Four Acoustic Covers You Need Right Now

Hold back your self-judgement if should you find yourself reminiscing about past heartbreaks, opportunities missed, or even just weeping uncontrollably.

 

Hey Ya by Obadiah Parker (Mat Weddle) originally performed by Outkast

Who’d have thought the banger that taught you to shake it like a Polaroid picture* and ask for some sugar in the sassiest way imaginable would make such a stunning acoustic song? An acoustic version of the 2004 anthem even found its way into an episode of Scrubs via Ted’s band, The Blanks. But it is Obadiah Parker (A.K.A. Mat Weddle’s) humble coffee shop performance that hits you where it hurts with nothing else but a six-string.

I Took A Pill In Ibiza by Tom Odell originally performed by Mike Posner

The 2015 single of the summer by top producer Mike Posner may have been your ultimate floor-filler for a while but you need to slow it down to properly hear the true story of its writer’s struggles with intense fame in light of Posner’s 2009 hit Cooler Than Me. Posner himself has performed the track acoustically many times before but it is in the form of an unlikely English gentleman, Tom Odell, where the song’s true meaning takes hold of the listener. In fact, Odell’s slowed-down version of the song that once may have found you wanting to be a DJ is all it takes to convince you exactly why you shouldn’t. It even includes a rarely performed, unreleased verse not present on the Radio Edit of the original track, one that effortlessly adds an additional layer of poignancy to Odell’s beautiful reinvention:

 I walked around downtown / I met some fans on Lafayette / they said Mike, tell us how to make it / we’re getting real impatient / I looked them in the eye and said / you don’t wanna be high like me…

Folding Stars by Simon Neil [2010] originally performed by Biffy Clyro

Biffy Clyro are the high school band we all wanted to make it that, well, actually did. The Scottish three-piece from Ayrshire (here we, here we, here we f**cking go) are known for their quirky riffs, unusual time signatures and incredibly random lyrics. That saying, a rare form of coherent structure can be found in Simon Neil’s solo rendition of ‘Folding Stars’, the track originally written as a direct tribute to the singer’s late mother and one which he once vowed to never play live. Although recorded for the band’s 4th studio album Puzzle with all of the grit and drums found on a typical Biffy track, Neil’s unexpected acoustic rendition made its way into the limelight on the 2010 tour DVD Biffy Clyro: Live in Wembley, instantly grabbing hearts with Neil’s humble, heartbreaking proclamation about struggling with life after losing a loved one. Hankies at the ready. He kills it.

Thunder Road performed by Bruce Springsteen, Hammersmith [1975]

I don’t even know where to begin with this one. ‘Thunder Road’ is often credited as one of rock music’s greatest hits of all time, a fantastic title for a man with as many records as Bruce. However, it goes far beyond just being a rock ballad with an incredibly iconic saxophone solo as you can see from Springsteen’s extremely early performance of the track — once called ‘Wings For Wheels’ — at the Hammersmith Odeon in 1975. Here, Springsteen takes to the stage with his trusty harmonica alongside co-writer Roy Bitten on the keys to describe the story of Mary, her boyfriend and their “one last chance to make it real”. It’s an incredibly poignant rendition of a song rooted in optimism, young love and endless, warm summers and that bloody harmonica has a way of stirring up your most painful memories. What makes this performance even more special is that ‘Thunder Road’ was at large during the Born to Run phase of Springsteen’s career where performing along his E-Street Band, most notably the late Clarence Clemmings on the tenor saxophone, was very much the united image he was going for.

*Don’t shake Polaroids. They contain chemicals, real chemicals. And real chemicals like to run.

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Acoustic Covers: Why We Need Them

Despite once being a student in a subject centred primarily on books, poetry and… more books, I somehow find it far easier recite Eminem’s prolific lyrics than I do the work of our ever-prominent national laureate, William Shakespeare.

Given the time, I’m far more inclined to pick up a guitar than a book, and I often consider that not having access to a piano at home is probably good for my health given that it prevents me from developing a severe vitamin D deficiency. (Remind me of this on pay day.)

Thanks Dad.

