The Serpico Mixes: The Covers Disc

In a joint collaboration with my weekday roommate and Bronx ally Skip Serpico, I’ll be discussing a mix CD a week. He makes them, I listen to them and provide my in the moment commentary. You, hopefully, read said commentary and maybe open up your musical horizons. You can come here every week for the Serpico Mixes. And you should also visit Skip’s site, Fission Spaghetti, for his musings on food and Saturday Night Live (and more!)

Don't be blue! Covers are good fun!

Don't be blue! Covers are good fun!

Mix #3

Theme: Covers

This just felt too perfect not to use.  (image from

This just felt too perfect not to use.  (image from


Deadwood opener- You just can’t go wrong with a Swearengen speech to start your disc.

God Put A Smile Upon Your Face by Mark Ronson– I am not necessarily a huge fan of an instrumental track on a songs album—ask Genesis how I feel about “The Brazilian—but this is brassy and fun.

Dancing in the Dark by Peter Yorn- Yorn does a pretty great job of doing a solid Springsteen at his gravelest, which, against the sparse arrangement, makes “Dancing” a strangely beautiful haunting ballad.

Never Tear Us Apart by Beck- As I review these, I realize I have a lot of “weaknesses” for certain kinds of songs or approach to music and the gender swapped cover is definitely one of these. You record a song the a man made famous and you are a woman or vice versa and you have captured my attention from jump street. I might still not end up liking it, but it gets you in the door.

(And yes, I know this is Beck’s cover of the song, but St. Vincent sang it so it is a woman’s voice on a song that was made famous with a man’s voice so it still works)

That’s a long way to go to explain that I like this song. St. Vincent’s fragile rendition set mostly to strings is a bittersweet take on an INXS hit that embraced the music of that era.

Iron Man by The Cardigans– A very different take on Black Sabbath—and look gender swapped!—marks the first time I’ve actually heard and understood the lyrics to this song. It did feel a little long on first listen, less so on second. Perhaps I just needed to break it in a bit.

Regardless of I grow a little weary of it by end, I mostly just love it. How great are the Cardigans, right? Anyway, their take on “Iron Man” makes it a kind of spaced out 70’s esque torch song and that is pretty excellent.

(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction by Cat Power– If you were one of those people who complained bitterly about Britney Spears covering this Rolling Stone classic—and yes, I suspect that included me at time…I was a touchy consumer of media, even back then—here’s the antidote. It turns out covering “Satisfaction” is a noble endeavor indeed.

Putting Cat’s (Power’s?) sad, sweet take against a simple, repetitive piano loop turns the rocking ode to frustration into a song about the aftermath of frustration. Power (Cat?) does not sound like Mick Jagger’s full in the throes of not getting his way anger but rather the resigned acceptance of prolonged disappointment. She’s not fighting frustration, she acknowledging how far away satisfaction lives, possibly forever.

Hit Me Baby One More Time by Travis- Speaking of Britney and the Britney appears. Or rather this cover does. It’s gender swapped, so, check and I am far enough away from my high school years and the Brit invasion (if you don’t like what I just did there, well screw you sir or madame) that I can say that “Baby” is one well-crafted pop song and stands up well to covering, especially this acoustic rock interpretation.

Is This Love? by Corinne Bailey Rae- Unpopular opinion time. I do not like Bob Marley’s musical catalogue. I probably do not like reggae in general, but as a white guy from suburban Connecticut, Marley IS reggae and it feels wrong to judge an entire genre by one singer/band.

Anyway, I am not sure if, when I do not like the original, it is easier or harder for me to like the cover. Here, in this American standards-esque interpretation, it certainly did not hurt it. I choose this one every day of the week and twice on Sunday over it’s reggae predecessor.

Let’s Dance by M. Ward-Unpopular opinion #2: I know “Dance” is part of Bowie’s sellout period, but damn if I do not like it. Do not ask me about “China Girl” though. That is a bridge too far for this guy.

Anyway, this more aching, soft interpretation has my vote until the harmonica showcase. Harmonicas are fine, but the rest of the song is so delicate, the mouth harp just kind of…shatters it. When Ward comes back on the track, he carries the day again, but for those 20 seconds around 2:30, the song loses me.

