Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Hey, quit hogging all the covers!

Did you ever wonder about the term "covers" as it's applied to songs, and not what you fight over nightly with your significant other.? Me too, so I went online and did some looking around. Here's what I found. For a long time in the music biz, the basic definition of a "cover" was simply a new rendition of a previously recorded song by a different artist. Sounds straightforward enough. But the implication was always lurking around that because it was a copy, it was inherently inferior. Or else the second artist was just trying to cash in on a prior hit. I'm sure both have been true. However, we can all think of our personal original-and-cover combos where it's just not the case. One of my fave examples is the song"The City of New Orleans." I've heard Steve Goodman sing it (he wrote it, too) but in my opinion it doesn't come close to Arlo Guthrie's version. I found out that they both were released in 1972, so who covered whom it up for grabs as far as I'm concerned (which means I'm not going to look it up to check the months!) Maybe we'd do better to look at a famous post-dated cover that almost eveybody agrees surpasses the original - Jimi Hendrix's cover of Dylan's "All Along the Watchtower."

Over time, the meaning behind the term "cover" has been subtly shifting. Now, instead of thinking of a cover as a mere copy of the original, or even a slight updating, it's come to mean more of a tribute to the original. Entire cover albums are standard operating procedure now. There's the kind where a single artist's album is covered by various other artists, like the tribute to Springsteen's Nebraska, or there's the redo of a single artist by another artist, as in Dwight Sings Buck. And let's not forget the movie, I Am Sam, with various artists collaborate to cover a selection of Beatles tunes for the soundtrack. In addition to all this, we also have tribute artists, who vocally (and sometimes physically) impersonate deceased stars (sometimes flawlessly, like Michigan's Jerry Connelly serving up Gene Pitney). And we have tribute bands who recreate the sound of disbanded groups, like Bjorn Again, who pay homage to ABBA (like I needed to tell you that), and our final category - tribute bands who take their homage a little further. Now, I haven't heard them, but I'm told there's a band called Dread Zeppelin, who do a reggae take on (say it with me) Led Zeppelin. Of course, all this is not to be confused with the more generic phenomenon, the "cover band." At it's best, a cover band can be a really rockin' bunch of musicians that play pretty darn good covers of a whole bunch of everyone's favorite hits, usually by the decade. Remind me to tell you sometime about this great bar they used to have in Calgary...

Now that we've had a brief look at the subject of covers, the question naturally arises - just what is the most covered song ever? Well, no one knows for sure, but the leading contenders currently are: "Yesterday" (Beatles) "Summertime" (Gershwin/Porgy & Bess) and Irving Berlin's "White Christmas." In my research for "Peanut Butter and Mashed Potatoes" (the sequel to "Papa Do Run") I uncovered (you should excuse the pun) a huge long list of covers of the John D. Loudermilk song, "Tobacco Road." And "Louie Louie" ain't doin' too bad, either. So I guess we can rest assured that all our old favorites will keep coming back to us, even if in forms we don't quite recognize - there's a group called Beatallica who do heavy metal covers of John, Paul, George and Ringo. Man that's one version of "Yesterday" I don't think I want to hear. If you have any picks or pans you want to air here, please, be my guest. Ok, I think that pretty much covers (sorry) everything. Now, gimme some of that blanket wouldja!

Friday, October 26, 2007


Those of you who have read my book, Papa Do Run, may recall a section about car songs, and the significance of cars to baby boomer teenage culture. Teens nowadays may think it's the same thing, and I'm sure cars are important to them, too, but not like they were to us. For one thing, kids these days have social lives completely unknown to their parents; they come and go as they please (often in their own cars) with so many more places to go. Plus they seem to have a lot more money to spend when they get there. Back in my day, cars ("borrowed" from our parents) were just about the only place we could be, if briefly, on our own, away from parental supervision. All we needed was to scrape together some change for gas. In a car, we could finally be ourselves, hang out with our girlfriends, cruise around and check our trap line of drive-ins. Or be with our boyfriends, who were all driving their parents' car. I can only think of one guy I knew in my high school who has his own car. It was a sweet little red 'vette, and because he was the older brother of one of my best friends, I occasionally got a ride in it. But it never occurred to me to try for a car of my own. And by the time I grew up and went out into the real world, and did acquire my own wheels, I somehow never drove anything cool. It's been one long boring series of beaters, minivans, and pickups. Even when I reached the age when most people have their mid-life crisis, I didn't go out and buy myself a sporty car. But then one day, when I was in my late 50s, I was talking with a neighbor, and everything changed. That day, quite by accident, I learned that my neighbor was buying a vintage Mustang. And he wasn't keeping it for himself, either. He was just going to buy it and flip it. To make a long story short, he flipped it to me. As soon as he told me about it that day, I knew instantly that this car was meant for me. Here's the amazing details.

