Entertainment

My Favorite Covers

Everyone here at the Roundtable is playing the cover-songs game, and now it’s my turn to make like Michael Damian and rock on!

 

Elton John, “One Day (At A Time)”

Back in 1974, little seven-year old me acquired his first rock and roll 45: Elton John’s epic cover of “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.” I wore out that little piece of vinyl during my childhood, and I even occasionally flipped the 45 over to play the b-side. “One Day (At A Time)” was another Beatles-related song—it had first appeared on John Lennon’s so-so 1973 solo album Mind Games. Elton’s version squashes John’s original like a grape, but Lennon didn’t seem to mind—you can clearly hear him singing backup on the track.

 

Soundgarden, “Girl U Want”

This “Outshined” b-side might just be the perfect bridge between ’80s new wave and ’90s grunge. Soundgarden slows down Devo’s original and finds a colossal groove, but musically they’re almost identical in structure. Could “Smells Like Teen Spirit” actually have more in common with “The Safety Dance” than we ever possibly imagined?

This Mortal Coil, “Song to the Siren”

This beautiful Tim Buckley song has been covered by everyone from Pat Boone to Robert Plant, but no one will ever match the ethereal beauty of This Mortal Coil’s 1983 take. This version punches me in the stomach every single time I listen to it thanks to Elizabeth Fraser’s stunning vocal.

 

Lindsey Buckingham, “I Am Waiting”

As I write this, I am still seething over Fleetwood Mac’s decision to fire Lindsey Buckingham on the eve of their 2018 tour. The Mac are one of my all-time favorite bands, and I absolutely worship Neil Finn as a songwriter and performer, but I will not be attending any Fleetwood Mac shows this year. Instead, I’ll just stay home and dive into Lindsey’s stellar solo work—including this whispering take on a deep cut from the Rolling Stones’ 1966 classic Aftermath.

The Clash, “I Fought the Law”

The Clash’s searing version is actually a cover of a cover. The Bobby Fuller Four took “I Fought the Law” to #9 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1966, but the song was first recorded by songwriter Sonny Curtis and the Crickets after Curtis joined the band following Buddy Holly’s death in 1959.

 

Ian McCulloch, “Lover, Lover, Lover”

You can’t have a top covers list without a Leonard Cohen song—I think that’s an actual law. I will, however, defy the odds by not including one of the 73,459 covers of “Hallelujah” that have bombarded the musical landscape over the past 25 years. Instead, check out this sublime cover of “Lover, Lover, Lover” from Echo & The Bunnymen’s Ian McCulloch. His 1992 solo album Mysterio was a bit of a letdown to longtime Bunnymen fans, but he absolutely nailed the Cohen vibe on this overlooked gem.

 

Harry Nilsson, “Without You”

This might just be my favorite cover song of all time. Badfinger’s 1970 original was a perfectly solid album track, but Harry Nilsson’s remake two years later completely redefined the concept of the rock ballad. I am still amazed that this song appears on the same album as “Coconut” and “Jump in the Fire.” Harry may have been all over the place stylistically, but the crazy bastard could SING.

 

Wilson Pickett, “Hey Jude”

When you have Wilson Pickett and Duane Allman, you don’t even need the na-na-na-na’s. Take a sad song and make it better.

Gary Maxwell

Gary Maxwell lives in Dallas with his wife, three cats, 6,000 LPs, and a vintage Atari 2600.
He once attended 218 consecutive Texas Longhorn football games over a span of 17 years,
yet he seems unable to commit to a particular brand of shampoo. His all-time favorite TV
show is Star Trek, except when it’s dark on Tuesday. When someone asks Gary if he prefers
the Beatles or the Stones, his answer is “The Who.”

Three Essential Vinyl Demos

I’ve been a vinylphile since I was a child, when 78 RPM records like Debbie Reynolds’ “Abba Dabba Honeymoon” and Spike Jones’ “Hawaiian War Chant” captivated my young ears on my grandmother’s Victrola.

 

Here are three of my favorite demo discs for audio system and component evaluation and listening pleasure. In fact, I’d say you could tell everything you need to know about what your system is doing or where it’s falling short with these three records.

Bill Berry and His Ellington All Stars, For Duke

M&K Realtime RT-101

 

This LP attained audiophile-pantheon status shortly after it came out in 1978, and for good reason. It remains one of the most astonishingly well-recorded vinyl LPs ever. Unlike many “audiophile” discs with exceptional sonics and forgettable music, the playing is wonderful, with a jazz combo having a ball playing Ellington’s greatest hits, including “Take the A Train,” “Satin Doll,” and “Mood Indigo.”

