Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Libby The Kid; Or How I Learned To Stop Worrying About Writing Something Original and Love The Parody

I have always been fascinated by "When You Come Back To Me," the World Party track that appeared on the soundtrack of "Reality Bites." Though we have an entire record of hilarious parodies, thanks to Neil Innes and Eric Idle as The Rutles, as well as the not-so-well-received, but I love it anyhow collection of Beatles parodies known as "Deface The Music," from Todd Rundgren and Utopia, there is something about Karl Wallinger's sideways rewrite of Bowie's "Young Americans" that impresses more than the others. It's not funny, though it is very clever. And it's just a great song.

Beatles parodies are a dime a dozen. As brilliant as The Rutles is, there have Beatles soundalikes since the week in February of 1964, when the Fabs first hit the USA. A good portion of the power pop genre is based on Beatles harmonies and carefully placed minor 7th chords. The same could be said about The Beach Boys. Their harmonies so distinct, that when utilized, it can turn a song that sounds nothing like The Beach Boys, like R.E.M." "At My Most Beautiful," into "their Beach Boys tune."

As a drummer, who can strum a few clunky chords on a guitar and fake my way around a piano for a few hours, writing a tune of any kind is an amazing accomplishment. I can't do it. I have, but I would never have the audacity to play anything in front of anyone. So maybe taking an existing song and giving it new life as your own, while still keeping it recognizable as the original source isn't as difficult to all of you songwriters out there. But to me, Karl Wallinger's spin on the Bowie track seems brilliant in a different way, than say rewriting "Penny Lane" as "Doubleback Alley."

There's a Rundgren tune below, from the aforementioned "Deface The Music."

Can you think of other songs, single tracks and not whole records, that twist and turn an already existing song, that were NOT written for comedic effect?


Shriner said...

My first thought of this topic is always that Fountains of Wayne's "It Must Be Summer" is a rewrite of the Byrds "Feel a Whole Lot Better". So much so that I thought the writing credits should have been expanded a bit.

I'll think further. I'm sure there are others in my collection that have gone by as an obvious pastiche of something else...

buzzbabyjesus said...

That Utopia song sounds more like XTC than the Beatles.
I will always be knocked out by the Posies cover of The Germs "Richie Daggers Crime" as done by the Fab Four.


richeye said...

Two obvious ones: "Surfin' USA" from the Beach Boys via Chuck Berry and "No Surf In Cleveland" with love from the Euclid Beach Band to the same Beach Boys. Virtually everything by XTC's alter band, the Dukes of Stratosphear", especially Pale And Precious (Beach Boys again) and "Vanishing Girl" for The Hollies.

Sal Nunziato said...


No covers! As good as The Posies take on The Germs is, it's not what I am looking.

And the Utopia track is exactly Eight Days A Week in structure.

Shriner said...

And are we counting Weird Al's "in the style of" songs? I think some of those are brilliant. "Dare To Be Stupid" is the best Devo song not actually written by Devo. "Genius in France" hits all the Zappa touchstones. "Jackson Park Express" is better Cat Stevens than any Cat Stevens song? I have to think these are actually harder to craft than a straight parody.

Sal Nunziato said...

Before the thread gets out of hand, let me be a bit more specific.

The Rutles are brilliant, as is Weird Al, when he is on. But both were for comedic effect.

I don't think Karl Wallinger or Utopia were doing it specifically for laughs, though one could say, they were all having a blast and laughing while doing it. I used the word "parody" in the title and that's my fault.

"Dukes Of Stratosphear"is what I am looking for, but in specific, one-offs, not entire projects, like my bandmate John Dunbar's excellent "The Kunks," which does for The Kinks what The Rutles did for the Beatles.

While I could hear a bit of what you're saying, Shriner," re: FOW via The Byrds, to my ears, that falls in to the basic, chord structure. I mean, any Tom Petty song, or really any song with that Byrdsian intro with the suspended chords, will always sound like The Byrds.

Now, that I have totally taken the air and fun out of this...apologies...the World Party specificially rewrites "Young Americans," right down to the "gonna be awwwwwright." Every songs on Dukes and Utopia, rewrites another song. Those parameters make it a bit more difficult.

Shriner said...

OK -- I have one that just popped into my mind, but I can find no YouTube clips of this to demonstrate it (gasp!) There is an album by "The Barrys" called "Who Else" where the title track is basically a rewrite of "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes" down to the exact-same-sounding acoustic guitar break/solo near the end.

I think this is what you are going for. The entire album is not pastiches of other songs, but a number of the songs have a bit borrowed from here and there and the whole album clearly wears it's influences on it's sleeves, but there's enough originality on the album that it's not like the Dukes or the Utopia album.

I think you can hear 30 second bits of it here: https://www.amazon.com/Who-Else-Barrys/dp/B00006EDPK, but it doesn't give enough to show what I'm getting at with that specific song, unfortunately. But if you heard the whole thing, I think it would fall under your criteria.

Patrick said...

Doves' Black & White Town turns the rhythm, some melody lines, bends the energy into northern English dystopia. Not sure it was what Holland/Dozier/Holland thought (Love Is Like A) Heatwave would inspire. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BjU_9D2q-rM

J. Loslo said...

This is a bit on the obscure side, I guess, but country artist Dave Gleason's Wasted Days does what I think is an intentional homage to The Bee Gees:


cmealha said...

