Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Van Morrison - "Brown Eyed Girl"

ARTIST: Van Morrison
OVERPLAYED SONG: "Brown Eyed Girl"
ORIGINAL SOURCE: single/Blowin' Your Mind album (Bang!, 1967)
OTHER SOURCE: The Best Of Van Morrison (Mercury, 1990)

The ever-handy resource allmusic.com describes Van Morrison's first solo hit "Brown-Eyed Girl" like this:

"Possibly Van Morrison's biggest international hit record, "Brown Eyed Girl" came between his career as the lead singer of Them and his emergence as a solo singer/songwriter. Although Morrison wrote the song, the overall feel and sound of the resulting record owes as much to producer Bert Berns as it does to Morrison. Like several other Bang releases of the era (such as Neil Diamond's records), it's based on a simple, three-chord pattern and a slightly Latin feel. Lyrically, however, is where Morrison's song contribution shines, with its semi-autobiographical tale of rural romance and fond remembrances of geographic locations. The excellent bass-heavy instrumental bridge is one of the song's most important hooks, and it's a long-remembered part of the song to almost any AM radio listener of the period, even to this day."

Further research on this song reveals that the original title of the song was "Brown-Skinned Girl". While a song reveling in interracial sex would be far from objectionable nowadays, back in 1967 apparently Bert Burns forced Morrison to change the title thanks to what Chuck D. called "Fear of a black planet" syndrome over two decades later.

But we digress. "Brown-Eyed Girl", once a revered standard, is now just plain bar band filler. Take a song that several other bar bands around the world have played to death, and that only needs three basic guitar chords, slop it around in your practice space for about 20 minutes, and voila! - instant filler material. So what if every other band in the area sleepwalks through it and you can't remember half the words? So what if your bass player is so brain-numbingly bored by the instrumental middle section that half the time, he cannot resist bringing out his inner Jaco Pastorius out in a vain attempt to put some life into a lifeless tune.

But let's face it, folks... trying to breathe life into "Brown-Eyed Girl" in the 21st century would be like Ed Wood using the same 10 minutes of silent Bela Lugosi footage he used in Plan 9 From Outer Space in a sequel shot several years later. It just doesn't work.

If you're looking to plunder something else from the Van Morrison catalogue, please don't. "Wild Night" (partly thanks to John Cougar Mellencamp's cover version) and "Moondance" are already getting just as rancid as "Brown-Eyed Girl". And don't even get us started on "Gloria".

The Ramones - "I Wanna Be Sedated"

ARTIST: The Ramones
OVERPLAYED SONG: "I Wanna Be Sedated"
ORIGINAL SOURCE: Road To Ruin LP, Sire/Warner Bros., 1978
OTHER SOURCES: Ramonesmania compilation, Sire/Warner Bros., 1988; Loco Live (live CD), Sire/Warner Bros., 1993; Hey! Ho! Let's Go: The Anthology 2xCD compilation, Warner Archives/Rhino, 1999

Let's get one thing straight before we proceed with this next entry. We here at Stop Playing These Songs love the Ramones. We miss Joey, DeeDee and Johnny immensely, we practically honed our all-important rhythm chops on many of their classic songs, and unlike our initial "honoree" Lynyrd Skynyrd, they earned a well deserved inauguration into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame. The list of bands they influenced could probably circle the planet a couple of times.

With all that influence, why is it that 99% of cover bands today can't seem to cover anything out of the Ramones' extensive catalogue of music other than "I Wanna Be Sedated"?!?

Well, let's face it. "Sedated" is basically a three-chord tune using a variation on the I-IV-V sequence. Specifically, that's in E major for you musicians out there, even though it modulates to F-sharp major after the guitar break. Simple enough for most bar bands overanxious for filler material to pad their debut sets with - only they never get to play it right. I've heard bands get the rhythm wrong, the CHORD CHANGES WRONG (WTF?), put in too many drum fills, sleepwalk into a more standard I-IV-V vamp, and be offended immensely by guitarists who think playing Ramones songs is beneath their wannabe-Joe-Satriani chops to play not the basic single-note "lead" guitar break on the original recording, but a half-assed bit of hair-metal lead guitar masturbation. (It should be noted that on the live version immortalized on 1993's Loco Live album, Johnny Ramone doesn't even play the one-note guitar solo live, preferring to keep the the more beefy and important rhythm part going)

It should also be noted that when the Ramones' songs were feted in the tribute album We're A Happy Family (Radioactive/Columbia, 2002), "Sedated" was replicated by The Offspring in a choice that betrayed their taste in less obvious covers they had done for compilations and soundtracks in the past (like The Damned's "Smash it Up" on the Batman Forever soundtrack.)

With all due respect to the Ramones in general and to Joey Ramone (the primary composer of this classic tune), leave well enough alone. Anyone who can't play "I Wanna Be Sedated" properly should be sedated themselves -- preferably until their medical condition resembles Terri Schiavo's.

Anything else on the superior Ramones anthology Hey! Ho! Let's Go!.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Lynyrd Skynyrd "Sweet Home Alabama"

ARTIST: Lynyrd Skynyrd
OVERPLAYED SONG: "Sweet Home Alabama"
ORIGINAL SOURCE: Second Helping LP, MCA, 1975
OTHER SOURCES: Any of the many compilations of Skynyrd material released by MCA/Geffen since 1980.

Let's be honest. As decent a band they were, Lynyrd Skynyrd were basically a mid-sized cult act at best, with at least 95% of their following based below the Mason-Dixon line, until a private plane they were riding in went down, killing lead singer Ronnie Van Zant and guitarist Steve Gaines.(*) Ironically, three days prior to their plane crash, they had released their Street Survivors album.

Their only actual hit single, "Sweet Home Alabama" (most of their other better known songs are primarily album tracks anthologized time and time again by MCA [now Geffen] Records), was concieved as a response to the Neil Young song "Southern Man". Unfortunately for Lynyrd Skynyrd, their big-upping of Alabama - in spite of the fact that they did some early recordings at the state's legendary (and as of this writing, recently shuttered) Muscle Shoals Recording Studio - makes little sense when you consider the fact that the band was formed in Jacksonville, Florida. Perhaps they were too busy wanting to attack Neil Young to consider this lapse in geography? (For what it's worth, - and providing yet another irony in Skynyrd history - Young responded by offering his songs "Sedan Delivery" and "Powderfinger" to the group for a future album. Fortunately, the group turned them down, and Young proceeded to play them the way they are meant to be played, with Crazy Horse, on the Rust Never Sleeps album [Reprise, 1978])

Since their plane crash, the once semi-obscure group immediately became overrated by death, and for the next 25 years plus, many a working cover band or struggling/new rock group - especially on the Northern side of the Mason-Dixon Line - is tormented by some fat fuck with a rebel flag T-shirt and a longneck in his paw, hollering "Hey! Play some fuckin' Skynyrd!" every time the band launches into a song that sounds nothing like this tune, "Free Bird", or "Gimmie Three Steps" (two other equally overplayed Skynryd songs).

If you must play a Skynyrd song, scan one of the many compilations that MCA/Geffen/Universal has released since the band's initial disbanding and subsequent reunion for a more appropriate number other than "Sweet Home" or the other aforementioned songs. We'd recommend their pro-gun-control (!) anthem "Saturday Night Special" or the horn-driven tour-spiel "What's Your Name?".

If you want to avoid Skynyrd tunes entirely - and I don't blame you - Neil Young's "Southern Man", the song that "inspired" "Sweet Home" in the first place, would be a nice comeback to the fat drunken heckler who keeps calling for the Ronnie Van Zandt imitation that you never did in the first place.