My pony rolled off the assembly line in Dearborn, Michigan in 1965, the same year I graduated from high school, in Detroit. Maybe even on the same day, who knows. The Mustang was designated for Ford Canada, so it immediately crossed the border and began its journey westward. A few years later, I too crossed the border and began moving west. Eventually, the Mustang ended up in a charming little place called Saltspring Island, in British Columbia, and I ended up in High Country, in the Alberta foothills, near some neighbors who also spent time on...Saltspring Island. So that is how I knew we were meant to be together, my little pony and me. I mean, think about it: we both made journeys over many miles and many years, far from our common point of origin, finally to be reunited at long last. And recently I moved from Alberta to Ontario, not far from the Windsor/Detroit border. Maybe one day I'll take it for a drive by the old Ford plant, where it all began.

Well, there you have it, the whole heart-warming story. Didn't it just about make you tear up? Okay, maybe not. Whatever - now it's your turn now. Give us the scoop on your best/worst/weirdest etc vehicle.

p.s. The color is that distinctive Mustang shade officially called "Poppy Red" but I refer to it as "Go-To-Hell Orange." I've named the car (yes I'm one of those annoying people who give names to their vehicles!) The O.C. (as in Orange Crush). The music I played on my first official drive was the Beach Boys, "Don't Worry Baby," my fave oldie. Probably should have been some Motown, now that I think about it.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Has everything finally been written?

Recently I was looking at a TV news station's website when an article caught my eye. It said My Sweet Lord Makes Waves Again. My first thought was, "My goodness, is someone suing George Harrison's estate?!" Death, taxes, and lawsuits?! With a quick click of the mouse I discovered the article was actually about that weird chocolate life-sized (at least as far as anyone knows for sure) Jesus. But it got me thinking again about a subject that crosses my mind every time I hear certain songs: Just what is the line between plagiarism and...and...not-plagiarism? George Harrison had to pony up beaucoup bucks when it was decided that even though he had "subconsciously" and "unintentionally" copied "He's So Fine" when he wrote "My Sweet Lord" - copy it he did. Well, we've already seen the Twinkie Defense, so why not this? Still, it makes me wonder- is there any combination of musical notes and phrases (in Western music at least) that hasn't been previously used by somebody? Just to be clear, I'm not talking about song titles. You can use the same title over and over as long as it's a completely different song. Take, for example, "Runaway." According to my Google search (and this was just the first 12 pages) that title has been applied to songs by the following artists: Avril Lavigne. Bon Jovi, Bubba Sparxxx, Cartel, The Corrs, Del Shannon, Jamiroquai, Jefferson Starship, Linkin Park, Nelly Furtado, Pandora, Pink, Tech N9NW, The Thompson Twins, Wyclef Jean, and Zebrahead. I didn't go over all of them with the proverbial fine-toothed comb, but I'm reasonably sure each one is a totally different song. And BTW, for the baby boomers out there, it took until page 10 for Del Shannon to show up! How things do change! Meanwhile, beside titles, copy-catting of song words and melodies also happens. Gary US Bonds even wrote a song complaining about it, although it seems to me that he kind of copied his own songs as much as anyone else. That's not particularly a criticism; I really like all his songs. It's just an observation.

Okay. The following are pairs of songs, mostly from the vintage years, that I think sound an awful lot alike, either in whole or in part, but to my knowledge did not end up in court. And hey, I sincerely hope I don't get anybody in trouble or anything...

