So I have been trying to understand my obsession with youtube covers—specifically the ones that draw my attention. I don’t care about the covers performed by ‘real’ bands in ‘real’ venues. Instead, I have a strange penchant for people singing songs they love in their bedrooms, for non-professionals who are not well trained in self-presentation.
Often, their performances are pretty interesting—and it is humbling to discover how many beautiful voices there are out there. But even that doesn’t quite explain my obsession. There is some kind of voyeurism at play here, I must be honest. And in this is a strange desire to give the performers stories.
Let’s think about amateurism in general. Like most denizens of the internet, I have, during my life, found it impossible not to come across pornography at one point or another. What’s strange about the online form is the access it gives us to the most intimate moments and places of people’s lives–the lives of normal people (or something like normal). I cannot get past questions about who these people are, about the décor of their homes, about the motivations for sharing this of all things.
Youtube covers offer the same sort of questions but without the frequent revulsion. I also believe the musicians more than I believe the sex. One is easier to fake than the other.
So, for a third installment of my confessional to an unsavory obsession, I have selected three songs from my iTunes and trolled through covers on youtube. The selections skew the quality a bit—there’s a lot of bad stuff, but I don’t feel like mocking people who are so earnest.
The first song I decided to look for was “Nothing Better”, by the Postal Service, a track I have always loved for the combination of male and female vocals, the story of the break-up and the almost-witty lyrics. This was the first track that made me love the Postal Service.
There are many, many covers of this song. The first one that I found that I had to watch in its entirety is this one.
Young kids with infectious laughter and pretty good voices. The guitar playing is pretty bad (and a little out of tune), but the vocals are sweet. They make me think of being in high school and having the time to just lose myself in learning and trying to perfect a song.
Less fun and with some reverb and some sad piano playing check out Mmmkay:
Here’s where the questions come in. Who are these people. What is their relationship? Are they serious about the name? Whose basement is this? Those wood panels are amazing. The female’s vocals are better—she trills a bit when she closes off phrases, which sounds a little sweet. She seems to be running out of breath at times.
I really don’t love campus a cappella, but I can’t lie: the Postal Service may have been made for it. This group from the Crimson U aren’t too obnoxious and the background sounds are really great. The live performance gets the energy of the song fairly well, but the lead lines get lost in the noise.
So there’s some smart kids singing without instruments. But this one is what youtube should be: two young kids playing music they love in someone’s room. I love the way the female vocalist watches the young man while he sings. Oh, to be young again.
The second song I looked up was “Blister in the Sun” by the Violent Femmes—I was in an 80s mood and felt vaguely Cusackian after watching so many clips of the same song. So.
These ladies—desperate housewives of Agrestic?—might be a little long in the tooth for posting videos on youtube and the edits imply a little too much time spent on a lark (along with the name, Funkie Ukuladies?); but they seem to be having fun, and it is (almost) infectious.
(whose house is this? Note the adult, intentional clutter instead of the haphazard piling of an adolescent’s bedroom)
This one is a little bittersweet—sweet for the father and daughter playing together. (And he’s not a bad singer).
But where are they? Is he wearing Army Combat Uniform (ACU) pants (that would explain the haircut, but where is his shirt?) What’s up with the blinds? Who is handling the videography? Don’t listen to the end, it gets strange.
Here’s a video that looks low-fi but has some tracks and effects added to it.
What do we find here? Unexpected harmonies—a little slow and a little soft for the song, but it is a nice version. Not really sure I would ever have imagined it this way, but listen to some of the harmonies this girl found for the song (especially on “big hands you know you’re the one”. She can really sing
And, for the third song today, I selected a beautiful song by a band I have long loved, Guster. In this clip an a cappella group from Bates performs “Either Way”.
The track is a little light on speed and energy, but the vocal version of the instrumentation after the bridge and at the height of the song is very pretty and well done. (I promise, no more a cappella, until I write about it at least).
If you start looking through the videos of this song, there are many versions that are pretty awful. This is a hard song to sing, testament to Guster’s talent and the unwillingness of many of these non-professionals to simplify the song. This guy can actually sing it pretty well (and the female backing vocals are nice):
And after this, I almost lost my love of youtube covers. There are so many mediocre versions of this song that I almost couldn’t handle it. So, as a tonic for my pain, I will leave you with a live version of by Guster themselves. For, what is a live version of a recording but a cover of a different kind?