 

For Duke was recorded direct-to-disc—the performance was cut live directly to the master disc, a process that eliminates the sonic degradation and generation loss that comes with recording to analog tape and then cutting the disc from tape.

 

It shows. In particular, the dynamics are remarkable. A couple of minutes into “Take the A Train,” Berry takes a cornet solo that is literally startling—when he comes in, it’s all you can do not to flinch in surprise (as I did the first time I heard it). The drums are powerfully lifelike, as are all the instruments—Ray Brown’s bass is jaw dropping in its richness and presence. The recording is astoundingly pure and detailed. The tonal balance is near perfect.

 

We’ve all heard the cliché “It sounds like the musicians are in the room” to describe the sound of a good recording, but in this case, it really does sound like that. This record is hard to find and usually expensive, but hey, that’s part of the agony and the ecstasy of record collecting.

Fritz Reiner, The Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Scheherazade

Analogue Productions LSC-2446 re-issue of RCA “Living Stereo” original

 

While For Duke is renowned for its up-front perspective, Scheherazade puts the listener in an entirely different acoustic environment, with its realistic rendering of an orchestra in the concert hall. Recorded in 1960 by producer Richard Mohr and engineer Lewis Layton and brilliantly performed by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra conducted by maestro Fritz Reiner, this Analogue Productions re-issue is nothing less than sensational.

vinyl demos

The tonal palette of the orchestra is beautifully conveyed, with sumptuous lows, a natural midrange, and the sweet, airy upper midrange and highs that let you know you’re hearing analog at its best. On a good system, you can clearly hear the character of the hall. The quiet parts are exquisite (Sidney Hart’s violin playing could not be more nuanced and expressive) and the fortes are thrilling.  My feeble words don’t begin to do this masterpiece justice.

 

For decades, the legendary original RCA Living Stereo recording was nearly impossible to find, with various vinyl re-issues ranging from mediocre to very good. No longer—this 2013 Analogue Productions re-issue is magnificent. In fact, while I don’t have an original pressing on hand for comparison (though I’ve heard it many times), no less an authority than Analog Planet’s Michael Fremer thinks this re-issue actually betters the storied original. I won’t argue.

New Order, “Blue Monday”

Factory Records Factus 10 (1983 US 12-inch single)

 

But want to know if your system can rock? All you need do is listen to the first Oberheim DMX drum-machine beats of New Order’s “Blue Monday,” the best-selling 12-inch single of all time (according to Wikipedia), and one of the most groundbreaking, genre-defining, walloping bowl-you-over dance-music singles ever. But don’t turn it up too loud or you might blow out your woofers.

 

“Blue Monday” is insanely powerful and dynamic, irresistibly catchy and moving. Back in the day, this would propel people to the dance floor with its mesmerizing mix of synth and Peter Hook’s unmistakable electric bass, its layered synthesizer washes and melodies, its pull-no-punches electronic drums, and Bernard Sumner’s dryly-delivered vocals. On a good audio system, it sounds massive.

 

My copy is an original 1983 US version with the die-cut cover (designed to resemble a floppy disc!) and silver inner sleeve, though not one of the first UK pressings with the “FAC 73” catalog number. There are literally more than 50 1983 vinyl US, UK, and international issues listed on Discogs (and there were also 1998 and 1995 remixes and numerous CD and digital versions), so I certainly can’t vouch for the sound quality of every one of them! But since the record sold so well, you shouldn’t have to do a Where’s Waldo to find a copy like mine. Put it on the turntable and stand back!

Frank Doris

Frank Doris is the chief cook & bottle washer for Frank Doris/Public Relations and works with a
number of audio & music industry clients. He’s a professional guitarist and a vinyl enthusiast with
multiple turntables and thousands of records.

Three Shows I’m Glad I Couldn’t Binge-Watch

binge-watching

My name is Adrienne, and I’ve done my fair share of binge-watching over the past couple of years. I say that upfront so you know that I’m not opposed to the idea of sitting down and taking in the entire new season of a show over the course of a few nights or weeks. I’ve done it a lot. Stranger Things. 13 Reasons Why. Grace & Frankie. The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. Mozart in the Jungle.

