Monday, November 19, 2007

A Guide to the Cover Version

Cover versionsI was recently given a copy of "Radio 1 Established 1967" which is an album containing a song from each year of Radio 1's existence covered by a modern artist. Most of the bands seem to have made faithful replicas of the songs they are covering, others have opted to put their own mark on songs. Which strategy is best? You don't want to deliver a karaoke version, nor do you want to "murder the original".

Often the choice of cover version hints at the covering artist's musical tastes and influences. For the listener, it can act as a pointer to areas of music that the listener may wish to explore further - Elliott Smith would cover songs by The Beatles, The Kinks and Big Star in his live performances, and all three are worth further listening.

There are many reasons why a band will record someone else's song, to find out why, you need to read my "Guide to the Cover Version".

Tribute album

Someone will come up with the idea of re-recording a classic album or doing an album of one artist's songs with a selection of acts choosing a song to cover each. A good example of this would be The Smiths is Dead or the Leonard Cohen tribute I'm your fan. The most horrific example of its form is George Martin's collection of Beatles covers, In My Life, sung by motley collection of hacks and celebrites, including Jim Carey barking along to "I am the Walrus".

Indie band covers throwaway pop song

If a "serious" Indie artist wants to show that they have a sense of humour, or wish to engage in a bit of "so-bad-it's-good" kitsch, then they can pick a song as far as possible away from their area of expertise. Travis's cover of "Hit me baby one more time" and Joyrider's cover of the sublime "Rush Hour" by Jane Wiedlin, come to mind. It doesn't always work; Belle & Sebastian have covered Rod Stewart's "Baby Jane", which is ill-advised at best.

Pop star covers "credible" song

When Paul Young decided to cover Joy Division's "Love will tear us apart", the former Q-Tips front man must have been looking to shrug off the memory of singing "White bread, brown bread, all sorts of wholemeal bread" on "Toast". The All Saints cover of "Under the bridge" annoyed many sweaty men without shirts, while Gareth Gates & Will Young's "Long and Winding Road" could have been an incitement to riot. Often this category of covers is referred to as "murdering the original", but there are positive exceptions like the Byrds "Mr Tambourine Man" for instance.

An album of "standards"

At Christmas time, one is guaranteed to find an album of "standards" being performed by someone. Whether it is Robbie Williams, Westlife or Rod Stewart, a big band is wheeled out to create a stocking filler for the aged parent.

Old-timer covers modern song

An ageing rock legend can borrow hipness by covering a more modern song. A good example would be Johnny Cash recording Depeche Mode's "Personal Jesus" or anything recorded by Tom Jones in the last 20 years.

Cross-genre shock

To generate a bit of publicity, a cover version can be taken out of its original context to provide shock value. Who would have thought that the Smiths classics "Stop me if you think you've heard this one before" or "How soon is now" would be covered by such hamfisted hands as Mark Ronson or Tatu, respectively?

Time signature shock

A sure-fire way to disorientate your audience is to change the time-signature of the original. St Etienne performed this trick with Neil Young's "Only love will break your heart"; transforming its 3-time lilt into a 4-time plodder.

The Mash-Up

Not strictly speaking a cover version, but more of musical nod than sampling, a mash-up is one song sung over the backing track of another. Although it sounds like it could be a recipe for disaster, it can have devastating results, with the Sugababes' "Freak like me" knocking the Adina Howard original into a cocked hat.

Insipid boy-band slush

Louis Walsh's bands generally gorge themselves at the cover version table, their sweet tooth making the product a vile and sticky concoction designed to entrap the musically undeveloped and their twisted parents. Nothing good can come of this. Usually these songs fall into the "murdering the original" category, but there is a certain amount of "blue on blue" fire here, with the originals being by Manilow, the Osmonds or some other hapless balladeer. Walsh has turned musical grave-robbing into a lifestyle choice for a procession of Irish farm-hands.


Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The musical au pair returns

Wiyana - the musical au pair
Fans of The Ape will already know of The Au Pair Story and how music was recorded, produced by me and released on CD.

Well now the electronic internet has caught up with events and Wiyana's works can be found on the popular website Myspace. Like most MySpace pages it is full of chaos, animated frippery and lots of people saying "Thanks for the add". But it's a start.


