You can't get much farther from the stripped-down authenticity of folk music than the lip-synch spectacle of top 40 pop songs; the odd Springsteen or Dylan anomaly aside, the stuff we favor on Cover Lay Down doesn't see mass market radio play. But that doesn't necessarily make every folk cover of every song originally performed by a half-naked ex-Mouseketeer a joke. A good song is a good song is a good song -- and sometimes it takes a jolt to the system to allow the listener to bring new meaning to the overly familiar.
To prove this theory, for our Halloween special, I went in search of the most disturbing set of folk covers I could imagine.
Folk covers of Britney Spears songs.
And the scariest part is, some of them are quite good.
Some are not, of course. It's hard to make meaning out of something played to death, harder still to keep the MTV imagery from invading the brain, corrupting any sincere attempt at rehabilitating a popsong. It's easier to make a joke out of the familiar instead, making easy laughs and easier cash on a novelty act.
Today, in an attempt to explore this admittedly simplistic model for envisioning the pop cover song's purpose, we bring you a double trio of folked-up Britney cuts: the merely covered, and the genuinely recovered. Some may make you weep. Some will make you laugh. One or two will make you wonder why Max Martin (the man behind the Britney throne) is wasting his time writing tunes which will never be truly appreciated by anyone above the age of fourteen.
My recommendation: listen to each of these through, tricks and treats alike, until you can truly appreciate them for the meaning their coverartists bring. Even novelty is worth something. And plucking a tired backbeat from the radio to breathe new and vibrant life into it, making something golden out of something glittery? In the world of coversongs, it's the holy grail.
Let's start, then, with the good stuff. Ladies and Gentlemen, we bring you Britney Spears, recovered.
- Stevie Ann, Toxic
Netherlands native Stevie Ann -- my current music-crush -- covers Toxic as a lush, poignant paean to poisoned love. The link here is the produced version, courtesy of Guuzbourg of french girlsinger blog Filles Sourires; but you can and should also see an absolutely incredible live-on-the-radio cover sans saxophone over at Coverville, after which you, too, will wonder why this young woman is still only touring in her native country.
- Richard Thompson, Oops! I Did It Again
In the "original" live recording of Richard Thompson's version of Oops! I Did It Again, off coveralbum 1000 Years of Popular Music, his audience thinks he's making fun of the song. This much tighter solo cut from an NPR session reveals otherwise. Thompson's rough voice, loose tempo, and all-around angst bring just the right note of self-flagellation and regret to the tune. Originally via always great oft-folk musicblog The Late Greats.
- Fountains Of Wayne, Hit Me Baby One More Time
Okay, Fountains Of Wayne isn't folk, but I've missed the band at two folk festivals so far, so I'm going to allow it. Their all-male electrified alt-geekrock version of Hit Me Baby One More Time turns what had been a dubiously anti-feminist anthem of love at all costs into a soft plea for the sensitive guy trying to make sense of a world full of Britney-lovers.
Second verse, same as the first -- but where the folktunes above are genuinely successful attempts to rescue surprisingly decent songs, these either play the songs for laughs, tongue firmly in cheek, or try to interpret beyond their reach.
- The BossHoss, Toxic
Kitschmeisters The BossHoss, Germany's bluegrass/country/rock answer to Richard Cheese, take on Toxic. They're tight, and worth the novelty, but really, if you've heard one Hayseed Dixie, you've heard them all. Still, their cover choices are fun; kudos to Motel De Moka, the music blog with a knack for the perfect themed playlist, for spreading this around just when I needed a pick-me-up.
- Fuck, Oops! I Did It Again
I don't know much about the unfortunately-named Fuck, and if this lo-fi, experimental cover is any indication of their prowess and style, I'm okay with that. The subtle vibes and cello (and wind machine?) aren't bad, but the plodding speed only underscores the overly simple, maudlin interpretation. Thanks to coverblogger extraordinaire Copy, Right? for originally posting this, though -- everything's worth trying once.
- Travis, Hit Me Baby One More Time
Travis' live attempt to unplug and slow down Hit Me Baby One More Time turns silly far too quickly. Bad sign: the band starts out trying to play it straight, but can't keep from cracking up when they hit the falsetto call and response of the chorus. Worse: they seem ruefully surprised at their own laughter, despite the fact that they clearly rehearsed the vocals.
As always here on Cover Lay Down, all artist links above lead to artist websites, which in turn lead to the artists' preferred source for music-purchasing. Follow these links -- and the links to other coverblogs scattered throughout -- for the best door-to-door treats around.
You're on your own for buying Britney, though. Some things are too scary, even for Halloween.