let the mammoth release of nevermind pop your music bubble in '91.

7:39 AM  
Blogger Cynthia said...

Okay, that is SO the song that all MY guitar-playing friends made sure to learn first. So yes, I recognize the lick. . . I don't know that I've heard the song all the way through, except maybe while sitting in a crusty sports bar somewhere. :)

--Grandma Cyd

7:57 AM  
Blogger Any major dude with half a heart said...

The first time I heard Anka's take on Teen Spirit, I cried with laughter. Not because it was comedy, but because it was so audacious. He pulls it off admirable. And on Jump, our man shows that the song always was supposed to be a swing number. In my book, it's his song now.

11:23 AM  

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