As a thief from way back, I understand that there is a flimsy subjective line between homage and theft. I was always uncomfortable with the World Party cut because it felt like a direct rip from 'Young Americans' whereas Utopia and R.E.M. took elements for the Beatles' and Beach Boys' sounds and songs and added their own satisfying spin.

The song I first thought of as an example was 'Let Me Roll It'. The best Lennon song written by McCartney.

Sal Nunziato said...

"uncomfortable with the World Party cut because it felt like a direct rip from 'Young Americans'


It is a direct rip of Young Americans. That is exactly what he set out to do and exactly what I am looking for. There's nothing about the REM tune that sounds like the Beach Boys except the patented harmonies. Remove that element, and you have a typical, whiny Stipe ballad with no resemblance at all to any one BB song. The World Party track is a whole. It's an original tune, that isn't a parody like "Ouch, don't desert me, Ouch, please don't hurt me, Ouch Ouch Ouch Ouch!"
It is a specific exercise in turning a song inside out, which is why a)I think it is so unique, and b)most of these examples here aren't what I am suggesting with the WP track and the Utopia track.

Utopia Tracks:
I just want To Touch You- I Want To Hold Your Hand
Life Goes On- Eleanor Rigby
Everybody Else Is Wrong- Strawberry Fields
Hoi Polloi- Getting Better

and so on...

Dukes Of Stratospear
Mole In The Ministry- I Am The Walrus
Pale & Precious- Good Vibratons

and so on...

Sal Nunziato said...


Soul Brothers 6 via Grand Funk's Some Kind Of Wonderful.

Drum and bass intros, handlclap, chord changes on chorus. Same song but not the same song.

Brian Campbell said...

Sal, please give us your entire Deface the Music Utopia and Beatles matches. I hear Gettng Better in Feel Too Good and Penny Lane in Hoi Poloi. Just curious about the rest from your point of view.

Brian Campbell said...

Start! by the Jam uses the base line from Taxman. Love Tonight by The Fraternal Order of the All (Andrew Gold) sounds just like Beach Boys-style ballad.

Anonymous said...

Could it be I saw the light?


RobS said...

Check out "Flying With Broken Wings" by Angel.It is a straight Beatles rip, even dedicated to J,P,G, and R.

Honest Ed said...

In the style of?

Springsteen's Girls In Their Summer Clothes. I know, and get why people always compare it to the Beach Boys but I always hear The Walker Brothers in that one.

Most of Oasis's career? Are there many bands that've had to pull a track off an album at the last possible minute because of it's similarity to another track. And later released that track with the writing credits amended?

Radiohead's Creep. They eventually had to credit the writers of The Air That I Breathe.

Sal Nunziato said...

@Brian Campbell

Here's how I hear it:

I Just Want To Touch- I Want To Hold Your Hand
Crystal Ball-
Where Does The World Go To Hide- I'll Follow The Sun
Silly Boy-
Alone- And I Love Her
That's Not Right- Eight Days A Week
Take It Home- Day Tripper
Hoi Poloi- Getting Better
Life Goes On- Eleanor Rigby
Feel Too Good- intro Getting Better, but vibe "I'm Only Sleeping"
All Smiles- Michelle
Always Late-Don't Pass Me By
Everybody Else Is Wrong- Strawberry Fields

The two I left blank, Crystal Ball and Silly Boy could be any number of Fab rockers--When I Get Home, Anytime At All, I'm A Loser

Stu said...

I Pray when I’m Drunk off the new Hitchcock album. Stu

Pete said...

"Please Please Me" harmonies on a song that sounds nothing like "Please Please Me"? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pwtpS1mBjzo

mauijim said...

Lenny Kravitz The Resurrection sure takes elements of Zeps The Rain Song. Besides big drum sound, it has that moog synth line and counter acoustic guitar. Maybe I'm hearing other Zep pieces as well and not just Rain Song.

Shriner said...

That reminds me of "Get It On" by Kingdom Come sounding a ton like "Kashmir" -- does that fit? I would have to admit never hearing anything else by the band, so I don't know if everything else they did is a Led Zeppelin homage or not...

Brian Campbell said...

Sal, thanks for your decode of Deface the Music. I have a hard time hearing two songs at once in my head. Once one is locked in its hard to hear anything else.

Shakermaker by Oasis is a direct ripoff of the old Coca-Cola commercial, I'd like to teach the world to sing. I actually like the Oasis take better.

hpunch said...

Hudson and Ford as The Monks... A supposed punk band. They were huge in Canada until people caught wind that it was guys from The Strawbs. Bad Habits is a classic. A little too musical to be actual punks. Their second album, Suspended Animation explores more Jamaican themes, and almost as brilliant. After The Monks they put out an album under the name High Society called I Never Go Out In The Rain. It's all 1940s, british music hall. Truly amazing. Although I am a sucker for that type of tune. Hard to believe the guys that made those "punk" records followed them with sweet sophistication.

Anonymous said...

Sal, your single of the day reminded me that Creation Records' Alan McGee periodically made records in the 80's under the band name of Biff Bang Pow which paid homage to various 60's styles. I don't think they ever got a US release, but each album had more than a few keepers.

Also, Indigo Girls' "Come On Now Social" is a dead ringer for an REM album.