 

And yet, I can’t help but wonder if the ability to binge-watch certain shows doesn’t restrict their potential to become true cultural phenomena. Shows like Grace & Frankie are perfect for binging: They’re light, they’re fun, and they’re easily digestible. But consider a show like Stranger Things. Yes, Netflix subscribers loved the show’s first season when it dropped, and it instantly became something people were talking about. A lot of people. But the talk didn’t really last that long. After a short spell, everybody had seen the whole season, and there wasn’t much left to talk about. The same thing happened when Season Two was released.

 

As big a hit as Stranger Things has been for Netflix, imagine how much bigger the show might have become had it been a serial show on ABC, NBC, or HBO. What if we had been asked to wait a week between each new episode, forced to spend that time trying to digest every little minute detail of what we saw. And talk about it. And theorize about it. And write fan blogs about it.

 

Even when people are talking about a hot show like Stranger Things or 13 Reasons Why (another one that everyone I knew seemed to be talking about for a brief time), the cultural effect is diluted by the fact that they’re not all talking about the same stuff at the same time. Everyone’s watching different episodes, having different reactions. There’s no, “OMG, can you believe what JUST happened?”

 

I quit watching Scandal a few years back, yet I couldn’t help but tune in to Twitter during the series finale that aired last week. It was fun to read people’s passionate responses in real time as the show was still going on. Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu bring a lot of great stuff to the table, but they can’t bring that shared, in-the-moment experience that truly ingrains a show in the public consciousness.

 

There’s just something to be said for making people wait. It can escalate a show from love to obsession. Just ask Game of Thrones and This Is Us fans.

As I ponder the binge-watching question, I can’t help but think of the three shows in my adult life with which I was truly and deeply obsessed: The X-Files, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Lost. I’m glad I wasn’t able to binge-watch these shows because I’m not sure my passion would have had the space it needed to grow. Oh, the hours wasted in between episodes, pondering plot points and character developments—especially with The X-Files and Lost, which are the exact kinds of shows that lend themselves to this type of passionate dissection.

 

Lost fans, probably more than any others, understand being caught up in the cultural obsession. If you watched the show when it originally ran, you no doubt remember the games ABC used to play in airing episodes. A few new ones, then several weeks of repeats. Extended off-seasons after yet another blow-your-mind cliffhanger. It drove us nuts—and drove our obsession. It felt like they were on that island forever, and we were stuck right there with them. I remember, the day after each new episode, hurrying over to Entertainment Weekly to read Jeff Jensen’s great fan blog and absorb his analysis of plot points, symbolism, etc.—then spending the rest of the week pondering what it all could mean.

 

Now, when I reflect on those shows, I can’t separate the show from the obsession that surrounded it. It’s all wrapped together in one loving package that takes me back to a specific time in my life. I just don’t see me ever having that same level of engagement for a show I can consume, in total seclusion, over the course of a weekend.

—Adrienne Maxwell

Adrienne Maxwell has been writing about the home theater industry for longer
than she’s willing to admit. She is currently the managing editor and video specialist
at HomeTheaterReview.com. Adrienne lives in Colorado, where she spends far too
much time looking at the Rockies and not nearly enough time being in them.

How to Cram for Infinity War in as Few Films as Possible

Like many of you, I’m sure, I already have my tickets to see Avengers: Infinity War this weekend. Unlike most of you, I hope, I won’t be using those tickets. A nasty abscess and a brief flirtation with sepsis have nipped those plans right in the bud. But oddly enough, this unintentional timeout has given me a chance to do something I probably wouldn’t have had time for otherwise: Actually prepare myself for the movie.

 

Mind you, I don’t have time, nor the desire, to watch every Marvel Cinematic Universe film leading up to Infinity War. But it is the 19th in the series and the culmination of every one of the films before it, so the assumption is that you’ve seen most if not all of them at some point since their release. And I have. I simply need a refresher to get me in the right mental and emotional space heading into this monumental event film.

 

So, while my buddy Dave was sitting by my side in the hospital last night, patting my head and asking if he could have all my Hot Toys figures if this whole thing goes south, we brainstormed the lazy nerd’s essential viewing guide for heading into Infinity War. Good nerds that we are, we had rules, of course. 

 

First rule: Six films, max. Reason: So people can actually get this marathon done before this weekend. 