Where one might consider folding the corners in a book worse than any other form of graffiti, I genuinely can’t think of anything more sickening than being on public transport without my earphones or with a dead phone battery, thus, being on the move without background noise. It’s been a problem since my first iPod circa 2006 and one that I blame entirely on my music-loving father.

My dad has subjected me to his music library for as long as I can remember. He has a varied set of music ideals upon which my musical education has been based and they range from the likes of Springsteen, Queen, Billy Joel, Meat Loaf, Mike Oldfield, Phil Collins (or Genesis), Train and Elton John to Les Mis, Dear Evan Hansen, Wicked, Fiddler on the Roof and virtually any Andrew Lloyd Webber production. Luckily for me, he still has many of these artists on vinyl from his youth which have now found their way into my room. Although widely appreciative of song, his taste isn’t as varied as a listener with access to a wealth of music via a streaming service quite just yet. That saying, there is a genre that will always unite us across all barriers…

Acoustic renditions.

 “I love that song – but the piano version!”

Take Britain’s Got Talent Finalist Calum Scott, a singer from Yorkshire, whose emotional acoustic rendition of Robyn’s virtually unknown ‘Dancing On My Own’ in his first audition went onto be released as a single that would reach number 2 on the UK Singles Chart. Robyn’s upbeat delivery of her song masks her underlying turmoil and detracts from the incredibly personal situation depicted in the lyrics whereas Scott’s instrumentally far more exposed rendition emphasises his vulnerability and, in turn, relates more to his audience. Listeners grow empathetic at the mercy of his voice against the soft piano backing track and you can bet your bottom dollar that it’s the tune everyone is screaming out into the abyss (i.e. their absent significant other) at the end of a night out. I’m giiiiving it my all but I’m not the guyyyy you’re taking home… Sing it louder, babe. I don’t think they can hear you from their new partner’s house.

Summer is the time of year when we are most likely to see the BBC Live Lounge gaining popularity once again as artists take on many of their most famous hits in a strictly acoustic environment for broadcasting. It’s no surprise that so many of these performances go viral and eventually go onto be released for purchase and streaming in their own right. Consider this a direct nod to Ben Howard whose rendition of Carly Rae Jepsen’s ‘Call Me Maybe’ went onto become his defining track in 2012. No disrespect to the former Pop Idol contestant whose bubbly, synth-infused hit also smashed charts as a pop record but it does force listeners to question what it was about Howard’s delivery that had us begging for more and for Jepsen’s to be turned off.

Understated.

The acoustic genre means a lot of different things to different people. For example, to the people writing the English dictionary – a breed clearly lacking in emotion – acoustic music is defined merely as “not having electrical amplification” and nothing more. Literally swapping out the drum kit for the cajon and the Stratocaster for the Martin & Co. Done. Dusted.

However, to me, it’s music that is more focused on the poetics and underlying meanings of lyrics that are often missed amid loud musical ensembles, heavy instrumentals and grizzly effects. I believe that the delivery of acoustic music involves the musician putting themselves in a far more vulnerable position resulting in an often more melancholic delivery that is also heavily associated with a complex level of storytelling.

Proof in three, two, one…

So, without further ado, and before I open this can of worms any wider, I’ve quickly summarised some incredible acoustic renditions of some popular songs that you need to hear. You can read them here.

A Complete Beginners Guide to Cinematic Music

I vividly recall the first time I cried at a film. I was twelve but I possessed the emotional composure of someone triple my age, someone who had dealt with things far more scarring and traumatic than the boy at school who didn’t respond to my homemade Valentines Card. I was on a school trip to York – a rite of passage for all primary sevens – and Titanic was the movie of choice on the bus for the journey home. I assume you can see where this is going.

Once claims of an onion-infused air conditioning system had been euthanised – like my dreams of ever finding love on a boat – at the end of the movie, I realised that I was weeping for fictional causes for the first time which made the whole ordeal that little more mortifying. But it was that bloody flute’s whimsical refrain that turned out to be the painful leitmotif for everything that hurt my head and my heart in life. Watch the video below at your own peril.

