Reporter's Notebook

Track of the Day
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From reader Daniel:

I really like your “most transformative cover songs.” Here’s a suggestion for your series: Scissor Sisters’ “Comfortably Numb.” Talk about transformation; making a Bee Gees-type disco number out of Pink Floyd’s original song is really something. Some people hate it, but I think it works surprisingly well.

By the way, in the note for Booker T’s Abbey Road medley cover, your reader writes that it might be the only time that entire album has been covered. That is certainly not true; Laibach covered Let It Be in its entirety (it’s not very good, but their version of “Across the Universe” is not bad).

(Submit a song via hello@. Track of the Day archive here. Pre-Notes archive here.)

A regular reader contributor, Barry, recommends a kid-rock version of Adele’s mega-mega-hit (which recently passed one billion views on YouTube):

Vázquez Sounds is a teen band YouTube phenomenon from Mexico. Their cover of “Rolling With the Deep” is pretty straight forward; the transformative bit is who’s doing it. Their music video got 90 million views in three months!

Their live version is above.

(Submit a song via hello@. Track of the Day archive here. Pre-Notes archive here.)

Matthew gets bleak:

I bring you Low, covering The Smiths’ “Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me.” The original is fine in its own way, if a little mawkish. But Low, a band quite comfortable working with the space between notes and then building from the depths to the heights, wrings every last bit of longing and despair out of this cover. Just hide the razor blades before you hit “play.”

Update from another reader, Darrell:

That Low cover reminded me of another bleak cover. Soft Cell made the song “Tainted Love” famous (itself a cover), but the version done by Coil gave it an edge not evident in earlier versions. The members of Coil were both gay and in a long-term relationship. They explicitly used their version, recorded in 1985, as a comment on the AIDS crisis. After hearing it, or seeing the video, it’s hard to hear the song as anything else but that. [We previously covered that cover here.] Enjoy(?)

(Submit a song via hello@. Track of the Day archive here. Pre-Notes archive here.)

A funk/soul rendition of Woody Guthrie’s legendary folk song:

But it comes to us bittersweet; Sharon Jones died Friday night of pancreatic cancer at the age of 60. I caught wind of her death while catching up with the weekend postings of the Atlantic reader group known as TAD. As one reader put it:

What a badass. Like Candye Kane [the blues singer], she fought it right up to the end and going out the way she wanted to go. Fuck cancer.

Another adds, “While I was saddened to hear of her passing, it’s nice to know she died after having the best year of her professional life.” And it appears she kept her sense of humor till the end:

[As] the Dap-Kings’ Gabriel Roth tells The LA Times, Jones suffered the first of the two strokes that would hasten her death while sitting at home watching the election results at November 8. “She told the people that were [at the hospital] that Trump gave her the stroke,” Roth says. “She was blaming Trump for the whole thing.” Roth is quick to add that this was nothing more than a bit of light-hearted banter, though, and that Jones remained in good spirits surrounded by family, friends, and fellow musicians until suffering another stroke Wednesday. That stroke left her unable to speak, but she still sang. As Roth puts it:

She was just moaning at first, and then she was moaning in tune and then she started following chord changes and pretty soon she was humming “His Eye On The Sparrow” with [Dap-Kings member Binky Griptite]. We all just kept playing and singing with her, and little by little over the next couple of days she actually started moving her mouth and started singing lyrics. She just wanted to sing these gospel songs ...

(Submit a song via hello@. Track of the Day archive here. Pre-Notes archive here.)

