The Worst Cover I’ve Ever Heard™

I love cover songs. If any artist has an interesting or entertaining version of someone else’s music, then I’m generally down for it. My personal music collection contains something like 1500 cover songs from different artists.

I especially love when a cover is so good that it becomes the more well-known version, and the fact that it was sung previously by another artist becomes a matter of trivia. A great example of this is “Istanbul (Not Constantinople).” I became acquainted with this song originally as the version from They Might Be Giants, on their 1990 album Flood. The original is a 1953 track by The Four Lads.

Sometimes, if I’m not in the mood for something specific, I’ll just fire up a good old fashioned shuffle play. My continuing adventures in shuffle-play recently served up the Worst Cover I’ve Ever Heard™. I do not use this label lightly. I’ll forgive a lot, with the possible exception of covers of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah- none of them get it right. Sometimes a cover misses greatness and it’s just sort of okay- this was not that. This cover is actively, horribly terrible.

I’m not making this up. And those of you who’ve known me for a while know that because I’m fond of covers. I love the hell out of all kinds of covers, even the covers that make purists run away, climb trees, and gibber.

But this… this…

It all started one night many years ago, probably in 1998 or 1999. I had gone to Respectable Street Cafe to dance and drink and hang out with my friends. When I arrived, there was a band playing.

The band was called Apocalypse Theatre, and they produced two albums between 1998 and 2002. They still have an active FaceBook presence, although I haven’t been able to find any new music by them after 2002. I remember thinking at the time that most of their music was fine, a sort of industrial-with-a-side-of-noise aesthetic. They reminded me a bit of Android Lust, only not as danceable.

I remember it very clearly- I was sitting out on the back patio happily talking with friends when they played The Cover. I didn’t even notice it at first- It was so, so bad that they were a good two minutes or so into the song before I even realized what it was. When I noticed it, I stopped, flabbergasted. Then I ran into the interior of the club to hear the rest.

It was so amazingly bad that I bought the unlabelled cassette they were selling for $8, hoping like hell that the song would be on it. By the way, this show occurred well after the compact disc was commonplace, but they were still selling tapes.

The tape did have the Worst Cover I’ve Ever Heard™. Years later, I took the time and effort involved to move it from cassette to mp3. Now I’m sharing it with you. Apocalypse Theatre’s finest work. The Worst Cover Song Ever.

I deliberately encoded this without the song title, because I want to see how long it takes each of you to figure out what the song is. ::evil grin::

Try to figure out what song this is.

If you figure it out right away, please, please, please don’t answer in the comments. I don’t want to deprive anyone of their chance to puzzle through this for the first time. If you’ve listened, and you still haven’t figured it out, I put the answer over here. Oh, and the rest of their stuff is over on Spotify, and it’s worth a listen.

Provided this one track hasn’t shaken you to your core, that is.

What’s your favorite cover song?

45/52 (and 24 of 30!)

Happy Pepper Day!

Today is Pepper Day!   While Nano Poblano is only in November, Pepper Day is the 22nd day of every month, so it's extra Peppery!  Post something today.  A blog, a photo, a poem- anything at all! Tag it PepperDay!  Enjoy, and Happy Peppering!

To celebrate Pepper Day, I will tell you about the day the music returned.

When the pandemic hit, music around the world ground to a halt. The last concert I attended was a show by Transviolet at a small club in downtown Orlando on March 1st. The week after that, I was in New York for work, and some of my co-workers saw Broadway shows on the last few nights before the Great White Way went dark.

By the third week of March, everything else started to shut down. Every concert I had remaining in South Florida – and several in other states- was either canceled or postponed. Conventions were pushed off. A big family gathering on the west coast was postponed, which killed my plans to see Portland and Seattle on either side of the family stuff.

By the time the dust settled, every single concert, convention, trip, or airplane ride I had planned for the year was wiped clean from my calendar. The few shows that did get rescheduled were all pushed off to next year, no earlier than springtime. I resigned myself to nothing live, just live streams and prerecorded stuff until the pandemic was behind us.