A decade on, I am still addicted to the metamorphic powers of audio, particularly that of the cinematic variety. Listening to scores takes me from my present situation to a moment in seconds. For example, to the climax of Titanic where the whistle’s haunting tune narrates the conclusion of Jack and Rose’s epic love story as she submits his frozen corpse to the depths of the North Atlantic. I willingly relive the heartache in remembering his cadaver slipping into those oceanic depths because the combination of James Cameron’s heartbreaking visuals and a perfectly suited musical backdrop, make me feel something I can’t really explain without blubbering.

The creator of the Titanic soundtrack James Horner created the score to be every bit as herculean, unwavering and melancholic as Jack’s infatuation with Rose had been right till the very end *sobs*. And, quite frankly, I’d go as far as saying that the movie would not be the epic motion picture that it is today without its prolific cinematic score – most notably without the distinguishing anacrusis at the beginning of ‘Rose’. (If you’ve ever done ‘My Heart Will Go On’ on karaoke, you’ll know the one.)

 

Horner isn’t the only one of his kind. Cinematic music is definitely an under-rated source of audio pleasure, which is why I’ve have devised this guide of composers and some of their best work to help you cover the important grounds should you decide to break into it. Being no musical expert myself, this should feel completely accessible to anyone! So, go forth and enjoy!

  • Hans Zimmer Check out: ‘Now We Are Free’ – Gladiator, ‘He’s a Pirate’ – Pirates of the Caribbean and ‘Tennessee’ – Pearl Harbour

Zimmer is a master of epics and able to communicate a plethora of emotions to even the least impressionable audiences. He is featured in the Inception, The Dark Knight Rises, Interstellar and The Lion King soundtracks to name but a tiny part of his repertoire. From the invincible excitement found in Pirates to the melancholic vibes of Pearl Harbour, and the stunning, unmistakable hope that drives the Gladiator score: Hans Zimmer’s portfolio is prolific and cements him as one of the most respected composers and conductors in the world.

  • John Williams Check out: Themes from Jaws and Schindler’s List 

Being the second most decorated Academy Award Winner (only after Walt Disney of all people) doesn’t happen to just anyone, and when you begin trying fathom John Williams’ portfolio you see why. Much of Williams’ magic is creating the themes for which movies become associated with, the ones you are likely to hum along to during the opening credits. A great portion of his success was prior to the millennium; we’re talking Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Jurassic Park, E.T., Hook… just about every good film that gives you those coveted feels, Willams likely had his input. His portfolio also includes devising the Harry Potter melody we all know and love and, of course, the unmistakable, chilling theme tune from Jaws.

James Horner Check out: ‘Hymn to the Sea’ – Titanic and ‘The Gift of a Thistle’ – Braveheart 

I spoke previously about this composers emotionally manipulative hold over me (just briefly, don’t think I said too much about it…). All in all, Horner composed, quite literally, one of the most iconic and heart breaking soundtracks of our time with Titanic in 1997, but it contains elements that are reminiscent of his earlier work in Braveheart. His style typically features traditional orchestration (there are a lot of pipes), flutes and female vocals that will warm you, and haunt you, for no less than 84 years.

  • Brad Fiedle Check out: ‘Trust Me’ – Terminator II 

A large-scale composer. Fiedle – whose work was at large particularly between the early 70s and late 90s – is known for his work in the Terminator series. The track ‘Trust Me’ from the second Terminator movie ‘Judgement Day’ is a favourite among fans and described as providing motivation to those in need of a kick. Luckily for fans, Fiedle was never given the chance to record and sequence his technically demanding score on a record until just last year. So he’ll be back, and very soon so to speak.

  • Henry Jackman Check out: ‘Flying Home’ – Kick-Ass and ‘Hit-Girl’s Farewell’ – Kick-Ass 2 

Jackman’s work on the Kick Ass movies soundtracks is riveting and a solid starting ground for those just breaking into the cinematic music scene due to its pop-rock vibe which focuses heavily on big drum beats and electric guitar. The best way to anticipate these soundtracks is to imagine orchestral power teamed with an exciting rock and roll veil. Much of Jackman’s score is an improvisation of Adagio in D Minor, so the chord progressions are pleasant and uplifting – perfect for your anti-hero movie.

 

See also: Danny Elfman (Edward Scissorhands) & James Newton Howard (Peter Pan, 2003)


Originally published in The Student Advertiser.