Depending on your mood and worldview, this video from Jim James of My Morning Jacket—featuring heavily symbolic butterflies, a heartfelt hug between a white cop and a Black Lives Matter activist, and a mystical blind man radiating positivity—will strike you either as a bit too woo-woo for the political moment or as exactly what the moment needs. In any case, the song is really beautiful. It’s from the soul rocker’s album Eternally Even, released earlier this month. The video’s premiering exclusively here, now:

Here’s James’s statement on the video:

so much confusion in the world right much pain and chaos. in times like these its easy to get angry and direct our sadness into the empty space-time false reality vacuum of the internet. but we have to try and stay positive and continue to work and speak out for peace and love and equality-in the real world... right now. we need to reach out to those we disagree with and find common ground. we must fight the divide and conquer techniques that are working so well to hold us back from universal love. that is part of what inspired moments in this video – hopeful snapshots of what that world could look like if we chose love and understanding over fear and hatred. no one can afford to stay silent. we need every vote. we need every voice. all of us need to speak out now louder than ever before in an effort to bring about lasting peace and love. much respect to all those working so hard for peace and love right now. the world so badly needs and is grateful for your work. thanks for listening.

(Submit a song via hello@. Track of the Day archive here. Pre-Notes archive here.)

One of the Atlantic readers in the TAD community started a thread on singer/songwriters:

Those folks who wrote and performed intimate music that touched your soul. The Beatles, Dylan, Carole King, James Taylor, Cat Stevens, etc. Folk, Rock, Country, Whatever. Folks that had an instrument and something to say that touched you.

One reader recommends Imogen Heap’s “Just For Now”:

I think looping is an interesting niche for solo singer-songwriters. Something about layered melody and beats is kind of kewl, and solo-ness of it all is very personal look into the artist’s creativity and talent.

Lyrics here. The opening verse applies to many Americans right now:

It’s that time of year
Leave all our hopelessnesses aside
(If just for a little while)
Tears stop right here
I know we’ve all had a bumpy ride
(I’m secretly on your side)

(Submit a song via hello@. Track of the Day archive here. Pre-Notes archive here.)

Leon Russell, the renowned singer/songwriter/pianist, died today at that age of 74. A group of Atlantic readers in a TAD thread posted some of their favorite Russell songs, including “Jimmie Rodgers’ Dream”:

This is probably my favorite track from Leon Russell and Elton John’s collaboration The Union. Leon’s performance here makes me feel nostalgic for a time and place I never knew and would probably have a hard time relating to if I did. I get the sense that it had a similar effect on Elton.

Not to get all schmaltzy here, but after a week of fear and recriminations following an especially divisive election, it’s great to see a bit of a bromance between a straight country singer from Oklahoma and a gay pop singer from London:

Though that bromance doesn’t come anywhere near JoebamaBromance—the single biggest thing that’s lifted my mood since Tuesday.

(Submit a song via hello@. Track of the Day archive here. Pre-Notes archive here.)

From a reader in Laurel, Maryland (a town I coincidentally called home for four years during my childhood):

A home is a place where most people long to be. A home does not have to be a certain place; home is what you make it. I grew up in the same house for over 20 years. I loved the idea of always having a place to go back to. Then one day I left—some big event had changed that place for me. Then I wanted to go make my own home. I still have yet to feel so connected to another place.

I love the warmth and love that you can feel in a home. The memories that tatter the walls. I feel that the song “To Build a Home” truly captures the emptiness of an old home that is no longer yours. It seems a part of you has been left in that place. Hopefully the person or things that later inhabit it appreciate the little things you once noticed and held dear.

This song is not one that is entirely depressive, because at the end it lifts you up—as if to say, “There is always hope for the future; there will be brighter days.” One day it will all end, but we will have made our home somewhere—or even just it someone’s heart.

(Submit a song via hello@. Track of the Day archive here. Pre-Notes archive here.)

A reader writes:

Yesterday morning, after a tense and despondent breakfast conversation that included talk of Canada and nuclear destruction, my 14-year-old daughter and I drove off to her school. She immediately grabbed my phone and started searching for a song. Mellencamp’s “Jack and Diane” started playing. I didn’t understand what she was pointing out until she started loudly singing the refrain, “Oh yeah, life goes on … ”

(Submit a song via hello@. Track of the Day archive here. Pre-Notes archive here.)