Then I learned about the Birchmere.

The Birchmere is a music hall in Alexandria, Virginia. First opened in 1966, the Birchmere has been home to rock, blues, jazz, country, R&B, and bluegrass artists. The main hall seats 500, with a smallish stage and food service.

The food is the key here: Because the Birchmere has food, it was able to open in July under Virginia “kinda-sorta restaurant” guidelines. Smaller crowds were necessary because of the reduced capacity during Covid, but the music continues.

On October 19th, I went to the Birchmere for the first time, to see a rock guitarist named Samantha Fish. This was one of two sold-out shows- where sold out is still roughly 25 percent of the music hall’s total capacity.

The Birchmere has had a lot of amazing shows, and their entry hall walls are lined with concert posters and framed photos, many of them signed by the artists. I haven’t the foggiest clue what made me decide that the Spin Doctors was the best example of this legendary musical talent represented in this hallway, but this is the one photo I took of the walls.

Because this was my first time at the Birchmere, I arrived a little earlier than was really necessary. Once I arrived, they took my temperature at the door and guided me to a table. I was seated up front, just a few feet from the stage and spaced a table’s length from any other people. I ordered the fish and chips and a Red Stripe while I waited for the show to start. This was my view.

I’m not going to lie- it felt weird to be out at a concert while the pandemic is still ongoing. Even with everyone masked, it was the first time I’d been around that many people in more than six months.

It was all worth it, though, when the show started. When the music returned.

And Samantha Fish began very seriously to rock.

What was the last concert you saw?

43/52 (and 22 of 30!)

My Prime Directives

Several of the other Nano Poblano participants this month have posted entries which led me to respond with comments about the set of rules that I have taken to calling my Prime Directives. Yes, that’s a nod to Star Trek, because of course it is.

Obviously I have to obey certain rules and customs to get along in this world, like wearing clothing to the grocery store and so forth. “Thou shalt not give people involuntary haircuts.” Aside from the basics, I don’t have a lot of rules though.

Being an adult with no real requirements on my time besides work and basic existence means I can pretty much do my own thing, and that means I get to set my own rules for getting along in life.

That’s where my Prime Directives come in.

This may not be a complete list- sometimes I add or remove directives on the fly, as they occur to me. I might also have forgotten something as I write this up.

For this precise moment in time, at least, and in no particular order, this is my list of Prime Directives.

Rule the first: Be kind.

This means exactly what it says. I try to be kind to other people, and I hope very much that when most people think of me, they think of me as a kind person.

Sometimes I’m bad at this one. Very few people in this world have seen me truly angry, but those who have seen my anger know that I can be a spiteful, vindictive, cruel bastard. I have Bruce Banner’s problem. It’s always there, the rage, right under the surface. I try to negate that as much as possible by choosing to be kind whenever possible.

It seems like the thing to do.

Rule the second: Never eat anything bigger than your head.

This one is lifted from a 1976 B. Kliban book I read when I was a kid. When I was little, it was funny to me, but as I got older, I realized it’s actually really, really good advice. I have stomach issues, and eating too much is a trigger for Very Bad Things to happen to my digestion. Plus I could make some earnest noises here about moderation being good for you, I guess.

Rule the third: Share the music.

Music is life. Music is very often the one thing that truly saves what’s left of my sanity – if I don’t listen to it for too long, I get cranky. It calms me, reduces my anxiety, helps me concentrate, and elates me.

If I had to choose, right now, between a life without delicious food or a life without music, I would say “sign me up for the cream of wheat, and then let’s go to a concert.”

It’s precisely because I love music this much that I believe it’s important to share it. When I was in high school, I made mix tapes. Later in life, I made mix CDs. Even now, sometimes I’ll put together mixes to share with people- the method changes over time, but the goal is always the same: “Let me play this amazing song for you! I hope you love it as much as I do!”

Music is life. Sharing the music means sharing life. It’s that simple.

Rule the fourth: Embrace your whimsy.

I am a silly, silly man, and don’t you forget it.

