Staff Playlist: Apples & Oranges | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
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Staff Playlist: Apples & Oranges

The Covers

Nov 13, 2013 By Michele Yamamoto Bookmark and Share

When I was in middle school, a friend and I shared the backseat on our way home from school. It was 1997. Notorious B.I.G. had been recently gunned down in Los Angeles, inspiring Puff Daddy to sample The Police's "Every Breath You Take" with Biggie's widow Faith Evans crooning a reworked chorus. "I'll Be Missing You" was a hit. So, when "Every Breath You Take" thumped on the car stereo and Sting began singing, my friend promptly noted, "Ugh. He ripped off Puff Daddy!" After much rolling of the eyes and explaining what was, to her, the awful truth, I realized for the first time, Old music can become new music. And boy have I experienced countless iterations of that simple idea since.

Over time, I came to learn that not only can old music become new music, but its new form can almost completely detach itself from its original. A shift in tempo, a muted tone, a syncopated rhythm, even an instrument removed can bring a piece into high relief. Maybe it's like comparing the variation to the theme, maybe it's like comparing apples and oranges. Either way, old becomes new again. 

This week, our UTR staff writers reflect on this simple phenomenon by presenting cover songs that do it best. 


Laura Studarus

Woman's Hour: "Dancing in the Dark" (Bruce Springsteen cover)

Too often people seem to miss the message in Springsteen's songs. (See: Ronald Regan). Woman's Hour nails the Boss' natural ennui. 

Austin Trunick

Placebo: "Bigmouth Strikes Again" (The Smiths cover)

Taken from the best and, sadly, long-out-of-print Smiths tribute album, The Smiths Is Dead. In their version of the song, Brian Molko's snarl gives Morrissey's joking threats a sinister tone much more threatening than in the original. Placebo altered a few lyrics to update the song for 1996: this time, Joan of Arc's Discman and Mega DriveEurope's name for the Sega Genesismelt, rather than her Walkman and hearing aid. Now, those references sound even more dated than the ones Moz penned in 1986. 


Michele Yamamoto

M. Ward: "Let's Dance" (David Bowie cover)

This is one of those unfortunate stories in which I heard the cover before hearing the original. I'm not sure which is more jarring—that I hadn't heard the original before 2004 or finally hearing the original. M. Ward (in a classic M. Ward move) strips down the song to its most vulnerable state. 


Chris Saunders

Chromatics: "Into the Black" (Neil Young cover)

Young wrote the iconic lyric "It's better to burn out/than to fade away" to explain the haunting fear of irrelevance faced by musicians of his era. Years later, it was still true, Kurt Cobain even included it in his suicide note. The jury is out on whether musicians should grow old gracefully or go out in a blaze of glory, but Young was right about one thing—music evolves and moves on. Chromatics' 2012 album Kill For Love, arguably one of the best ever electronic-influenced indie albums shows that and this cover sets the scene for a haunting, effortlessly cool, and superbly accomplished records in years.


Frank Valish

Lou Barlow: "Round and Round" (Ratt cover)

Leave it to Lou Barlow to lo-fi up one of the biggest hair metal tracks of the ’80s. With acoustic guitar and gentle piano, Barlow finds a heart in the song where you never knew one existed. Yeah, it’s still pretty silly, but fantastically so.


Lily Moayeri

Marion Corrales: "No Stopping Us" (Dirtyphonics cover)

Parisienne chanteuse Marion Corrales strips all the synths, beats, and heavy metal aggression out of this party-starting dancefloor shredder. Replacing the distorted, urban-style vocals of Foreign Beggars' hip-hop/dubstep MCs with her own warm, French-accented ones, Corrales' softened consonants are backed by a simple piano. Stripping this tune to bare acoustics, Corrales shows it's not the electronics that make the song. Fun fact: Corrales is sister to Dirtyphonics member Pitchin.


Tom Fenwick

London Grammar: "Nightcall" (Kavinsky cover)

London Grammar's reworking of digital maestro Kavinsky's modern classic, ditches his impossibly distant electro-nostalgia in favour of Hannah Reid's crystalline vocals and a swirl of pared back acoustics. Retaining the haunting spirit of the original but with an altogether more powerful human warmth, it manages a feat which all great covers should aspire to: standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the original.


Cody Shafer

The Pixies: "Evil Hearted You" (Yardbirds cover)

The Pixies take a somewhat obscure 60's song from the legendary British invasion band and without changing much—aside from the language—make it sound like an original. The opening dissonant and bending chords are as Pixies-esque as Black Francis' deathly screech or Kim Deal's sugar-sweet voice. The original version's solo was played by Jeff Beck, and was known for using an uncommon Spanish scale, making The Pixies' choice to sing in Spanish even more tongue-in-cheek.


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