Weirdify Playlist 8: Covers for Kooks

[Note: The above image was, er, borrowed from Richard Cheese & Lounge Against the Machine’s excellent greatest-hits compilation of loungified rap and rock classics, Sunny Side of the Moon. If you’re not familiar with Richard’s stuff, you should go to right now and check it out. Especially because if you do, there’s still a chance he won’t take us to court and/or steal our wives for using his album art without permission. Thanks.]

Nothing announces your weirdness to the world better than a really demented version of a familiar song. It’s like saying, “You know how this song sounded in its original form? We’re the total opposite of that. Or we might just be YouTube whores hoping to score a few extra views with our medley of Lady Gaga songs played on bassoons.* Either way, are we wacky or what?”

Here, then, is a brief Spotify playlist of some of our favorite weird cover songs, from bands that rank high on the Weird List, bands that probably should be on the Weird List, and a few bands that are by no stretch of the imagination weird, but cool enough to include, anyway (you’re welcome, Ben Folds). Obviously, this list only scratches the surface of the vast universe of weird covers, and we’ll probably revisit it at some point. Probably with less Led Zeppelin. Although we make no promises on that.

(*Sadly, The Breaking Winds’ Lady Gaga medley is not available on Spotify and thus, not on this playlist. We’re not made of magic, people!)

1. Laibach, “Sympathy for the Devil.” Taking a familiar song from the classic rock canon and declaiming it like some pretentious dorkwad at a poetry slam is the oldest trick in the weird-cover-tune book (I was tempted to include William Shatner’s “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds,” arguably the definitive example, but I’m pretty you’ve all heard it). But something about Laibach’s gravelly, Teutonic spin on the Rolling Stones’ old pseudo-Satanic jam makes it sound like the most original idea in the world.

2. Ben Folds, “Bitches Ain’t Shit.” Another well-worn cover trick is the painfully white version of a familiar hip-hop/R&B song (see also: The Gourds’ “Gin and Juice,” Jonathan Coulton’s “Baby Got Back,” etc.). In this case, Ben Folds’ version of Snoop and Dr. Dre’s misogynistic anthem stands out for me, mostly because it finds an unexpected core of heartache and melancholy underneath all the posturing. It’s the softer side of gangsta rap.

3. Hurra Torpedo, “Total Eclipse of the Heart.” Norway’s favorite kitchen appliance rockers give Bonnie Tyler’s ridiculous ’80s power ballad the beating it so richly deserves.

4. Tragedy, “More Than a Woman.” Tragedy do one thing, and they do it well: Hair metal covers of Bee Gees songs. Any questions? Moving on…

5. Metalachi, “Immigrant Song.” Another high-concept cover band, Metalachi do mariachi versions of metal songs. Most of it works better than you might expect—but even when it doesn’t quite work, as on this hilarious Hindenburg of a Led Zeppelin cover, the results are still pretty fantastic.

6. Nouvelle Vague, “God Save the Queen.” If you’ve ever heard one of your favorite ’80s songs transformed into a lilting bossa nova ballad, you’ve heard Nouvelle Vague, a French/English cover band whose versions of  Gen X oldies like “Melt With You” and “Dancing With Myself” have been licensed to death. Their catalog tends to be a little too hipster-wedding-soundtrack for our purposes, but this pretty acoustic Sex Pistols cover is just left-field enough to make Johnny Rotten hurl in his grave. Which, in a way, makes it possibly the most punk-rock Sex Pistols cover of all time.

7. Me First and the Gimme Gimmes, “Fire and Rain.” The flipside to the pretty Sex Pistols cover is, of course, a punk-rock cover of a James Taylor song. Me First, a “supergroup” side project featuring members of NOFX, Foo Fighters and the Swingin’ Utters, have run the unexpected-punk-cover concept so far into the ground that they’re now covering Japanese bands, but something about a rockin’ “Fire and Rain” still makes us giggle like Beavis and Butt-Head.

8. Edmund Welles, “Big Bottom.” Yes, this is a Spinal Tap cover played entirely on bass clarinets. And yes, it goes to 11.

9. The Bad Plus, “Barracuda.” We should hasten to point out that The Bad Plus, a power-jazz trio from Minnesota, have done killer instrumental versions of several familiar pop and classic rock tunes. This track, however, is not one of them. Have you lost the singer yet, guys? You have? The jazz gods be praised.

10. Richard Cheese, “Baby Got Back.” With all due respect to Jonathan Coulton’s delightful version of this same Sir Mix-a-Lot classic, we highly prefer Richard Cheese’s lounge lizard take (also, the cover of his best-of album, The Sunny Side of the Moon, was too good not steal for our playlist artwork). And in case you’re noticing a theme between this and “Big Bottom”: Yes, we do like big butts and we cannot lie.