Dreams by The Kills- I kept wanting the song to really cut loose and unleash The Kills in full and at least twice the music seems to be building to that, but, alas. It is still a strong rendition with volume and depth but the closest it comes to what I was hoping for was around 3:30 when the male vocal joined in. It was a bit too little too late though.

Still a cover I quite like, despite my hopes/expectations.

Lovesong by Adele- I wonder if the Counting Crows or the Wallflowers backed up Adele here because I can hear touches of both of them in the arrangement.

Please understand though, I’m not complaining. The layered orchestration gives the song some nice thickness and Adele’s voice is plenty equal to the challenge it throws down, as if you couldn’t guess that.

The World Has Turned and Left Me Here by Christopher John- Heartbreaking. So heartbreaking. I love it. It feels like—and I say this knowing it might not mean anything to you, but it makes sense to me—a late summer/Indian summer night. Hot all day, cool but not too cool, reading a book in your room with your windows wide open. I cannot quite capture why it feels that why, but when I close my eyes, that is where I see myself. I guess it speaks to the kind of music I am attracted to at that time of year.

Play with Fire by The Dum Dum Girls- A fuzzy distorted take on the Stones. Like you took the song, fed it through R.E.M.’s Monster album added a dash of the epic and brought in a female vocalist. Somehow, it feels like a simultaneously bigger and smaller take on the tune.

Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me by She & Him- A fairly faithful take on the 1952 tune. Like Scarlett Johansson on the Concerts mix, Deschanel impresses by being more than just an actor who’s singing for vanity reasons.

High and Dry by Peter Kuzma- Kuzma takes Radiohead back like 30 years and ends up with this song that is, by turns, funky and lounge-y. Stranger still, it does not lose the feeling of it, even as it wraps it up in boisterous horns and a clap track.

Just Like Heaven by the Watson Twins- So, Skip has definitely made me fall in love with this duo with these mixes. An alt-country act with female vocals…magnificent. The Cure’s “Heaven” seems to mold rather effortlessly to their genre of choice.

The Boxer by Mumford & Sons- Come on. COME ON! Is there any doubt that if you like Mumford (and his various offspring) that this isn’t something you’d just fall in love with? And, if you’re like me, and you also love Paul Simon…well, you’d be doubly smitten, wouldn’t you? Y

Yes…yes you would.

Hearing it sung with an accent from the United Kingdom makes it feel less like a 60’s folk tune that was of the moment and more like an immigrant song chronicling, for instance, an Irish man trying to make his way in New York City. It is an odd thing but “Boxer” bears the burden of that alternative perspective very well.

All is Full of Love by Death Cab for Cutie- Perhaps it is just because I am not familiar with Bjork’s original, but this song sounds, lyrically (and musically, too, but that’s obvious) exactly like something Death Cab would sing. That is good news for someone like me who like Death Cab. If you do not, this one will not change your mind.

I will say, though, that, even at 3:18, it feels weirdly long. I suppose the lyrics are repetitive so perhaps the fault lies there.

There is a Light that Never Goes Out by The Dum Dum Girls- This reminds me that I should revisit the Smiths.

This take feels weirdly faithful even though the music is bigger and more expansive and there is more of a…drive, I guess, to the proceedings. Still very evocative of the original.

Kid A by John Mayer- Ok, here’s the thing. I understand that John Mayer is kind of an ass. But musically, I like him. I keep waiting for him to release an album as good as his first one and/or to really cut loose and show us how masterful and rocking a guitarist he can be, but I still like him. Perhaps it is just residual good will. Perhaps it is a Connecticut bond. I don’t know.

Anyway, you aren’t here for me to explore my issues about Mayer. Or at least I don’t think you are. If yu are, let me know. I’ll be happy to start a spinoff blog or something.

As for the song at hand, it’s a stripped down take on Radiohead that makes a lie of the idea that “Kid A” is just a tune drenched in weirdness without any center. If it can hold up to basically one guitar and Mayer’s voice sans any other bells and whistles, and it does, then it has substance to it.