My second favorite thing to do with other people, right after sharing music, is to make them laugh. I’ve said on numerous occasions that my resting state is whimsy, and I think that’s basically true. If I am drained of my other emotions, and free of anger or ennui or despair, then what remains is just pure unbridled whimsy.

Leaning into my own whimsy helps me keep things light. Embracing my inner Muppet keeps me balanced.

Rule the fifth: Never wait longer than 70 minutes for a theme park ride.

This one is just good common sense for logistical planning. No ride is worth standing in line for more than an hour and ten minutes when you’re surrounded by the entire rest of the theme park. Especially when the entire ride only lasts five or six minutes. Just go do something else instead of waiting in line. You’ll definitely have more fun that way.

A Questionable Rule the sixth: Nothing good happens after 2 AM.

While I never heard this one articulated until I was watching “How I Met Your Mother,” it’s an often true statement. I can think of many, many times that I’ve stayed up late on the off chance that something cool would happen, only to have nothing happen, or worse, to have bad things happen instead.

I marked this one as “questionable” because I can think of a handful of times that I’ve had really cool stuff happen well after 2 am. Only a handful, though. Most of the time, it’s just better to go to sleep.

Everyone says you should get enough sleep, right?

Rule the seventh: Family is important.

I am fortunate to have a fairly close-knit family. My siblings and I get along really well, despite all the times they’ve tried to kill me. This extends to more than just that first ring of family, too. Just last week, I had lunch with my cousin because she’s not far away and I enjoy her company. It’s important to me to try to nourish those relationships when I can. Speaking of which- Happy Birthday, Older Brother! (Even though I’m positive you’ll never see this blog post.)

Obviously this Directive doesn’t work for everyone- I have loads of friends who don’t speak to their birth family or have disowned parents or siblings over long and sustained pain. That’s why this isn’t just limited to families of blood. Families of choice are important too.

The people you choose to thread through your life are another kind of family. I have friends all over the world, and many of them are, in my estimation, a type of family. There are people in Germany who are dear to me, and people in Orlando, and people in Long Beach, or in New Orleans, or in South Florida.

Family is important, whether you grew up with them or added them on later in life.

Do you have any Prime Directives of your own?

42/52 (and 21 of 30!)


Getting To Know You

Allllllllll the way back on the second day of Nano Poblano, Anyes posted a “Let’s get to know each other” entry on her blog, and it posed a few questions that I thought would be fun to come back to.

What’s the #1 most played song on your playlist?

When I saw this posted by Anyes, I checked the play counts in my iTunes app, and found that “Undisclosed Desires” by Muse was at the top of the list. Well, a non-musical binaural sleep track filled with white noise was actually the most played item, but Muse was right behind.

Here are the top five played (musical) tracks in my iTunes library. It is undeniably a fascinating cross-section of some of the music that makes me tick.

  1. Muse – Undisclosed Desires
  2. Anthony David – God Said
  3. Information Society – Run Away
  4. Sara Bareilles – Let The Rain
  5. La Roux – As If By Magic

There’s a problem with this list, though. Several problems, actually. First of all, I suffered a library glitch with iTunes on October 5th, 2008. All the data was reset on that day- no song in my iTunes library has a “Date Added” later than 10/5/08, and any plays from the years before are gone. I started using iTunes with my first iPod back in 2003, so that’s five years of play data gone.

Secondly, this question doesn’t specify which playlist. I have many, many, many playlists. Or even which audio source- there is still a CD in my car’s deck, although I’ve forgotten which one- but I used to spin it a lot. Before that, there were mix tapes and soundtracks that got played until they were practically worn out, and I’m confident some of those had more plays than the count on that Muse song at the top of this post.

Third, this question doesn’t take into account things from streaming sources like Spotify, Pandora, and Amazon Music- and you’d better believe I use all three.

Music is life.

