Competing Karaoke Covers

For some, karaoke is an updated version of the old time “Piano Bar” that Billy Joel so eloquently elucidated–an opportunity for folks to get together, share in some musical memories, sing a little, and generally bond with each other.

For others, karaoke is more an outgrowth of listening to music alone at home, singing into a hairbrush in front of the mirror while fantasizing about being a star.

If you’re among the latter group, you may be frustrated by some of the karaoke re-recordings that are the industry standard. For a variety of reasons (financial, legal and practical), the vast majority of karaoke videos are made from musical re-recordings and numerous companies offer competing versions.

At one end of the spectrum are “midi-karaoke” files that some companies still try to hawk to kids, usually built in to a microphone. All are computer-generated and crudely arranged. Other companies employ skilled studio musicians to record highly professional versions. Most companies fall somewhere in between, using a combination of real instruments and synthesized approximations.

But when I was in my room, listening to those records and singing along, I wasn’t fantasizing about being on a stage with a drum machine and a very competent but uninspired journeyman guitar player. I wanted to be backed by Paul, George and Ringo dammit.

When there are multiple karaoke versions of a song available I try to pick the one that sounds the most like the original recordings for my catalog even if other versions are superior in some other regard (easier to sing, more clear lyrics, better graphics, less expensive, etc.).

Fortunately, a few companies have offered “original artist karaoke” and I’ve tried to acquire as many as possible. Compare three versions of my wife’s favourite karaoke song:

Tracks of My Tears Midi

Bringin’ On the Heartbreak

Once again Worn Fashion Journal’s Annual Valentine’s Heartbreak Karaoke night is fast approaching. You are, of course, welcome to sing any song from our catalogue, but it is Valentine’s Day, and we’re hoping you’ll wear your heart on your sleeve.

I was asked to compile a list of the Top 5 Most Heartbreaking Songs of All Time. This is what I first came up with:

5. Maggot Brain by Funkadelic

4. The Jackson Song by Patti Smith

3. My Mummy’s Dead by John Lennon

2. Halloween Parade by Lou Reed

1. Nightswimming by R.E.M.

Serah-Marie asked me to elaborate so I explained: Nightswimming seems to be about how the passage of time, even to the living, is analogous to death. Halloween Parade is about the early days of AIDS in Greenwich Village. My Mummy’s Dead is pretty self-explanatory (and the nursery-rhyme melody only underscores the misery). The Jackson Song is Patti Smith’s ode to her son & deceased husband. Maggot Brain is an instrumental meditation on George Clinton’s reaction to finding his dead brother’s remains weeks after he’d been shot through the head.

Serah-Marie pointed out that, although very sad, these weren’t really songs about heartbreak, they were heartbreaking songs about death. So here’s a list that Serah-Marie and I came up with together:

5. Eleanor Rigby by The Beatles
It doesn’t take a PhD in communications to recognize that this is a song about loneliness.

4. Heroes by David Bowie
Two lovers from opposite sides of the Berlin wall take their chances with the armed guards.

3. Don’cha Go Away Mad by Frank Sinatra
Guy gets caught cheating, and tries to placate his girl by half-heartedly acknowledging “you got a reason to be mad I suppose.” But she shouldn’t be mad because how was he to know that her cousin would be at the same restaurant. Entire self-help books would be written about this guy. And the girl doesn’t have a clue.

2. everything by Connie Francis
Ms. Francis crossed over to country music in the mid-70s and given her thematic track-record, the move made complete sense: “Who’s Sorry Now?” “Breaking in a Brand-New Broken Heart” “Don’t Break the Heart that Loves You” “I Cried for You”

1. everything by The Smiths/Morrissey
Like Connie Francis, Morrissey’s got the titles:“Why Can’t I Get What I Want” “Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now” “Girlfriend in a Coma” and so on. But his lyrics push him into the number one spot “There’s a club…but you leave on your own and you go home and you cry and you want to die.” “I will undoubtedly die alone,” etc.

This list is better, but I’m still not completely satisfied. What do you think are the most heartbreaking songs ever?

Your Host, Karaoke Ted.

HEARTBREAK KARAOKE
MONDAY, FEBRUARY 14, 9pm
THE SUPERMARKET, 268 Augusta Ave, Toronto
$7 at the door, $5 if you’re wearing RED

The difference between “like” and “love”, in musical terms.

So I’m spinning records at WORN’s Decades Dance, and I’ve been contemplating what I’m going to play and thinking about “vintage music” in general.