Rule B: We’re not worried about the location and particular powers of every Infinity Stone (the powerful gems, remnants of six singularities that pre-exist our universe, which have served as MacGuffins for many Marvel films to date and which give Infinity War its name). Reason: You’d literally have to watch nearly every Marvel movie to get that, which violates Rule One. Plus, you can just look up any number of YouTube videos about the Infinity Stones and catch up that way.

Rule the Third: Try to include as many relevant characters as possible in as few films as possible without having to watch Avengers: Age of Ultron. Reason: Age of Ultron was just terrible. No, seriously, y’all—that was a bad movie.

 

Rule 4: This list has to work equally well for people who’ve seen all the films and people who haven’t. Reason: Because some people haven’t. 

 

So, with those rules in mind (and with a morphine drip in my arm, so take it for what you will), here’s my list of films that should serve as a quick refresher course in the overall state of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) leading up to the events of Infinity War

 

Captain America: Winter Soldier. Nope, don’t you dare blame the morphine for this one. Look, I realize that Winter Solider is a fully terrestrial film, with no hint of the cosmic or mystic sides of the MCU that are obviously going to be so important in the new film. But Winter Soldier is essential viewing because it sets the stage for everything that happens to Earth’s Mightiest Heroes in the years that follow it. On top of that, it’s simply one of the best action movies ever made (and a pretty solid espionage flick at that), completely irrespective of its status as a Marvel movie. 

Infinity War

Winter Soldier is also an essential re-watch because Captain America: Civil War doesn’t make much sense without it, and Civil War is really the film that leaves the Avengers in the personal, emotional, and legal states they’re in heading into Infinity War. If you can’t quite figure out why Captain America looks like The Walking Dead’s Rick Grimes in the Infinity War trailer, this one has your essential reminders. Civil War also serves as Spider-Man’s introduction to the MCU, and he looks to play an incredibly important part in the new film. (For what it’s worth, you can watch Spider-Man: Homecoming on its own if you want. It’s a hoot and a half. But it’s not essential viewing for the purposes of Infinity War prep.)

 

Next up: Guardians of the Galaxy, a film high in the running for best pop-music soundtrack of all time, and also our best glimpse at who this big, bad villain named Thanos really is, what he wants, and what he’s willing to do to get it. What’s perhaps most interesting is that we learn less about Thanos from his actual screen time than we do by watching his favorite “daughters,” Nebula and Gamora, who play central roles in this one.

 

And you just have to follow that up with Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. Dave reached over to check my temperature when I threw this one out, because it’s not an obvious pick. It has less to do with Thanos and the Infinity Stones than its predecessor. But again, it goes back to learning about Thanos by proxy. The interactions between Nebula and Gamora in this film tell you a lot about who the Mad Titan is. Vol. 2 also sneaks in a lot of history about the cosmic side of the MCU that I have a sneaking suspicion will become way more relevant in this upcoming film. 

Infinity War

Of course, you also need a heaping helping of immersion in the mystic side of this universe, and for that we turn to Doctor Strange. I’ve seen more than a few headlines recently along the lines of “WHY DOCTOR STRANGE IS SO IMPORTANT TO INFINITY WAR,” and I haven’t clicked on them. Any of them. Because spoilers, duh. But I can tell you this: It’s a pretty safe bet that the Time Stone featured so prominently in this film is at least one of the reasons Thanos’ sights are set on Earth in the new film. So, if nothing else, consider this (along with Guardians of the Galaxy) your essential primer on the power of Infinity Stones individually. It also has Rachel McAdams in it. Rawr. 

 

Last up, Thor: Ragnarok, the film that, as best I can tell, leads right into Infinity War. It also answers the important questions: Where the heck were Thor and Hulk during Civil War? And how are they gonna get back to Earth? Also, make doubly sure you stick around for the mid-credits scene in this one. But seriously, you should already know that by now.

 

So, lemme have it. What essential movies did I leave out? But more importantly, which of my movies would you drop from my six-film crash course to make room for your pick, and why? 

Dennis Burger

Dennis Burger is an avid Star Wars scholar, Tolkien fanatic, and Corvette enthusiast
who somehow also manages to find time for technological passions including
high-end audio, home automation, and video gaming. He lives in the armpit of
Alabama with his wife Bethany and their four-legged child Bruno, a 75-pound
American Staffordshire Terrier who thinks he’s a Pomeranian.

