Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Ask The A.V. Club: October 19, 2007


I Will Cover You

Is it cool for bands to cover songs which have already been prominently remade? Once someone has had a hit with someone else's song, shouldn't that be the last word on it? And when bands do go ahead and record the song again, aren't they really covering the previous covering artist? Is it really possible to redo Bob Dylan's "All Along the Watchtower," or are you aping Hendrix? A second, related point/question: Isn't it cheating to cover someone's track in the exact way it was recorded the first time? If you're not adding anything to the song, à la Sixpence None The Richer's "There She Goes," should you be allowed to have a huge single with it?


Cover-band enthusiast Steven Hyden responds:

Judging by the tone of your questions, I'm guessing you already have some answers in mind—it's not cool, it should be the last word, it is cheating to cover a song the "exact" same way—and you want to know whether I agree. Well, I don't. Are you proposing the establishment of a cover-song police that would root out and destroy artists that don't remake songs in a "cool" way? If you are, your biggest opponents are going to be songwriters like Lee Mavers, who wrote and originally recorded "There She Goes" with The La's. Whatever you might think of Sixpence None The Richer, it did expose Mavers' song to millions of people, put gobs of money in his pockets, and surely inspired at least a few listeners to seek out The La's wonderful (and only) album. Even if the Sixpence cover is pretty much a rehash of the original recording—and I'd argue it isn't, if only because having a woman sing it changes the context—you really can't say Mavers and The La's were cheated. "There She Goes" is a great, timeless pop song—it deserves to be revived and discovered by new audiences.


Your question is rooted in one of the great fallacies in popular thinking about pop music, which is that a song is "better" if the person singing it also wrote it. This sort of thinking—we'll call it "But they don't even write their own songs!" thinking—is so common that it seems like gospel, but it's a relatively new concept that has more to do with listener prejudices than the quality of the music. Bob Dylan once addressed this on his XM radio show after playing two very different versions of the song "Lose Your Blues And Laugh At Life" by Billie Holiday and Western swing group Jimmie Revard & His Oklahoma Players. "Back then, songwriters used to write songs and let the artists interpret them," he said. "Nowadays, people just write songs for themselves. They put themselves into boxes, ticky-tacky little boxes."

The obvious irony here is that Dylan (along with The Beatles) did more than anyone to establish the cult of personality around songwriters in rock music. But even Dylan was helped greatly in his career by artists like Peter, Paul & Mary, The Byrds, and The Turtles covering his songs and making them pop hits. (You could even argue that "Mr. Tambourine Man" "belongs" more to The Byrds than to Dylan, though I'd contend that both versions are pretty terrific.) At any rate, given Dylan's background in the New York City folk scene—which actually frowned initially on artists going outside the canon of traditional tunes to pen their own songs—I'd wager that he's always put the power of a great song above all else. You can prefer one version to another, but the only qualification that matters is whether the song still moves people in some way. It can be a radical departure or it can slavishly re-create somebody else's recording, but singers must grab hold of the song's emotional core and express it in a way that makes sense to them. Personally, I welcome any attempt to re-interpret a classic number, if only because it gives me another opportunity to enjoy it.


Super Tuesday

Why is it that new CDs, DVDs, and books nearly always come out on a Tuesday? I can understand why theatrical releases generally open on Friday, since that's the best way to capitalize on the weekend, but Tuesday seems awfully random.


Zack Handlen

With Kanye West and 50 Cent in a mock showdown to sell more albums than the other, it got me wondering: Why are new albums always released on a Tuesday?



Noel Murray answers the demand for answers:

There are mixed opinions about why the industry works this way, but it seems to boil down to a chicken-egg situation. Either retailers stock on Tuesdays because sales charts are tabulated on Mondays—thus making Tuesday-to-Monday a full sales week—or sales charts are tabulated on Mondays because retailers stock on Tuesdays.


But why would retailers stock on Tuesdays if not because of the sales charts? It's a simple matter of logistics. Unlike movies, which draw bigger crowds on the weekends, entertainment superstores and mom-and-pop retailers draw a steady crowd throughout the week, as businessfolk on lunch break and teenagers knocking around after school pop in to browse. (Unlike on the weekend, when people generally come in planning to buy.) As the week wears on, the browsing trade increases. If there's something new on the shelf to catch the eye, browsers might become buyers.

So why not Monday? Stocking the shelves with new product for Monday would be tough, since that would require unpacking, labeling, and clearing space over the weekend, when business is at its peak. But Mondays are relatively quiet. (I used to work in a video store, and I can vouch that this is true.) And by restocking early in the week, big-box retailers can also take advantage of the Sunday newspaper supplements to advertise what they'll have available in two days.


