After having grown up in a pop-music culture that every day grows more adept at rehashing, re-imagining and (let's be frank) flat-out stealing sounds from those who came before, today's indie bands are no strangers to aping their influences. And unlike post-punk and grunge before them, this class doesn't just name-check their idols, it goes full impersonation.
Indie workhorse M. Ward, when not collaborating with every single female singer-songwriter in hipsterdom, has made a career of reworking myriad songs from 1950 on. Not to be outdone,The Bird and The Bee recorded a love note to Hall and Oates that single-handedly got the "Maneater" soft-rock duo back into royalty checks.
That leaves us, the fans, with a somewhat homogeneous group of musicians who are capable of imitating a broad spectrum of their predecessors. The problem is they don't always pick well. For every Gayngs covering Godley and Creme's "Cry," complete with homage music video, there are five "ironic" Kenny Loggins covers.
Instead, it's probably best (for all involved) for us to pick the tracks to cover, lest you be awash in heartfelt Wham! updates. So without further ado, here are Rocks Off's Top 5 songs in need of hipster updates and our choices for who should take the helm.
"Cecilia," Simon & Garfunkel Covered by: Ra Ra Riot
Simon & Garfunkel are often regarded as one of the better singer-songwriter duos of the past century and for good reason. Though the strong storytelling would always carry through, their roots in dated folk-rock seem to melt away as their melodies and instrumentation progressed throughout their career.
The off-kilter yet utterly simplistic tapping, clapping, jangling rhythm of "Cecilia" hints at Paul Simon's later obsession with rhythm-driven songwriting. The schtick of Ra Ra Riot's public-school take on the preppy sound of Vampire Weekend -- themselves pitch-perfect for a Graceland-era cover treatment -- complete with string accompaniments and male/female harmonies is a perfect juxtaposition to this simplest of tunes from the folk legends.
"Going to California," Led Zeppelin Covered by: Bon Iver
Let us start off by saying we don't think anyone should ever cover Led Zeppelin. Rocks Off can take or leave Kashmir and our loathing for Puff Daddy still hasn't subsided from that Godzilla soundtrack bullshit. That being said, if anyone should do it, it's this man covering this song. He's already been called the worst hipster musician of all time; might as well run with it.
The Boney Hare might be one of the most awkward and gangly media-crowned sex gods since Mr. Plant himself, so why not have him cover a song about dumping Janis Joplin for Joni Mitchell? As an added bonus, 98 percent of Bonny Bear's fans under age 25 have likely never heard "Going to California," or Led Zeppelin for that matter.
"Different Drum," Linda Ronstadt & the Stone Poneys Covered by: Lana Del Rey
The backstory for Linda Ronstadt's coming-out party, "Different Drum," is a fairly interesting one, and the parallels to Lana Del Rey (nee Lizzie Grant) are near pitch-perfect, even if Del Rey could never hope to match Ronstadt's pipes. In 1967 San Antonio native Mike Nesmith, of Monkees fame, found his considerable talents marginalized and largely disregarded after being shoehorned, albeit willingly, into a fictional pop-character role. (Sound familiar?)
Frustrated, he took an original song, "Different Drum," to Ronstadt, who in turn took the track to the top of the charts and a long career beyond. Even more fitting, Del Rey's sultry retro yet of-the-moment smoke-and-mirrors routine, whether genuine or factory created, matches perfectly with the sad lonesome strains of "Different Drum." And Del Rey, much like Nesmith, contains undeniable talent inside her cartoon facsimile, whether you like the character she's playing or not.
Bonus trivia: Though credited, the other members of the Stone Poneys don't appear on this song. They were replaced by session musicians, a few of whom also sat in for, wait for it...The Monkees.
"Coming Around Again," Carly Simon Covered by: Grizzly Bear
Carly Simon was a victim of 1980s production traps. There, we said it... we like Carly Simon, dammit. This song was everywhere when we were kids. Maybe it wasn't that popular, and our mom's love of Heartburn just made it seem that way.
We can't seem to escape Grizzly Bear these days, either. Rocks Off is pretty sure we heard "Two Weeks" coming from a Williams-Sonoma at the mall the other day. Hipsters love these guys for obtuse things like their "deep and complex instrumentation, man" and "totally progressive structures." We tend to just hear a lot of 80's synth-and-bass ballads in there.
We also just wanna hear the boys sing like the pop divas they always wished they could be. Besides, if you take yourself as seriously as Grizzly Bear seems to, you should be forced to cover Carly Simon songs as penance.
"Johnny Hit and Run Pauline," X Covered by: Sleigh Bells
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The subject matter -- a pre-Viagra-era drug-induced sex rampage culminating in rape -- of the classic X track from the L.A. punks' debut album Los Angeles is about as dark as it gets. The song's ugly theme is gleefully lightened in true tongue-in-cheek punk fashion when laid over Billy Zoom's trademark wailing Gretsch guitar. "Johnny" mirrors Sleigh Bells' caustic yet poppy lyrical content, set as always to former Poison the Well guitarist Derek Miller's punishing backing tracks.