Cover Me: Addendum

Propellerheads Star-Crossed Lovers
Propellerheads & Martha Wainwright, “Star-Crossed Lovers”

I knew this would happen. I wrote up my random list of covers and then told myself I was going to move on. But my brain just would not stop gnawing on that bone. So it guided me back to the Propellerheads “History Repeating” video. But, as I was watching it, I realized that wasn’t supposed to be my goal. This was:

 

I don’t want to be indulgent, continuing to pile tracks onto my list as they pop into my head. But it would be beyond remiss of me not to mention and praise this one. And the irony is that it’s off a tribute album.

Whatever works in this cover off the Duke Ellington tribute Red Hot + Indigo is irreducible—which means it can’t be bottled, which means it both expresses and reaches beyond its moment, which means whatever it is it does right only exists on this track and nowhere else. And pop music hates that, because it runs completely against the grain of its assembly-line, Thou Must Conform nature.

 

Good.

 

“Star-Crossed Lovers” is both hardcore and gorgeous, and you really can’t do any better than that.

Michael Gaughn

 

Red Hot + Indigo is available for streaming on YouTube, Google Play Music, and Deezer.

Michael Gaughn—The Absolute Sound, The Perfect Vision, Wideband, Stereo Review,
Sound & Vision, marketing, product design, a couple TV shows, some commercials, and
now this.

Cover Me

My turn.

 

There are so many songs I could have listed here—and so many I could have called out for trying to be covers and falling so far short. (Something Dennis and I pondered a couple days ago: The world is awash in tribute albums—so why don’t they ever produce good covers?)

 

If I really took the time to suss out all the best cover songs, I could probably come up with a scary long list. But since I’m without access to most of my music collection at the moment (Die Apple! Die!), I’m just going to pluck a few favorites almost at random out of the memory stream.

 

 

Cake, “I Will Survive”

Maybe the ballsiest cover ever, and the kind of radical reinterpretation that’s been missing from pop music for a long, long time. There’s no way Cake’s loud and proud middle finger could ever make its way into the mainstream in this far less tolerant time—which is one of the most damning things you can say about the way-too-easy-to-damn present.

Ben Folds, “Songs of Love”

Only two things are guaranteed to put me in a bulletproof good mood—’20s small-group jazz and Folds’ take on this song.

 

(But I’ve gotta give an Honorable Mention to “Bitches Ain’t Shit” off the same album.)

Tom Waits, “Somewhere”

The moment Waits’ voice tumbles in after the languid, soaring, wistful string intro couldn’t be more wrong, and couldn’t be more right—which I’m pretty sure is the working definition of sublime.

 

 

Propellerheads, “Goldfinger”

Can a remix be a cover? Does it matter?

 

As long as somebody reinterprets a song in a way that simultaneously takes you someplace totally new while keeping you firmly grounded in the original, it’s a cover, no matter how they get you there. To love this track, you sort of have to shove the steep, steep downside of Bond culture off to your peripheral vision and ride the wave of the track’s giddy emotion for all it’s worth.

The Avalanches, “Since I Left You”

This one really stretches the definition of a cover—but isn’t that the whole point? Isn’t that the adventure? At what point do the samples stop being independent tracks? When are they subsumed by the larger whole and become indistinguishable elements of the new song created out of their disparate parts? And, no matter how heavily manipulated, can you ever completely extinguish the spirit of the original? But those are all questions for Walter Benjamin, I guess.

Sid Vicious, “My Way”

I realize Vicious’ punk gutting of Sinatra’s creaky anthem is an obvious choice, but it’s a lot more than the one-note joke most people think it is. Just compare it to Gary Oldman’s tepid stab in Sid & Nancy and you’ll get the point. Everybody’s drooling over Oldman right now, but he didn’t even come close to capturing Vicious, the good or the bad. (That Hollywood had to give Oldman a bigger gun tells you everything you need to know about Sid & Nancy—and Hollywood.)

 

(Kubrick contemplated ending Full Metal Jacket with Vicious’ “My Way”—and he should have. It would have taken the film to a hell of a lot better place than the way too obvious “Paint It Black.”)

Zooey Deschanel, “Tonight You Belong to Me”

I’ve never been able to stomach Zooey Deschanel as an actor. Her tomboy to It Girl transformation always seemed a little too forced, and New Girl was one of the worst examples of shameless pandering I’ve ever been unlucky enough to encounter. But Zooey the media spectre and Zooey the would-be performer are two other animals completely. With She & Him, she’s somehow been able to rise above her obvious limitations as a singer/musician—and her both controlled and erratic cover of this guileless song drives that point home in spades. (And if you’ve never seen it before, check this one out too.)