Chuck Berry "Havana Moon"
The Kingsmen "Louie Louie"

Chicago "I'm a Man"
The Doobie Brothers "Long Train Running"

Airplane "Jane"
Toto "Make Believe"

Bobby Rydell "I Wanna Thank You"
Huey Piano Smith "Don't You Just Know It"

Johnny Ace "Pledging My Love"
The Shells "Better Forget Him"

The Harptones "Sunday Kind of Love"
Tim Tam & the Turn Ons "Wait a Minute"

Elvis "Suppose"
John Lennon "Imagine"

Ral Donner "Run Little Linda"
Dion & The Belmonts "Runaround Sue"

Well, there you go, that's my list. But I think the question still remains open. What do you think?

Monday, October 15, 2007

Cola Wars, and a Contest

After mentioning Coke and Pepsi in my recent response to a blogger's comment, I started thinking about the on-going battle between those two soft drinks. I've always been a Coke drinker, right from the start. Was it just an accident of birth? Was I born into a family of dyed-in-the-wool Coke drinkers who carefully home schooled me in the ways of Coke? No, I didn't start quite that early, but I'm sure that somewhere in my pre-teen years I had some friends who initiated me into soft drink imbibing, and the mysteries of Coca-Cola. And Coke gained a true convert in me. In my book, Papa Do Run, I mention that singer Joanie Sommers, of "Johnny Get Angry" fame, also did Pepsi commercials. I remember them very well. They may even have swayed some people, but not me. Joanie Sommers also recorded a sweet little love song called "One Boy" (from the musical Bye Bye Birdie), in which she yearns for that one special guy to do things with, like, to have coke with. Whether or not she's singing with a capital C, who can say. Regardless, when it comes to product placement, I think Coke always had an edge. Small-c "coke" is often used generically, like small -k "kleenex." Hmmm, I wonder which one Joanie drank at home. And what about Pepsi? I don't think there are any songs that mention Pepsi by brand name. Of course the Beatles with their hit "Come Together" and the Kinks with "Lola" both ran into problems for mentioning Coca-Cola -- it was considered an ad. Anyway, I'll throw out a challenge to anyone to show me a vintage rock/pop song (let's say 1955-1970) that does mention Pepsi, even if, like the Kinks, they had to change it. If there aren't any Pepsi songs, it may not prove that Coke is superior, but perhaps only that Pepsi is harder to work into decent rhyming lyrics. Still, when it's all said and sung, I think Coke will rule. If you find anything, let me know. I'll even offer a free copy of Papa Do Run as a modest prize to the first poster who clocks in with undeniable proof.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007


Papa Do Run-
A Baby Boomer Looks (and Laughs) at Vintage Rock and Roll

Hey kids...this IS your grandma's rock & roll!

Welcome rock and rollers of every age and generation. Perhaps you remember the song "Then He Kissed Me" from when it was a #6 hit for The Crystals back in 1963. Or maybe you first discovered it on the "Adventures in Babysitting" soundtrack in 1987, or the 1991 "Goodfellas" soundtrack, or even via the small screen in a 2006 episode of "The Simpsons." I recently learned that Mylie Cyrus (budding-performer daughter of achy-breaky Billy Ray - how old does THAT make the boomers feel?) is going to cover "Then He Kissed Me" on the 2008 remake of "Adventures in Babysitting" (to be titled "Further Adventures..."). As Danny & the Juniors (a group of young men obviously wise beyond their years) predicted way back in 1958 - "rock and roll is here to stay." I have absolutely no doubt about that.

This blog is a place for you to post your comments and/or memories about the golden oldies or the good old days. Be serious; be silly - it's all good. You can comment on something you read in my book, "Papa Do Run" or saw on my website, (as they say in Canada - check it out, eh?). From time to time I'll be posing a question or holding a "survey" on oldies. Or maybe even asking for help tracking down some trivia for the second volume on rock/pop music I'm currently writing, "Peanut Butter and Mashed Potatoes." You can also rant a little if you want (I just might, too). All I ask is that you don't use any language that you wouldn't use in front of Donna Reed or Harriet Nelson - you know what I mean, like George Carlin's Seven Dirty Words. Offenders will have their comments edited/removed, be tracked down and forced to sit in a windowless room listening to "Oops I Did It Again" on a loop until they crack (which, come to think of it, might not take that long). So drop by any time, the coffee's always on. I'll try to post something new at least once a week until I get the hang of it - did I mention I'm pretty new to this whole blogging thing? And nothing makes a boomer chick feel like an "old dog" more than tackling "new tricks" like websites and blogs. Aiiieee! Okay, that's it for now, BCNU - Deb