Maybe not murder, but definitely manslaughter

As promised, here's a few words on Yo La Tengo's latest release, Yo La Tengo Is Murdering the Classics, which I think is only available from their web site. (At least, that's where I ordered my copy when the local record shop had no listing for it.) The premise of the disc, in case you missed my last post on it, is a collection of spontaneous covers Yo La performed live on WFMU, as part of the radio station's annual fundraising drive. They've been doing this every year since 1997, and this album collects tunes from 1997-2003.

The disc is every bit the novelty item I thought it would be, so I wasn't let down by the fact that some of the covers are, uh, suspect at best. The covers range from bizarre (Yoko Ono, Yes) to predictable (Modern Lovers, Velvet Underground, Replacements) to silly ("The Hokey Pokey," "Oh Bondage, Up Yours!"), and even cover some of the "classics" (Bachman Turner Overdrive and Billy Joel, anyone?). The performances are all over the map, although it's clear that three or fours years into this venture they decided it would at least be beneficial to Google the lyrics before playing the song. They're at their best when they stray furthest from their normal sound, as on "Meet the Mets" (the NY Mets old theme song), T. Rex's "20th Century Boy" (with James McNew on lead vocals!), '70s pop standard "Rock the Boat," and R&B classic "Tighten Up," originally recorded by Archie Bell and the Drells in '68. I mean, they're cover of The Stooges' "Raw Power" is fine, it's just a bit of a yawner.

I've selected "Tighten Up" for your listening pleasure. If you're not familiar with it already, do listen to the original first. What I love about Yo La's cover is that they distill the song down to its fundamental core, the shout-out solo sections where Archie demands specific band members to "tighten up". It's a standard call-and-response R&B move, one that James Brown used to great effect on many of his recordings. To here Ira demand Georgia to "tighten up" on the drums is, well, funny, because it's so far out of their natural element. (FYI, that's Lois Maffeo and Bruce Bennett that Ira refers to in the song.) So, if you like witnessing a fish out of water, then you'll probably find a good deal of this album to be charming.

Archie Bell & the Drells - "Tighten Up"

Yo La Tengo - "Tighten Up"

Do click on the cover art up top to read the individual panels.

1 comment:

Listmaker said...

i've given that meet the mets cover to my third grade class a number of times on the year end cd that i give each kid. i didn't put it on last year's cd. considering that my current class consists of mostly yankee fans, i might have to bring it back for this year's edition.

i like the r.e.m. version of tighten up from the 80's as well.