Longtime readers of Lemming’s blog may recall his track-by-track review of a mix CD I gave him last year called Some Disassembly Required. I’ve now received a CD from him in return, Front & Back. He did not provide a tracklist with the CD, which seemed like a strange choice, but upon hearing it I realized that the element of surprise was part of the fun of the first listen for this particular disc. However: in order to maintain the obsessively-detailed organization of my iTunes library, I needed the title, artist, and year of each track before I imported the disc, so I hit the internet and filled in all the gaps in my knowledge. I’m providing my track-by-track review of Front & Back in the form of an annotated tracklist, below the fold.
[Spoilers follow, for those of you who are also receiving a copy and haven’t listened to it yet.]
So if you’ve heard it you know that all the songs are covers, hence the title. I’m pleased to say I recognized all but three of the songs; on the other hand, I only recognized nine of the artists represented (I did get Cash both times). Fortunately I was able to determine the rest using Google, Wikipedia, Amazon, iTunes, and Rhapsody. I’ve put the artist who originally recorded each song in italics along with the appropriate year.
- Johnny Cash, “Ring of Fire” (1963)
Anita Carter, 1962
The first song on a mix CD serves to set the tone for what is to come. “Ring of Fire” has a kind of narrative feel that puts the listener in medias res, and indeed there is a kind of circularity here: the CD begins and ends with Cash singing about pain. I’m convinced the structure of the tracklist is meant to represent the cyclic nature of human relationships, symbolized by the ring of fire and by the way the tracklist connects to itself.
- Metallica, “Turn The Page” (1998)
Bob Seger, 1973
Johnny Cash transitioning into Metallica works surprisingly well here. With the theme of loneliness and the key line “turn the page”, it sounds like an ending but is actually a beginning, as the next page—the next song—will start a new phase in the emotional flow of the cycle.
- Aerosmith, “Come Together” (1978)
The Beatles, 1969
I’m sure I’ve heard this version before but it never registered that it was Aerosmith. The song is an introduction to the person (people) being described, and here serves as a bridge between the darker themes of the preceding songs and the happiness of the forthcoming tracks.
- Lou Reed, “This Magic Moment” (1995)
The Drifters, 1960
Major rock snob points for including a former member of the Velvet Underground! This is the first in a sequence of happier songs, a high point in the cycle.
- Mary Lou Lord with Semisonic, “Sugar, Sugar” (1995)
The Archies, 1969
It was at this point in my first listen to the CD that I realized, “This disc is entirely crazy fucked-up covers!” The original version of this song is completely ridiculous, but Mary Lou Lord’s voice is perfectly suited to it and somehow makes it work.
- Israel Kamakawiwo’ole, “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” (2001)
Judy Garland, 1939
The hardest song to track down: tons of people have covered this song, and although I found Iz fairly quickly, the version he’s famous for is different and works in Louis Armstrong’s “What A Wonderful World”, so I missed this one on my first pass.
- Green Day, “Knowledge” (1991)
Operation Ivy, 1989
Although I live mere blocks from 924 Gilman, I am woefully ignorant of East Bay punk, so this was one of the songs I didn’t recognize. There’s a thread of frustration running through this song that makes it an effective follow-up to “Rainbow”.
- Fatboy Slim, “The Joker” (2004)
The Steve Miller Band, 1973
Quite a departure from the original version, and presaging the upcoming set of songs with its carefreeness. But first…
- Jim Broadbent & Nicole Kidman, “The Show Must Go On” (2001)
The first serious downturn in a while, this marks the halfway point of the CD. I’ve never seen Moulin Rouge! so I don’t know exactly how this fits in to the movie, but that’s where it’s from.
- Salsa Celtica, “Auld Lang Syne” (2003)
Another tricky song to track down, since all I recognized was the basic “Auld Lang Syne” melody. Given it’s association with New Year’s, it represents new beginnings and here kicks off a new phase after “The Show Must Go On”; the songs to follow return to a happier mood and take a more whimsical and comfortable tone than anything that has appeared yet.
- They Might Be Giants, “Istanbul (Not Constantinople)” (1990)
The Four Lads, 1953
The best song TMBG ever recorded, it continues the theme of new beginnings from “Auld Lang Syne” with its contemplation of name changes.
- Rednex, “Cotton-Eyed Joe” (1994)
Ah yes, this song brings back memories. Wasn’t it a Ride chaser at least once?
- Alvin & The Chipmunks, “The Time Warp” (1998)
Richard O’Brien, 1973
Another song that brings back memories, the version from Rocky Horror Picture Show was a standard request from my group of friends at high school dances. The Chipmunks rendition could only be placed after the Rednex song, where it seems slightly less silly simply by contrast.
- Gipsy Kings, “Hotel California” (1990)
The Eagles, 1976
This song would mark the end of the whimsical phase if we weren’t all thinking of Jesus licking the bowling ball in The Big Lebowski.
- Seu Jorge, “Rebel Rebel” (2004)
David Bowie, 1974
Not only have I not seen Moulin Rouge!, I also haven’t seen The Life Aquatic, but I knew that had to be the source of this song. It’s appropriately paired with the previous track, as they both take on additional context from their appearance in film.
- Cake, “Mahna Mahna” (2002)
Piero Umiliani, 1968
I’d never heard this version before, it’s delightful. Did you know the original song was for an Italian porn movie? I found that out while writing this post. The last song in the whimsical phase, with the next track serving a transitional role.
- Red Hot Chili Peppers, “Higher Ground” (1989)
Stevie Wonder, 1973
I keep seeing the Guitar Hero screen when I hear this song, although it’s not as bad as when I hear “Take Me Out”. It’s a shift away from the tone of the previous few tracks, but ironically after the push for higher ground the CD finds itself in a lower place emotionally.
- Gary Jules, “Mad World” (2001)
Tears for Fears, 1982
The darker phase of the cycle starts here. I knew this as “that version of Mad World that was in Donnie Darko“, which like this CD has a cyclical structure. Donnie’s role in the movie is to connect the end with the beginning, and likewise this song serves the same function by drawing the mood downward.
- Pearl Jam, “Last Kiss” (1999)
Wayne Cochran & the C.C. Riders, 1962
I was pleased to see this song, as it was the first song I was able to play confidently on the guitar. (It only uses four chords, which happened to be the first four I learned.) I didn’t know it was a cover, but something seemed weird about it and the fact that it was written in 1962 explains why.
- Johnny Cash, “Hurt” (2002)
Nine Inch Nails, 1994
And so the disc ends where it began, with Johnny Cash. It’s a painful ending, but at the same time it’s a new beginning (If I could start again / a million miles away) and hints at the way the cycle will maintain its essential nature, the second time around (I would keep myself / I would find a way). And so it does, especially if you leave the CD in the player and it starts over again.
There you have it. Even though it ends in a sad place, it’s by and large a fun CD, and I have a feeling it’ll hold a slot in my car’s CD visor for a while. (However, I may end up skipping the Chipmunks in the future.)