15 June 2006

Songs of the Week, (Country Goes Pop), June 15

As a sure sign that I must be getting older, I am recalling with much fondness these days of when 'pop/Top 40' singers and the like used to copy older country acts. With everyone from Johnny Cash to Hank Williams, Sr., to Jim Reeves, it seems to come in cycles about how 'newer' acts seem to feel a need to pay homage to the 'old ones'. You can blame it on Willie Nelson, Elvis Presley, Lynard Skynard or even Kris Kristofferson...but no matter whose mantle you lay this burden upon, somewhere many years ago it became hip for 'pop' to become 'country'. I cut my teeth on the older style of country as a child, but then went straight for heavy metal (and then more stylish over-produced '80s British stuff) as I rebelled as a teen. Now, I can barely stand to listen to the childish monotony of what passes as Top 40, and can't handle the endless (and frequently mindless) drone of talk radio. And let's not even get me started on about corporate radio stations such as the behemoth Clear Channel Communications, which is hands down the most frightening thing we have in the American mass media today. (Salon.com did a wonderful series about this monopolistic company recently.) I'm not sure when it happened actually, but if I can't find it and download it off Napster or listen to internet online radio from wilds unknown, I find myself turning the radio dial back to country.

It is now with a great deal of amused surprise that I see that the cycle is coming around. Perhaps I just didn't pay attention when Garth Brooks was doing this many years ago by remaking Billy Joel songs, but he definitely has brought on a pack with him. As country has found a rougher, rockier edge what used to pass for rock is being swallowed whole by lyrics-defeatist rap or over-sampled dance acts. To be honest it's depressing when you think about it...if a great band such as The Kinks were to drop in on the music scene now, they most likely would never get a recording contract, let alone any airplay (and they had a hard enough time doing that very thing, anyway). So while Garth apes Billy, Travis Tritt vocalizes The Eagles, and Merle Haggard redoes the classical standard (the latter album, "Unforgettable" by The Hag HIGHLY recommended, by the way), I also bring out two of my best contenders for Country Goes Pop this week. Will the circle be unbroken, indeed.

The first is what has been recently done and attempted by country stud du jour Tim McGraw, a wonderful song called "When The Stars Go Blue". I have listened to both versions, and as much as I would like to support Mr Faith, I feel I just have to go with the original and much better version, a duet featuring The Corrs and U2 frontman Bono. While this song was originally done by them as part of a fundraiser, the clip below is them performing it live last year for Live 8.

All clips featured below are from YouTube, as I always do here.

"When the Stars Go Blue", duet with The Corrs and Bono

Lyrics here (original as written by Ryan Adams, and featured on the as the album "VH1 Presents The Corrs Live In Dublin", and featuring Bono), from www.leoslyrics.com)

The Corrs website

U2 website (Bono's the lead singer, in case you've been living under a rock for the last 20 years or so)

The second is the all-powerful (and FAR superior than the original version) wonder that was the late Johnny Cash's last hit. Initially this song is an industrial, pseudo-S&M kinda mood from none other than Nine Inch Nails. However, what Rick Rubin did by bringing this song to Mr Cash and making it into the transfixing gem it is...is nothing short of astounding. Arguably this is one of Cash's best songs in the latter part of his career, and it also deserves the highest acclaim of best video certainly for Cash, but probably for the whole genre as well. Ladies and gentlemen, I bring you:

"Hurt", as performed by none other than the late, great Johnny Cash

Lyrics here (original as written by Trent Reznor, was modified by Johnny Cash and Rick Rubin for the cover version, also from www.leoslyrics.com)

The Johnny Cash website

The Nine Inch Nails website (Trent Reznor is the lead singer and songwriter)

There's an interesting article about "Hurt" here (from Wikipedia). I hate to say it, but I think Reznor's (lead singer and songwriter of NIN) right when he says the song is 'not mine anymore'. Mr Cash blew the thing out of the water, and what he didn't achieve vocally, he more than did so in the video. Of all the images I carry with me from The Man in Black (and I grew up listening and singing to his songs like millions have and still do), it is perhaps these last images from the video, with his beloved June Carter overlooking him as his Guardian Angel...this frail, frail man with a voice still capable of human thunder, just months before his untimely death.


These two choices also offer a great contrast in emotion: The Corrs/Bono contribution is one of hopefulness and imagination (especially in consideration of the event of which it was performed), while Cash's work is one of sadness yet resolve at his impending mortality. Honestly, I can't decide which I like more, for I love what both are trying so desperately to tell me.

And, on a much lighter note, something that proves that all this divergence and co-mingling can have its detrimental effects if not properly done: former Van Halen lead singer David Lee Roth has recorded bluegrass versions of his glorious Van Halen heavy metal classics for a new album called "Strummin' With the Devil: The Southern Side of Van Halen". I shudder to think of "Jamie's Cryin'" with a mandolin or any version of "Jump" for that matter (the latter being the song that most true Van Halen fans signal as the beginning of the end for this once great band). For real, not as a joke, people. (Actually, I'm horrified yet strangely intrigued at the same time.)


Billy Inoue said...
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Caroline said...

you should hear the lounge version of Jump by Paul Anka....on second thought, perhaps you should feel warned.