—Michael Gaughn

Michael Gaughn—The Absolute Sound, The Perfect Vision, Wideband, Stereo Review,
Sound & Vision, marketing, product design, a couple TV shows, some commercials, and
now this.

My Favorite Cover Songs Are All By Ingrid Michaelson

The ball’s in my court, I suppose. A few weeks back, Ash shared some of her favorite cover songs and challenged the rest of the Roundtable to do the same. While I was hemming and hawing and trying to think of more than one cover that I truly loved, Adrienne beat me to the punch with a followup.

 

Why has it taken so long for me to do the same? Because I have rules for cover songs that are nearly impossible to abide by. For me, a good cover song absolutely must sound nothing like the original. It must force me to reinterpret my relationship with the original. It must be a product of its time, not just a nostalgic romp down memory lane. It must, in other words, be like Hendrix’s cover of Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower.”

 

I realized a thing last night, though, as I put my iPhone on shuffle and let it play to drown out the memory of a pretty rough day. In constructing those rules, I forgot that my favorite cover songs absolutely violate them in the most blatant ways possible. But then again, in violating those rules, they uphold my Number One rule of music: Ingrid Michaelson can do no wrong.

Take Ingrid’s cover of “Skinny Love” by Bon Iver, for instance. She isn’t really doing anything inventive with the arrangement, aside from trading guitar for her trademark ukulele. She isn’t changing the intent of the song. She isn’t putting anything resembling her own spin on it. Instead, she’s holding church, worshiping a song she loves and asking the audience to worship along.

 

Much the same could be said of her take on “Over the Rainbow,” one of the most covered songs of all time. Yes, she plays with the tempo a little, as well as the cadence of the song. But if anything, Ingrid seems to be reacting to the numerous reinterpretations of the song throughout the decades. To me, she seems to be saying, Hey, cut the crap with your theatrics and your melismatic wankery. This is a song of mournful but hopeful longing, of being trapped in a dreary world and dreaming of a better place. It’s definitely the most vulnerable version of “Over the Rainbow” recorded since 1939, and that’s exactly as it should be.

You could argue the Ingrid’s riff on Radiohead’s “Creep” takes the song to new places, but with her quiet, stripped-down cover of the song, she gets right to the heart of the self-doubt and hesitation imbedded in its lyrics. There is, of course, the fact that having said lyrics delivered by a woman instead of a man drastically changes the gender-political implications of “Creep,” and yes, that does make it fascinating on one level. But I’m not sure that was the intent here. I get the sense that this is merely Ingrid’s honest and open interpretation of what the words mean to her and how she relates to them, gender be damned.

 

As for her cover of “Can’t Help Falling in Love,” what can I say, really, that I haven’t said already? Before my momma died, she once opined that anyone with the temerity to cover Elvis should be beaten half to death with a wet piece of cardboard. I’d like this think this one would have changed her mind.

Dennis Burger

Dennis Burger is an avid Star Wars scholar, Tolkien fanatic, and Corvette enthusiast
who somehow also manages to find time for technological passions including
high-end audio, home automation, and video gaming. He lives in the armpit of
Alabama with his wife Bethany and their four-legged child Bruno, a 75-pound
American Staffordshire Terrier who thinks he’s a Pomeranian.

My Favorite Cover Songs

OK, Ashley, you asked for it. In a recent post, you shared some of your favorite cover songs and asked the rest of us to do the same. Open the flood gates.

 

Like Ashley, I’m going to begin with a Tears for Fears cover. Michael Andrews and Gary Jules’s cover of “Mad World” might be my favorite cover song of all time, and that’s saying something. A stark and haunting combination of vocal and piano, their version drives home the song’s dark core for me in a way that the original’s ’80s synth-pop sound just can’t match.

I know some people will never forgive me for what I’m about to say, but I believe that Bob Dylan songs are always better when someone else sings them. Here are two examples from my own collection. First, I adore Cassandra Wilson’s version of “Shelter from the Storm,” one of my favorite Dylan tunes. If Wilson’s rich, silky alto doesn’t create a sense of shelter, I don’t know what will.