I checked my Spotify account, and while I can’t find actual play totals, I can tell what the two most played songs on my Spotify account are. The first is Shriekback’s “Nemesis,” which I love in part because it’s a dance-floor banger and in part because they managed to squeeze “parthenogenesis” into the lyrics and it totally works. The other one is Sam Palladio and Clare Bowen from Nashville singing “If I Didn’t Know Better,” which is an absolute smokeshow of a song.

Clearly, the most played song is flexible, frangible. It can be changed by time, or mood, or salinity, by life events and tragedy or triumph.

Sometimes I just like to hear certain harmonies, certain orchestrations.

I strongly doubt that this has helped you to know me any better.

What is one of your favorite quotes?

I have loads of favorite quotes, but the first one that came to mind when I was writing this post was-

Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter.” The words were Yoda, but the delivery was Frank Oz. This line is from a four minute long scene on Dagobah in The Empire Strikes Back which contains a heap of Yoda’s most famous lines: “Do or do not; there is no try.” “Judge me by my size, do you?” “That is why you fail.” These are all lines from the same scene, but the one that always gets me is this one. If this movie is playing on television and I happen to be walking through the room, I will stop dead in my tracks for this line.

I feel like my explanation for why I like this quote so much is inadequate. I do believe in the shining potential of most people, though, and I think it sums that up pretty well.

What sound do you love?

Anyes already claimed rain, so I can’t use that as my answer. I guess I’ll have to go with the sound of a rolling suitcase moving over sidewalk- that roll-click-roll-click-roll-click sound.

My apartment in Germany was less than half a kilometer, about a third of a mile, from the city’s main train station. People would walk past all the time with those rolling suitcases. Since I had no air conditioning, I kept the window open through most of the year, and that rolling thumping noise became very soothing to me.

Now that I think about it, all the other sounds of the train station are soothing to me as well. On a clear, quiet night, the announcements on the platforms were audible from my apartment. I could hear the sounds of trains rolling in or rolling out in the distance.

I loved all of it.

Now it’s your turn. Care to answer any of these questions?

33/52 (and 12 of 30!)

That Ten Albums Meme

For a while now, I’ve been seeing a meme popping up on BookFace and other social media:

List 10 albums that made a lasting impression on you as a TEENAGER, but only one per band/artist.

This came up in a conversation the other day, and I spiraled out, because that’s what my brain does when I start thinking about music. I spent several hours compiling (and repeatedly revising) my own list of albums.

These aren’t all necessarily from my teen years though- I chose to go a slightly different direction, listing albums that were very influential to me throughout my formative years. Each of the titles listed was important to me for different reasons during the parts of my life where I was learning who I am. The oldest album on the list was released when I was two years old, although I didn’t hear it until I was a teenager. The newest release on the list came out in 1999, roughly a month after I finished off my bachelor’s degree. Here they are in release order:

Alice Cooper - Welcome To My Nightmare album cover

Alice Cooper – Welcome To My Nightmare (released March 11, 1975) – By the time I finally heard this album for the first time, I had already graduated high school. This album marked the first time I’d ever heard a song with my name as the title.

That song, “Steven,” is part of a trio of songs that tell a story end to end, in a really fascinating way. I’m also a big fan of Vincent Price’s cameo in the song- to borrow a line from Dana Gould, “he’s my favorite everything!

Styx - Kilroy Was Here album cover

Styx – Kilroy Was Here (released February 22, 1983) – In 1983, “Mr. Roboto” was all over the radio, and the sound of it had a sci-fi aesthetic that absolutely appealed to ten-year-old me. This album was released three months before Return of the Jedi hit theaters for the first time, and I was incredibly jazzed for both.

Kilroy Was Here was the first time I had ever really been aware of an entire album having a single story to tell. You never forget your first concept album. The different members of the band play specific characters in the story, and I just thought that was amazing.

I also have a favorite “my brother did that” story about this song- I had been using my little tape recorder, pulling it to the television or the radio to collect the songs that I liked- a precursor to the mix tapes I made later on. One night while my family was gathered together for dinner, I held my trusty tape recorder up to the television while they played the video to Mr. Roboto on “Solid Gold.” About two-thirds of the way into the video, my brother exclaimed, “I finally understand this song.” This was the only version of Mr. Roboto I had on tape for years to come.