The reader discussion group known as TAD posted an open thread today called the “2016 Electoral Apocalypse Soundtrack.” Here’s a curated compilation of the ones that struck me the most on this precarious day in U.S. history.

First there’s Patti Smith’s cover of U2’s “Until the End of the World.” A reader known as Chris Sick, Existential Crisis points to “the Dirtbombs singing about the end of the world, in French!” Theoretical Conspiracist suggests “Apocalypse Please!”:

Muse is a little (ok, a lot) histrionic for my tastes, but here’s a track I know that fits like a glove in this thread. It’s “The Final Countdown” for the aughts. APOCALYPSE, PLEASE!

BTW, y’all know about the 30 Songs, 30 Days project (which is now 50 songs) of a bunch of anti-Trump songs? Some of them are excellent, really.

“Nobody Speak” by DJ Shadow (ft. Run the Jewels) is far better as a music video. It dramatizes what looks like a Security Council meeting erupting into a violent rap battle. A reader notes how it’s “NSFW af”—including a Trump reference at the 1:16 mark:

Then there’s Public Enemy’s “Fear of a Black Planet” (“well maybe a browner planet,” the reader adds.) Another replies with Sonic Youth’s “Kool Thing” for its lyric “Fear of a female planet?” Another reader points to Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds’s “The Weeping Song,” with the lyrics:

Go son, go down to the water
And see the women weeping there
Then go up into the mountains
The men, they are weeping too

Father, why are all the women weeping?
They are all weeping for their men
Then why are all the men there weeping?
They are weeping back at them

Here’s a very familiar score (most famously used in Requiem for a Dream), but it’s mashed up with visuals you almost certainly haven’t seen:

To end on a somewhat optimistic note, here’s Belle and Sebastian’s “Get Me Away From Here I Am Dying”—which, if you don’t pay attention to the lyrics too much, has a sweet, upbeat feel:

Tomorrow for Track of the Day, hopefully we’ll have something less apocalyptic to note. Update from Reader Adrift:

Some suggestions for tracks tomorrow:

Assuming HRC wins: “Wait Your Turn” by Rihanna (with the refrain “The wait is over, the wait is over)

In case of Trump win: “Big Yellow Taxi” Joni Mitchell

If undecided by tomorrow: “Never Gonna Give You Up” by Rick Astley

(Submit a song via hello@. Track of the Day archive here. Pre-Notes archive here.)

A reader writes:

I discovered your Tracks of the Day about a month ago and am really enjoying it. I have a pair of “songs about a place.” Kind of. I guess the pair of songs “Manhattan, Kansas” (the idyllic college town I grew up in) aren’t so much about the place, but they start there to sing about abandoned mothers. The two songs present an interesting contrast.

Glenn Campbell sang in 1972 about a young girl, abandoned by her baby’s father, leaving Manhattan in shame and washing dishes in Denver to support the baby. His “Manhattan, Kansas” made it to near the top of the country charts. (His version has been covered by Loretta Lynn and Jeannie C. Riley and others [including Donna Fargo, whose version is the most popular among them on YouTube].)

Susan Werner’s “Manhattan, Kansas” (not a cover!) is less well known, but it’s by a wonderful, talented, funny, and whip-smart folk artist based in Chicago. The song is about a girl similarly abandoned and who handles the pregnancy differently and sings about a long sidewalk and  “… deputies on either side of me, people crying, praying rosaries.”

(Submit a song via hello@. Track of the Day archive here. Pre-Notes archive here.)

From reader Max:

While I love the Peter Green Fleetwood Mac original (from a time when Fleetwood was a British blues band), Judas Priest takes the song from hard blues to metal. “The Green Manalishi” has more menace when Rob Halford sings it. The twin-guitar attack takes it someplace harder and meaner. Priest takes this song where Peter Green couldn’t quite take it, but probably looked at and nodded. There’s a reason the cover is the more famous version.

(Submit a song via hello@. Track of the Day archive here. Pre-Notes archive here.)