 

And then there’s this nice slow-jam cover of “Just Like a Woman” by Gov’t Mule, Gregg Allman & Friends. I could

listen to it all day. On a side note, I always thought the lyric was, “She tastes just like a woman” (hey, the next line is, “She makes love just like a woman,” so it made sense to me). Then I learned that the line is, “She takes just like a woman,” which changes the tone entirely. I sense a topic for a later post: Songs you loved until you learned the correct lyrics.

Next up is William Shatner’s cover of Pulp’s “Common People.” That’s right, I said William Shatner. You got a problem with that? Shatner’s 2004 album Has Been was produced by Ben Folds, and the best decision he made was to bring in Joe Jackson to provide the backing vocals on “Common People.” Jackson lends just the right amount of British contempt to complement Shatner’s American disdain. Pulp’s original song is really catchy and makes you want to bounce. Shatner’s version makes you want to punch someone in the face—but, you know, in a good way.

I know it’s April, but I can’t talk about my favorite covers without mentioning U2’s version of Greg Lakes’s “I Believe in Father Christmas,” which the band released a few years ago to raise money for RED. The original is surely a classic, but there’s something about the quieter U2 version—The Edge’s classic weeping guitar sound combined with Bono’s characteristic wail in the “I wish you a hopeful Christmas” line—that makes me weepy every time I hear it.

Speaking of getting all weepy, my last pick is Peter Gabriel’s remake of “The Book of Love” by The Magnetic Fields. It appeared in the remake of the film Shall We Dance?, and Scrubs fans will mostly certainly remember it from the finale. Gabriel’s vocals and orchestration give the song a sweetness and sentimentality that pulls at the heart strings, but the almost Bowie-esque quality of the original is fantastic, too.

 

I could name a bunch more, but I think it’s time for someone else to grab the ball and run with it.

—Adrienne Maxwell

Adrienne Maxwell has been writing about the home theater industry for longer
than she’s willing to admit. She is currently the managing editor and video specialist
at HomeTheaterReview.com. Adrienne lives in Colorado, where she spends far too
much time looking at the Rockies and not nearly enough time being in them.

‘Flower’ and the Power of Games as Art

Flower

Tucked away in the hidden recesses of the PlayStation Network Store, amongst the shooter games and fighting games and puzzle games and what have you, there resides a little work of art named Flower that everyone should experience at least once. It doesn’t matter if you’re a jaded gamer with forty years of pwning n00bs under your belt or a complete neophyte who has never picked up a controller, this delightful little download—originally developed nine years ago for the PlayStation 3, but lovingly revamped in 1080p with 7.1-channel sound for PS4—has a message for you.

 

What that message may be, I’m not quite sure. Because your relationship with Flower will almost certainly be different from mine. I’ve had hours-long conversations with fellow gaming friends, trying our best to come to some consensus on its themes and central messages. But I won’t rehash any of those discussions here, because if you’ve never played Flower, the last thing in the world I want is to color your own interpretation.

 

But I will say this: It’s pretty clear that Flower was made as a reaction to the rather limited range of emotions normally evoked by video games. Much like the recently released Celeste, Flower grapples with notions of achievement and pursuit and their effects on the psyche. Whereas Celeste dealt with such issues by immersing you in a quest and them commenting upon it slyly, Flower takes an alternative approach. It drops you into a gaming world in which achievement isn’t the point at all. Where it’s downright discouraged, in point of fact.

 

In the game, you live out the dreams of a handful of potted plants, perched upon a windowsill overlooking a gray and dreary city. In these dreams, you don’t control a character or any other sort of visible avatar. What you control is the unseen wind. And you control it not with some sophisticated series of button presses, but rather the gentle motion of the video game controller itself. Lean your hands to the right and the wind blows to the right. Lift them up, and you send a gust skyward. And as the wind blows around these beautiful dreamscapes, you collect the petals of flowers strewn throughout their many hills and valleys and ridges and plateaus.

It’s as simple as that, really. But to understand the appeal of Flower, you really have to immerse yourself in it. Because it isn’t until you’re consumed in this experience that you understand something quite profound: Yes, there are hidden secrets in this game. Yes, there are achievements of a sort. But everything about the game forces you into a mental state in which these things aren’t actively sought, but simply appreciated all the more when you do come across them. The goal here isn’t necessarily pleasure, nor fun, nor excitement, but rather peaceful contentment.