I’m starting to wonder if there might be two completely different ways of listening to music. A lot of people tell me that they really like a specific song because it reminds them of a specific point in time… “My Prayer” by the Platters was playing on the radio when Laurie had her first kiss at the drive-in… The Fifth Dimension’s “Wedding Bell Blues” was all over the radio the week Emily’s daughter was born… Sam’s first slow dance was to Styx’s “Come Sail Away”

Certainly, I have associations with some of my favourite music. I have a fond and vivid image in my mind of Matias’s first girlfriend screaming, “I’m not no limburger!” along with the B-52s’ “Dance this Mess Around” at the first real teenager party I attended. But that’s not even my earliest memory of it. When I was nine, my cousin Donny showed me the first B-52s album and said “This is New Wave. I’m not crazy about it, but it’s future music. It’s what you’ll be listening to when you’re a teenager.”

And he was right. But the crappy BASF tape I had copied his album on wore out a few years later. So I exchanged the Corey Hart record I had won from MuchMusic (I correctly identified all the celebrity cameos in the Ghostbusters video) at my favourite used record store for a genuine vinyl copy of the album. It sounded so much better than the crappy tape.

In the early 2000s, I had to go a while without a turntable. I remember being at the now-defunct Virgin Megastore at 14th and Broadway in New York and seeing the B-52s CD on sale for $5! I bought it and got back to the place I was staying, and listened to it on a DVD player through a crappy TV’s speakers. And it sounded damned good after going so long without hearing it.

A couple of years ago, I was managing a book warehouse, and we had a bunch of punk kids working there. They only had about six different tapes, but the one we’d agree to play the most was the B-52s.

My point is that I have MANY associations with “Dance this Mess Around” and the first B-52s album. Sometimes when I listen to it, I think about one old time or another. But sometimes I think about Kate Pierson’s amazing voice, and how I’d like to stay at her bed & breakfast. Sometimes I think that guitarist Ricky Wilson died way too soon. Sometimes I think about what I’m going to cook for dinner. The music seems to grow with me and adapt to what’s going on in my life.

But I recently attended a bazaar in a church basement, and as I walked in, A-HA’s “Take on Me” was blasting over the crappy sound system. Something about hearing that song while walking into a large room with stale air and a couple of hundred people put me into a time machine. It was like being 15 and crashing the dance at Northern Collegiate.

But let me make this clear, I HATED that song when I was 15. I found the lyrics insipid (and not just because English is A-HA’s second language). The singer’s performance is equal parts pretension and melodrama (with no hint of wit). The melody is crude and broad and the arrangement is unbearably eager but without any edges or solidity.

Alright I guess I still hate it. But something about hearing it…every once in a while…under the right circumstances…in the right environment…makes me feel good.

It seems odd that music I liked doesn’t particularly make me nostalgic, but music I hated does. I guess that I have associations with “Dance this Mess Around” because I like it, but I like “Take on Me” because I have associations with it.

So what do you love? Like?

The Bookshelf in My Mind

Jaclyn at Is Well Read was kind enough to write about my book habits last week, after waiting months for my As (to her good Qs).

Photo by Deua Medeiros
Ted Kulczycky, better known as Karaoke Ted in some circles, is a Toronto-based musician, bartender and professional cat wrangler who claps enthusiastically in the bottom left corner of this DEVO video. Ted mulled over these questions for months and it was truly worth the effort. Read through to the end to find out why he lists a Chilton auto repair manual as one of his must reads.

What kind of a reader are you?
My reading habits are:
I read on public transit.
I read in the lavatory.
If I’m really engaged in a book or article, I usually spend every moment reading it until it’s finished.
I read fairly fast, although I’ve never timed myself.
I read a great deal of non-fiction of most varieties, but very little fiction.

Have you read any good books about karaoke?

I haven’t really encountered too many books in English (my only language) about karaoke. There are a couple of books with “karaoke” in the title that are actually about other subjects. Usually, “karaoke” is used pejoratively. I’m not crazy about them.

There’s a karaoke guide (Hit Me With Your Best Shot: A Field Guide to Karaoke by Raina Lee and Michael Perry) that seemed okay. I just finished Don’t Stop Believin’: How Karaoke Conquered the World and Changed My Life by Brian Raftery. I appreciated the spirit of what he was trying to do which is kind of be a history/philosophy/personal narrative, but I don’t think he quite nailed it.

What’s the best music biography that you’ve read?

