2.24.2008

B-Side Music Presents - T&A: Cover Edition

For this installment of T&A we'll take a look at two landmark covers: The Muppets' cover of "Once in a Lifetime" by the Talking Heads and Mindy Smith's cover of Dolly Parton's "Jolene"

First, the Triumph: Mindy Smith - "Jolene"

From an album of Dolly Parton covers comes a dusty, blistering, sagebrush anthem that contains everything a great country song should: a cheatin' man, a Dobro, simple lyrics, and a strong and steely voice that is both fragile and fierce. There are all kinds of sonic layers here that add complexity and interest to a song that could have easily become dispensable. Smith's instrumentation and phrasing make this one of the great covers.

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Now the Atrocity: Kermit the Frog - "Once in a Lifetime"
I consider my taste in music to be pretty eclectic. I have at times even been told that I like music that is unlistenable or even weird. But even the hippest of hipsters will have a hard time justifying this one. David Byrne is already pretty weird but add the "Muppet Factor" and the bizzare-ometer rockets off the charts. I love this song. I love the Muppets. But not together. I don't want peanut butter on my pizza and I don't want the Muppets singing my favorite hits from days gone by. It's just wrong.

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2.10.2008

Pop Goes the Presidency: Obama's "Yes We Can" Video

For decades theme songs have been an essential, often defining facet of a political campaign. When Franklin Roosevelt first ran for president in 1932, Democrats adopted "Happy Days are Here Again" which encapsulated FDR's promise of relief from the Great Depression and "Happy Days" remained the party's anthem for decades thereafter. But there has never been anything quite like this unsolicited viral video supporting Barack Obama that popped up on YouTube last week.

The song features Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama's voice set to will.i.am's melody and music and features the likes of Scarlet Johansson, John Legend, Kate Walsh, Common, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Kelly Hu, and a slew of other celebrity supporters who either sing or speak along with the text of the speech.
The song's chorus is one of Obama's campaign slogans: "Yes We Can."

Rapper, songwriter, producer, and frontman for the Black Eyed Peas will.i.am, says he was inspired to create the video while watching Obama's speech after the senator's second-place finish to Sen. Hillary Clinton in the New Hampshire primary. While "Yes We Can" is the latest in a long line of campaign songs, it shares something in common with its predecessors: inspiration.

For an effective theme song, optimism is essential. In 1960, Sinatra revised "High Hopes" when John F. Kennedy ran for president including, "Everyone wants to back, Jack/ Jack is on the right track/ 'Cause he's got High Hopes!/ He's got High Hopes!" In 1992, Democrats used Fleetwood Mac's "Don't Stop" as the backdrop for Bill Clinton's similar promise of change.

Is isn't always a love fest though as some candidates have appropriated songs without approval. McFerrin told Republicans to stop using "Don't Worry" and Bruce Springsteen, a frequent Democratic supporter, vehemently objected to Ronald Reagan using "Born in the USA" as an anthem.

With the advent of the digital age of music, "Yes We Can" hails a new era for the campaign anthem. Will.i.am's creation is infinitely ahead of last year's racy, half-serious, and self promoting "Obama Girl". Will.i.am told the AP, "It was as if [Obama] was talking to me," continuing, "It was as if he was talking to and defending everything that made me who I am. I took that speech, and I wanted everyone else to be inspired by that speech as I was."

"The Internet and technology empowers people," will.i.am said, "and the 'Yes We Can' song is proof that they don't need a big record company or a big movie company ... to go out and captivate people's attention."

Watch Now - Yes We Can

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