Depeche Mode - Some Great Reward album cover

Depeche Mode – Some Great Reward (released September 24, 1984) – While my favorite Depeche Mode album is actually 1990’s Violator, Some Great Reward was my first DM title, and my first exposure to an entire genre of music.

It was in a classroom- I don’t even remember which one now. I don’t remember the name of the guy who first let me hear Depeche Mode on his walkman, but I still remember his spiked up black hair and his so-shiny patent leather boots. He was the first of many, many, many friends who listened to goth, industrial, synthpop, post-punk, and electronic music. He had tapes for his Walkman tape deck with Depeche Mode, The Cure, The The, and a few others. (Side note: Try searching for “The The” in most search engines. Without qualifying words like song titles, it’s an exercise in frustration.) He let me listen to a few songs from this album and I was hooked- and Depeche Mode went into my mental playlist forevermore.

Weird Al Yankovic - Dare To Be Stupid album cover

Weird Al Yankovic – Dare To Be Stupid (released June 18, 1985) – Needless to say, I was already a Weird Al fan when Dare To Be Stupid dropped into stores. Ironically, it was Al’s originals that brought me to his fandom, not his parodies.

I spent my middle school days waiting in the lunch line with Brian and Phil, singing all the songs from “In 3-D,” especially Midnight Star and Nature Trail To Hell. When I got my copy of Dare To Be Stupid, I immediately gravitated to Slime Creatures From Outer Space, This Is The Life, One More Minute, and of course Yoda. To this day, Dare To Be Stupid is a regular feature during my karaoke nights, and I’ve seen Weird Al live several times. The most recent live Weird Al show I attended was just last summer, thirty-five years after the first time I heard one of his amazing polka medleys.

Information Society - Information Society album cover

Information Society – Information Society (released June 21, 1988) – When InSoc dropped their self-titled album, I was regularly attending parent-mandated group therapy, and I listened to this tape over and over again while driving to and from the doctor’s office where my therapy was held.

I practically wore out the tape- I already knew that I loved electronic music, and the theatricality of Kurt Harland, Jim Cassidy, and Paul Robb immediately caught my attention.

It took almost another three decades before I was finally able to see them live- partly because the band broke up after the third album. I purchased every one of their albums, including 1997’s “Don’t Be Afraid,” which was released by Kurt Harland without the rest of the group.

The band members went on to do their own things for a while: Harland writes music and does audio engineering for video games, Cassidy is faculty at Oregon State University, and Robb continued to make music without the Information Society name. They reformed the band in 2006, and I was finally able to catch them live a few years later. I’ve seen them three times now, twice by flying to a show in another state, and it’s a great show every time.

Cyndi Lauper - A Night To Remember album cover

Cyndi Lauper – A Night To Remember (released May 9, 1989) – While “She’s So Unusual” is more widely known (and has bigger sales numbers), A Night To Remember is the album that locked me in as a Cyndi Lauper fan.

This album was originally supposed to include “Hole In My Heart (That Goes All The Way To China)” from the movie soundtrack of Vibes, but when the movie didn’t do well they reworked it. Several of my favorite Cyndi Lauper songs were hilariously never on any of her albums.

In any case, the summer of 1989 was the summer before my senior year of high school, and the music on A Night To Remember spoke to my nascent longing and romanticism in ways that no other music had before. Plus the drums in “I Drove All Night” really slap.

Prince - Batman album cover

Prince – Batman (released June 20, 1989) – The summer of 1989 saw the release of the first Michael Keaton Batman movie. I had a job that summer as a dishwasher in a Wag’s Restaurant- they no longer exist, and the location where I worked in the River Bridge shopping center in Lake Worth is an IHOP these days.

That summer, I had a Walkman and a bag full of cassette tapes. I would spend time with my high-pressure water spray, and Prince. Or Paula Abdul. Or Cyndi, from the last album I mentioned. Or even Milli Vanilli, before they were discredited.