I’ve read a LOT of musician bios, and most aren’t very good. My top 5 favourite music-related books of all time are:
1. Mark Lewisohn, The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions
2. Rob Bowman, Soulsville USA
3. The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock & Roll
4. Jim DeRogatis & Carmel Carrillo, Kill Your Idols
5. Jann Wenner, Lennon Remembers

I feel guilty because I’ve left out stuff like chord books, songbooks, instrument catalogues, etc. People always tell kids that they should read books because “Reading is good.” But I feel like too much emphasis is placed on reading for it’s own sake. I emphasize to my little cousins and nephews that books are good because they can teach you about anything you’re interested in: sports, music, sex, drugs, whatever…

Based on the quality of their lyrics, are there any musicians you think should write books?
Some of my favourite musicians and lyricists have written books and generally they’re not the go-to books on my music shelf. David Byrne’s books have seemed “merely interesting.” Lennon’s stuff is kind of funny but “kind of funny” is small praise taken in the context of the greatness of his music. Generally, I think people tend to be geniuses of one art or another.

Joe Jackson (the New Wave musician, not the Jackson family bully) wrote an autobiography called A Cure for Gravity that’s notable for a couple of reasons. Primarily, he actually wrote it. Most musician autobiographies are based on interviews that are pasted together by a hack ghost-writer (watch Season 2 of Californication), and read as such. Jackson’s book has a clear authorial voice that employs such literary forms as arguments, themes and motifs. I love James Brown, but you won’t find these devices in The Godfather of Soul: The Autobiography. Brian Eno’s diary A Year With Swollen Appendicies is interesting enough, but I’ve always thought that he should write a straightforward book just pontificating about art and music.

Tell me about your collection of books about NYC. How did it get started?
I’ve got about 200 titles or so, everything from biographies of prominent historical figures to restaurant guides. It got started (like most collections) because I was interested in the subject. What really enabled that collection to grow, however, was the fact that I was working in the remainder book business in the period of 1999-2004. Ric Burns’ New York: A Documentary Film aired on PBS and was released on DVD, and generated a whole new interest in NYC history and lore. And of course, September 11th stimulated the publishing and re-publishing of hundreds of books about the city. Most of the titles eventually came through our bookstores, and my staff discount meant that I was getting books for half of 20% of the list price.

There are so many classic New York books of all genres and I think most of them deserve their reputation. Michael Wallace’s Gotham is the definitive history (to 1898) and I hope that he eventually releases the long-promised second and third volumes. But my favourite New York book is probably American Ground: Unbuilding the World Trade Center by William Langewiesche. While telling the story of the clean-up at Ground Zero, Langewiesche argues that New Yorkers ability to improvise, ignore rules, and reinvent themselves is the source of their greatest achievements.

Has a book ever influenced the way you think about your life or the world?
I studied philosophy for 5 years, and I can go on for weeks about the “transcendental unity of apperception.” So I would have to say, that books in particular, but art and culture in general influence my life and the way I think about the world. 
Actually, I’d probably take it even farther than that. Books, music and film ARE my world to a great extent. For better or worse.

What book do you pretend to have read, but never actually have?
I’ve probably done it loads in my life, particularly when I was flirting with a career in academia. My specialty was film and philosophy, which for some reason at the time, meant that I was supposed to be discussing politics and psychology (which is part of why I got out of there). I can guarantee you that I’ve read none of Lacan’s or Fanon’s primary texts, but I could win an argument about them at a faculty luncheon.

If you were a book, what book would you be?
I’d like to think of myself as an encyclopaedia. I’m probably actually more like one of those crazy religious comic books that scary people hand you on the street.
Continue reading

Dr. X will build a creature.

I’m a big fan of Original Artist Karaoke. There are not a whole lot of these discs out there, but I’m slowly collecting what I come across. I picked up this cd a while ago, which is the original sound recordings from Rocky Horror Picture Show. The only problem, is that it’s just a plain cd, not a cd+g. Which means NO LYRICS. So I used tuneprompter to make this video. I’m trying to decide if the blood lyrics are too much for Karaoke, too hard to read…

WORN Fashion Journal 3rd Annual Heartbreak Karaoke

Was it the son of a preacher man? A devil in a blue dress?

Or just that guitar picker your daddy told you not to marry

(You know they ain’t no good and your babies will probably grow up to be cowboys, too.)

You obviously don’t listen – but now everyone else will, dammit.

WORN FASHION JOURNAL proudly presents

the 3rd Annual VALENTINE’S DAY HEARTBREAK KARAOKE

SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 14, 2010

don’t just feel the pain, spread it around.

We’ve got a microphone, sad, sad songs,

and enough bitter tears and sweet liquor to fill a swimming pool.

What else could you possibly need to mourn your latest romantic folly?

The hurtin’ happens at TERANGA, 159 Augusta Ave, Kensington Market

Doors open at 9 PM

Heartbreak at 9:01

Total emotional catharsis and hail a cab at 2 AM

$7 at the door, $5 if you’re wearing RED

Consider this your chance to dish it out instead of take it.
You can thank us later.