11. Señor Coconut, “Smoke on the Water.” This dude has worked his cha-cha magic on everything from Kraftwerk to Prince. But since we decided to take this playlist in more of a classic-rock direction, nothing says “geriatric DJs spinning classic-rock steez” more than a little Deep Purple.

12. The Moog Cookbook, “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love.” Van Halen played on vintage synths! OK, Van Halen themselves did this on 1984, but there’s still something pretty unsettling about hearing a programmed robot voice intoning, “If you want it, got to plead for it, baby.”

13. Dread Zeppelin, “Whole Lotta Love.” Possibly the most high-concept tribute band of all time (and yes, we have dropped the ball by not adding them to the Weird List yet), Dread Zeppelin play reggae versions of Led Zeppelin songs, as sung by an Elvis impersonator. Mercy.

14. Tiny Tim, “I Love Rock and Roll.” At the height of his popularity, Tiny Tim turned his quivering falsetto loose on any number of popular songs, from “On the Good Ship Lollipop” to “I Got You, Babe.” And while his falsetto is indeed a marvel, it sounds downright quaint compared to the Tom Jones-like bray he unleashed on Chameleon, an overlooked 1980 oddity that features this amazing version of the song made famous by Joan Jett. Honestly, you don’t have to listen to the whole thing, unless you really want to hear what it sounds like when an aging eccentric bludgeons a song to death as though it’s solely responsible for the decline of his career.

Hope you enjoyed this week’s mix.


Señor Coconut

First off: our sincerest apologies for how quiet it’s been around here lately. Between my new job and the start of baseball season (Jake loves his fantasy league even more than he loves his PBR), we’ve had a hard time making time for TWBITW. We promise to do better, starting today.

So let’s get back on the weird band wagon with an artist by the name of Uwe Schmidt, better known to the world as Señor Coconut. Schmidt’s shtick, if you want to call it that, is taking pop and/or electronic music and reimagining it in various ways–most famously, under the Coconut alias, in the form of various kitschy Latin styles like the mambo and the cha-cha. His biggest claim to fame is a Señor Coconut album from 2000 called El Baile Alemán (that’s Spanish for “The German Dance,” for all you land-locked Amurricans) that consists entirely of cha-cha versions of Kraftwerk songs. If that sounds ridiculously specific–well, it is, but it’s kind of surprising how well it works. The distance from German techno to Esquivel’s “space age bachelor pad music,” it turns out, is not that great.

Schmidt followed up his Kraftwerk homage with an album that was even more ridiculously specific–Yellow Fever!, a 2006 set consisting entirely of Latin jazz versions of songs by Japanese electronica pioneers Yellow Magic Orchestra. In between, he dropped another album called Fiesta Songs that included Latinized covers of songs like “Smoke on the Water” and “Riders on the Storm.” As awesome as that sounds, most of the songs on Fiesta Songs are a little too cheeky and obvious for their own good–somehow, the cha-cha kitsch only really works if the source material isn’t too familiar. Schmidt’s version of “Smooth Operator,” for example, is so close to Sade’s that it starts to sound uncomfortably like Muzak. Which could have actually been Schmidt’s intention, but still, we’ll take “We Are the Robots” over this stuff any day of the week.

It’s worth noting that Señor Coconut is actually probably Schmidt’s least weird alias, and that he operates (smoothly, no doubt) under literally dozens of others–Wikipedia lists over 60 of them, although some, like “Superficial Depth” and “Weird Shit,” sound like they might have been made up by someone on Red Bull-fueled Wiki bender and are difficult to vouch for. Among the better-known ones are his glitch project Atom™ (formerly Atom Heart), the “electrolatino” project Lisa Carbon (which sounds a lot like Señor Coconut, except the music is all original) and an album called Pop Artificielle released in 1999 under the name “lb” that’s basically just familiar songs like James Brown’s “Superbad” and the Rolling Stones’ “Angie” programmed into a speech synthesizer and various analog synths to make them sound as artificial as possible. Clearly, this guy never met a pop song he wasn’t ready to deconstruct.

Most recently, Schmidt released another Señor Coconut album called Around the World that revisits the sort of Top-40-run-through-a-cha-cha-blender approach he took on Fiesta Songs, but with arguably more entertaining source material. This time, he tackles Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams,” Prince’s “Kiss” and our favorite, that ridiculous ’80s hit “Da Da Da,” one of those stupid novelty songs that actually sounds about a thousand times better when you do a stupid novelty cover of it. And add dancing girls in bikinis with pitchforks to it. Yes, we think this video is hot, and we’re not afraid to say so.


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