I’ve been a fan of Prince ever since the first time I heard his music, but when he did the soundtrack to a comic book movie, two of my favorite things in the world commingled. This album is also the source of a joke that I listened to hundreds of times before finally getting it one random afternoon just a few years ago. Yes, it took me nearly thirty years to grok the punchline of this joke. And no I’m not going to tell you which joke.

Erasure - Chorus album cover

Erasure – Chorus (released October 14, 1991) – I’ve seen Erasure in concert several times, and while my favorite Erasure tour was absolutely the amazing Nightbird tour around 2005, that wasn’t my favorite album from Andy Bell and Vince Clarke. That honor belongs to Chorus.

This album just saw a thirtieth anniversary release, not in the United States of course, with remasters of the original ten songs, a second disc of remixes, and a third disc containing the entire album performed live in Manchester from 1992. Of course I lapped up the entire thing- Chorus was the soundtrack to my 1992, end to end. The number of memories I have pertaining to people and places around this album cannot be counted. To this day, “Am I Right” is a song that I hum to myself whenever it rains. (Unless I’m singing that other song about rain, that is.)

Toys - Music from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack album cover

Toys – Music from the Motion Picture Soundtrack (released December 15, 1992) – I don’t get to talk about it much these days, but my first job ever was at a movie theater. Over the years, I’ve worked at five different movie theaters, and in 1992 I was working in a theater that played Toys.

This brilliant Robin Williams movie contained a fantastic cast. (To this day, some of my electronics are named after Joan Cusack’s character.) The soundtrack includes some of the most original and creative music I’ve ever heard, including a few tracks that I go back to over and over again throughout the years. I’m especially fond of “The Closing of the Year,” featuring Wendy and Lisa (who are themselves better known for being part of Prince’s band The Revolution.) I tend to spin up that song on New Year’s Eve, in a sort of personal musical tradition.

I’ve found that a well-curated movie soundtrack can be a thing of beauty and wonder, and this is one of my favorites. (See also: Cool World, The Crow, Mortal Kombat — amazing soundtracks, all.)

VNV Nation - Empires album cover

VNV Nation – Empires (released in 1999 in Europe, and May 16, 2000 in the US) – While I was a University of Central Florida student in Orlando, there was a stretch of time where I was going out dancing five nights a week. I had a tremendous rotation of clubs that simply is not possible in the city now.

The amazing Embassy Music Hall is a fricking Wal-Mart Grocery now. I can’t remember precisely where Club Zen was, but I think it’s currently called the “Tequila Lounge Club.” Cairo was downtown but it’s not there anymore. The Blue Room? That’s gone too. The only one of the original clubs from that time still standing is Barbarella, which was renamed the Independent Bar and now only has the kind of music I want to dance to once a month, stupidly always on a Monday.

In late 1999, I had just completed my degree, and I was forced to move back to South Florida even though I didn’t want to leave Orlando. VNV Nation was already well played in the kinds of clubs I went to, but when this album dropped, their music was suddenly everywhere. It was the first album in quite a while that I could listen to end-to-end without feeling the urge to skip to something else. For a span of several years in the early 2000s, this type of music- EBM and synthpop- was my most listened to genre. At a time where I was sort of adrift, many of these songs soothed me in a way that I could never really articulate. Even today, when the mood is just-so, this is the kind of music I seek out.

I realized while I was writing this post that with the exception of the soundtrack to Toys, I’ve seen the artists of the other nine albums live. All of them. Most of them I’ve seen more than once. I find that kind of remarkable, but also not very surprising.

Also, I came up with a smaller list during the making of the list above which contains five much more recent albums that I enjoy enough to listen to end-to-end. Just for giggles, here’s those five with absolutely zero additional commentary:

1. Muse – The Resistance (2009)
2. Taylor Swift – 1989 (2014)
3. Peter Cincotti – Metropolis (2012)
4. The Greatest Showman (2017)
5. Alice Merton – Mint (2019)

I listed ten of my most influential albums in this post. Now tell me one of yours!

11/52