 

More so than anything else, what Flower forces you to do is to be present in this moment, right here and right now, with no regard for what comes next. What it pushes you toward is an intrinsic appreciation of the beauty of every interaction, whether it leads to something extrinsically fruitful or not. What it evokes—at least in me—is some approximation of anattā or self-transcendence, the likes of which normally require years of practice in vipassanā meditation to achieve on one’s own.

 

Will it evoke the same in you? I can’t say, of course. But you owe it to yourself to spend seven bucks to find out.

Dennis Burger

Dennis Burger is an avid Star Wars scholar, Tolkien fanatic, and Corvette enthusiast
who somehow also manages to find time for technological passions including
high-end audio, home automation, and video gaming. He lives in the armpit of
Alabama with his wife Bethany and their four-legged child Bruno, a 75-pound
American Staffordshire Terrier who thinks he’s a Pomeranian.

OK, iTunes: It’s Not Me, It’s You

I gotta say, I’m starting to feel a lot like that dude in the recent Samsung Galaxy commercial—the one who’s been an Apple fanboy from Day One yet finally decides to make the switch to a Galaxy smartphone. Only, in my case, I don’t necessarily want to break up with my iPhone—I just want to break up with iTunes.

 

Almost every computer I’ve owned over the past 20-plus years has been a Mac. I do own one Lenovo PC laptop that I only use when measuring/calibrating display devices and checking any PC-centric things that might pop up when conducting AV reviews. But for the vast majority of my computer operations, I use and love my MacBook Pro.

 

Since its release in 2001, iTunes has been my music-management software of choice. I’ve ripped a lot of CDs using that software program. (Of course, I can’t do that anymore unless I want to buy an external disc drive—my one beef with newer MacBooks.) I’ve also bought a lot of music through the iTunes Store and still own a lot older, copy-protected AAC files. And ever since the day I purchased my first iPhone (the only smartphone brand I’ve ever owned), I have synced all that iTunes music between phone and computer.

 

These days, my iPhone is my primary music source. I use it in my car. I use it on my walks. I use it at home, streaming music via AirPlay to my Onkyo AV receiver and, more frequently, to a couple of excellent Oppo Sonica tabletop speakers. (Farewell, Oppo—I’m gonna miss you!) And you know the one thing I demand from my primary music source? That it works the way it’s supposed to, without hassle or complication.

 

For years, as colleagues touted the benefits of other music-management software, I’ve remained loyal to iTunes. Maybe it’s laziness. Maybe it’s fear of change. Or maybe it’s because for so long the syncing process between my Mac and iPhone was too seamless for me to abandon it. I didn’t want to mess with a system that just worked.

Then Apple went and messed with it. Again . . . and again . . . and again. Each version seemingly getting worse than the one before it. I blame the Cloud. The woes all began with the arrival of iCloud and the music-matching nightmares that go along with it.

 

So many things I would have done, but clouds got in the way . . .

iTunes

There was a time when I could add a song to a playlist on my iPhone, and, when I synced with iTunes, it would just add the song to the same playlist on my Mac. I know this happened. I remember. Now, when I do this, I end up with two versions of that playlist on my phone: One with the song and one without the song. 

 

Then there are the times when I’ve synced my phone and computer and, for no reason I can explain, several playlists are completely empty on both devices. Just . . . empty.  Songs are suddenly grayed out and need to be downloaded again from the cloud. I regularly have to tell the iPhone to “trust” my computer again, even though these two devices have known each other for years.

 

Always something breaking us in two . . .

 

I think my favorite is when, out of the blue, I start getting messages that I can’t sync my iPhone because there isn’t enough space. (I assure you, there’s enough space.) I try various suggested fixes and ultimately have to restore my phone—that’s right, completely wipe it and reboot—to get the two devices to sync.

 

Maybe there are simple explanations for these problems. Maybe there are quick fixes I haven’t been able to find. Maybe it really is me after all. Maybe my older operating system just ain’t compatible with the newest version of iTunes.

 

The fact remains that I’ve officially reached the end of a very long and generous rope. My frustration now outweighs my laziness and fear of change. It’s time to find myself a new music manager.

 

Been down one time, been down two times, I’m never going back again.

 

Suggestions are welcome.

Adrienne Maxwell

Adrienne Maxwell has been writing about the home theater industry for longer
than she’s willing to admit. She is currently the managing editor and video specialist
at HomeTheaterReview.com. Adrienne lives in Colorado, where she spends far too
much time looking at the Rockies and not nearly enough time being in them.