Time Machine

Tardis - It's a time machine
Part of Apple's latest operating system OS X Leopard is Time Machine a marvel of usability and elegance. If you want to back up your computer (which nowadays contains all of your emails, contacts, calendar, photos, music, videos, documents and pornography), you simply connect an external USB drive or networked disk and an entire snapshot of your computer is taken. Then every hour, a further backup of the changes since last time are taken allowing an efficient and automated backup to take place.

It gets better. You can then go back to any hour in the last 24, any day in the last month or any week for ever and see what was on your computer at that point. If you are in your Mail program when you run Time Machine you see your in-box at the point it was backed up. If you are looking at the contents of a folder, you see the contents of the folder in the past.

If you can't find what you want, you simply use the Spotlight search tool to search or you file by name or keywords and it will search your files from the past, just as you can with files from the present.

It is uncommonly good.
Apple Time Machine Screenshot

It works by using Unix's hard-links, rather like rsnapshot does for the rsync file transfer tool.

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Monday, November 12, 2007


I love Sky+. I've had it for five years and it is a marvel of ease-of-use and function. It allows two programmes to be recorded at once while you watch one of those programmes or a previously recorded one. You can keep your programmes for as long as you like. The shows are stored on the unit's hard disk and are saved without compression, so a perfect picture (weather permitting) is guaranteed. It integrates seamlessly into the Sky Planner (tv guide) so that even an idiot can use it. But it isn't perfect. Here is my feature requests for a new Sky+ version:


You can't search the TV schedules by keyword you can only look at the next 2 day's listings in an A-Z programme list. You should be able to search by title, genre, actor, director etc.

Series Link

The current series link thing is great. You just click a button and every episode of, say, The West Wing is recorded for you. It falls over if the next episode is more than a week away (e.g. if Children in Need gets in the way) or if the programme publishers fail to inform Sky how the episodes link together or sometimes it says "The series links is not available". Series linking should be more powerful. You should be a able to see when the next episode is being recorded, what its name is, how far through the series you are etc.


Sometimes you are faced with three programmes that need to be recorded at the same time, usually 9pm on a Friday. Sky+ helpfully tells you that it can only record two programmes at once but it could go further. It could work out that Have I Got News For You is repeated on BBC2 the following day or that Friends is available an hour later on E4+1, but it doesn't.

Faster Programme Guide

The electronic programme guide is quick for today and the next 48 hours but for the rest of the week it gets progressively slower. A "searching for listings" message appears as it wait for the listings to arrive from the satellite, just like Teletext used to. In this day and age, and with the broadcast bandwidth that Sky has, they can afford to send the entire week's schedule to the Sky+ in a couple of seconds and the box can keep it on its massive hard disk, for swift access and searching.

Prettier Programme Guide

Pictures would be nice. Cast list. Year made. Director. etc.etc.

Sky Recommends

By profiling your viewing habits they could suggest similar programmes to you, like Tivo does in America. e.g. People who watched Spooks and Lead Balloon also watched "Dog the Bounty Hunter".

Online Privacy and security

facebookA BBC news report highlights the dangers of posting your personal details online. The Facebook phenomenon means that millions of people have put their name, address, date of birth, tastes, work history and club memberships online. But that's all right isn't it? Facebook's profiles, unlike MySpace's are private aren't they? Not really. Your details are visible to your "friends" but some information is posted publically and can be reached by the likes of Google.

Identity Theft

If an impostor wishes to steal your identity they may be able to find more than enough detail from public information (electoral roll) and your online footprint without having to scrabble through your bins.

Wi-fi security

A lot of people operate their domestic Wi-fi without any security measures in place which would allow any passing laptop or iPhone to join your network behind your firewall! If you're running a Windows machine, I would be concerned about that.

Your internet footprint

Any active internet user leaves a trail of activity wherever they go; blog posts, comments, social networking connections, surveys, photo databases, site memberships etc. The trouble is that a lot of people (especially the young) will post any old thing online from hilarious pub anecdotes to photos of bacchanalian evenings. Perhaps at the time of posting, the blogger or Facebooker may not realise that the material will hang around for ever on the site and be picked up by search engines. In twenty years time, when the person is applying to be an M.P or the Archbishop of Canterbury, their employer may uncover the evidence of a profligate lifestyle. I'm all for doing what your like in the comfort of your own home, but you don't have to video it and put it on the internet.