When A Man Loves A Lapdance

I heard a song a couple years ago that I can't get out of my head. Problem is, I don't remember much about it, as I was otherwise distracted at the time. (The song was playing while I got my first lapdance.) I remember thinking that it wasn't normal strip-club fare, and although I know when I heard it, I highly doubt that it was new at the time.  I seem to remember that it had a slow, kind of swampy techno groove, and God help me, the only words that I remember are an exchange between a man and a woman, who, if I remember correctly, were just repeating "I'm a man" and "I'm a woman" back and forth to each other. At the time, I thought the man's voice sounded a lot like Nick Cave, which would have made sense, given the dark sound of the song itself, but searches since have yielded no results. I know that's not much to go by, but finding out the name of the song is imperative to me recreating this experience. Help?



Jason Heller isn't entirely sure he wants to help, but:

A.P., does the phrase "too much information" mean anything to you? Anyway, you at least gave us plenty of information to solidly implicate Berlin's "Sex (I'm A…)" as the lapdance song in question. The first hit off the band's 1982 debut, Pleasure Victim, "Sex" does indeed have something of a "swampy techno groove," a distinctly Giorgio Moroder-esque, synth-pop pulse. (In fact, Berlin went on to record with Moroder.) The saucy tête-à-tête ("I'm a man / I'm a bitch / I'm a man / I'm a geisha / I'm a man / I'm a little girl") is between lead singer Terri Nunn and the band's songwriter-instrumentalist, John Crawford—who honestly sounds more like Fred Schneider of The B-52's than Nick Cave. In an interview earlier this year, Nunn weirdly claimed that she came up with the idea for the song while singing along to Muddy Waters' "Mannish Boy." The CD version of Victim comes with an eight-minute remix of "Sex"—which hopefully will be sufficient to aid in your, um, reenactment.



We've been getting a much lower "ID this vague memory" questions lately, but we still have quite a backlog of them that we couldn't answer. But maybe you can. Do any of the descriptions below sound familiar? If so, email us at the address below, or pipe up in the comments section.


Back in the '70s, I saw a trailer for a horror movie, but I can't remember which movie this was for. The scene I remember had an old Native American man spreading a magic powder in a line across a road. When a car came down the road, it "crashed" into an invisible wall the powder created. It was a memorable scene, especially considering it was created without the use of computer effects. Everyone in the theater audibly gasped. Does anyone at The A.V. Club know what this movie is?


I remember this cartoon I watched as a kid, which would have been in the '70s, that had this scarecrow helping these two kids. They were fighting dragons and the scarecrow could shoot lightning from his fingers. I'm beginning to think I dreamed the whole thing up but I'm pretty sure I'm not that creative.



I am trying to ID a sci-fi short story from an anthology (maybe all by the same author). I first read this sometime in the late 1980s (I think), but it could have been published much earlier. Plot: main character is a man that is badly injured (burned by a rocket engine) on the moon/another planet/space station. He's rebuilt with a bunch of devices/prosthetics that make him stronger and smarter, and ultimately evil/crazy. He kills a woman (maybe by accident) during a sexual encounter (he thrusts too hard, and she breaks her neck on the ceiling). Eventually, he's recognized as a threat, and he's defeated (killed) with an interesting technique: his prosthetics come in an external version, and a technician puts them on and hooks them up to broadcast (and amplify) their movements. This technician then punches himself in the face. The resulting super-punch (the new signals override the control of the bad guy) leaves him with a hole in his head, end of story. You'd think with all of these details, I would have been able to figure out/Google the title/author, but no.


Greg Parker

Okay, I hope you can help me. I've remembered this since I was a kid, and I can't find any information on it anywhere. There was a cartoon in the '80s (it might have been a show, but I have a feeling it was actually a movie) where all the humans were turned into paper dolls. They were all marching in a line, as thin pieces of paper. I remember there was a point in the movie where an old couple, who were still humans, were guarding a baby whose parents had been turned into paper dolls. I know, it sounds like a crazy dream, but I vividly remember watching this. Do you have any idea??



I was in love with this game that my friend got with his super-fast computer in the futuristic year of 1997. We had just started college and we played it all the time. It was a fighting game where the players were robots with different abilities. You would fight in different arenas. The character I always chose (and thus the only one I can remember) would shoot his arm into the air, leaving him defenseless, while the arm targeted the opponent and shot at him before returning to the robot. Any ideas?



Next week: Thoughts on when art became "faggy" (seriously!), that pen-pal show, and more. Send your questions to asktheavclub@theonion.com.


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