Monday 31 July 2017

Fantasy Cover Version #1 - if Nick Cave covered "No Surprises"...

In which I attempt to start a blog series that you can contribute to...

Here's the gist. I want to hear about your fantasy cover versions. No, not that sort of fantasy, perve. But if fantasy football can continue to be a thing, why not this? Simply make the case for the cover version that you'd love to hear but, fairly obviously, does not actually exist. And send me that case, here. By case, I mean explain why artist X covering song Y would be good, don't just send me their respective names. If you want to include supporting evidence in the form of links to embeddable content, that's fine. All such evidence will be considered! But note I won't be linking to MP3s - I've had too much DMCA grief in the past, thanks.

I'll get things started, shall I? I'd like to hear Nick Cave cover Radiohead's "No Surprises". Members of the jury, I present these facts.

Witness the original, a peerless slice of peak Radiohead, with a delicate lullaby tune and heart-squeezing lyrics:

Add Cave's proven ability to reinterpret a much-loved song of similar classic status, with his waltz-timed take on Pulp's Disco 2000...

...and previous convictions for making beautiful songs with depressing themes...

...and you have a winning combination (and no, that wasn't just an excuse to feature peak indie-Kylie, honest guv).

The case against? Well, would Cave have any appetite for singing such a bleak song, after what happened to his son? I think the album Skeleton Tree tells us that he might. Either way, I submit that Cave's rich baritone and understated delivery is perfect for this beautiful, skewed take on the pain of millennial life and, as such, have no hesitation in making it Fantasy Cover Version #1.

So what about you? What's your fantasy cover version? Tell me and, as long as you're not suggesting that Psy and Crazy Frog cover Especially For You, there's a good chance it will appear as a future post in the series. Don't forget, to qualify the cover must not actually exist!

Wednesday 26 July 2017

Bye-bye (b)adman

I've ranted posted before about how unhappy I get when a song I love gets co-opted for an advert (Pixies and Violent Femmes sadly inspiring those past posts). You'll be unsurprised to learn it's happened again.

The McPunk girl

Whilst on a long journey at the weekend, I was station-surfing in the car and chanced upon What Do I Get? by Buzzcocks, blaring out of Radio X. I'll have some of that, I thought. But my musical happiness, like so many forms of happiness these days, was crushingly short-lived. For the band's second single proper, and 1978 chart debut, has been appropriated by corporate American cow-pedlars McDonald's! Yes, Mc-sodding-Donald's! Pete Shelley's 2½ minute punk paean to loneliness is soundtracking a TV ad, and associated radio spot, in which a callow youth goes to the drive-thru and falls for a McDonald's girl who is an ad-man's idea of alternative, i.e. she has subtle, non-specific tattoos, wears slightly more eye make-up than might be considered average and dyes what little of the hair you can see beneath her uniform baseball cap. You can imagine the scene as a gaggle of modern-day Don Drapers mull over what music says alternative, and yearning, and can be tied in with having to choose which of our new wraps to get at the drive-thru. Of course! 40-year old punk! And we can make the in-store signage and associated press graphics look a bit like the cover for Never Mind The Bollocks, yellow and pink with cut type lettering, even though that's a different band entirely, because kids today won't know, will they? It's all punk, right? And we're so punk!

All of which leaves a bad taste in my mouth, like an unwanted gherkin or a dollop of special sauce. I prefer to reclaim the song, so put all thoughts of garlic mayo wraps from your mind and watch this instead:

And a bonus for you. Remember in 2014 when the cow-pedlars were "celebrating" 40 years in the UK, by allowing users to create their own "40 Together" memory with an online poster generator? Well, I had a McDonald's memory from the 70s and, although it was quite hard to capture the whole story within the prescribed word limit, this is what I came up with. Curiously, it was quickly taken down from their website, but not before I screen-capped it...

Friday 21 July 2017

Abide with me...

A couple of years ago, I managed to get enough people to pledge to buy a ticket to stage a screening of Pulp Fiction at my local art house cinema. It was in lieu of a birthday party, and seemed like a good way of bringing people from different walks of my life together without the pressure of actually having a party. And it was pretty good! So much so that I'm going to try again this year. Here's how it works.

OurScreen is an initiative that basically lets your crowdsource cinema screenings. You pick a film (from their list - you can't just have anything), select a participating cinema, pick a date and time and pledge to buy the first ticket. Then you advertise it like hell to all your mates, colleagues, family, social media acquaintances, passing strangers, anyone. They can all pledge to buy tickets too. And if the cinema's ticket threshold is reached before a certain deadline, everyone's pledges get taken and the film is screened.

I've learnt a bit about the sort of film I need to choose to get ticket pledges, from a couple of unsuccessful screening attempts, and so this year will be pitching Coen brothers masterpiece The Big Lebowski for your consideration. To reserve your seat, you need to head, pronto, to And remember, the Dude abides.

Monday 17 July 2017

Getting old, Latin, spoofs and serendipity

I had an email today from the alumni association of the university I studied for my first degree at. This was the header:

It's 25 years since you left

Thanks. Thanks a lot. Way to make me feel old. And thanks especially for the 18pt semi-bold, hot-pink font to emphasise the fact.

This did set a train of thought in motion, however. It started with me wondering whether the Latin alma mater applied only to the first uni studied at, or last, or any/all. So I did what everyone does these days and Googled the phrase. Here, you can too, in case you're doubting me when I say that the phrase is defined as "the university, school, or college that one formerly attended." On that basis, it can be used to described any former seat of learning. And that should have been that. Except...

...except over in the right sidebar of the Google search results page was a suggested related search for "Alma Mater Europaea (university). Number of students: 1,300. President: Felix Unger." And that was what shunted the train of thought onto a branch line. That had to be a spoof, right, some sort of pseudo-university or dodgy certificates-for-cash scam, surely, because Felix Unger was the name of one half of The Odd Couple in Neil Simon's famous play starring Jack Lemmon and Walther Matthau, and later made into a TV series with Tony Randall and Jack Klugman! So there surely wasn't a seat of learning with Felix Unger as president, was there? Except of course there is: Austrian Felix Unger is one of the world's leading cardiac surgeons, and performed Europe's first artificial heart transplant in 1986.

Okay, I was content with this quirk of coincidence - that's not the serendipity of this post's title. By now, I was rather more concerned with The Odd Couple - not the film, though that's great. Rather the TV series, which was often repeated during the school holidays of my teens. I used to love it and, curious to see how well it had aged, I hopped over to YouTube and found this. Aside from still being funny, who else should I discover in this clip (from 1974) than one Al Molinaro as a police officer - better known to us all as "Big Al" Delvecchio from Happy Days! No real surprise there though - his was a recurring role. No, no, the real serendipity here was the discovery of a pre-fame, pre-Close Encounters Teri Garr as the insurance clerk. Here, take a look, about 25 seconds in.

And that's not the end of the chance discoveries. Perusing Teri's credits on IMDB, I discovered that in 1969 TV Series It Takes A Thief, Teri played a character called Maggie Philbin! Presumably not this one, from '80s Tomorrow's World:

And that was when the train of thought completely derailed. Feeling rather like Ouroboros, I closed the browser.

Monday 3 July 2017

It's not quite Judgement Day

You may have read about Inspirobot already. If not, a potted summary would be something like: it's an online artificial intelligence (AI) program that is designed solely to generate the sort of motivational quote-and-image combinations that swamp us at every turn these days. You know the sort of thing, you see them everywhere from conference room walls to social media timelines. A few are good. Most are inane. Some, annoyingly, as just truisms. And some are just plain annoying.

But now, Inspirobot takes things to a new level. One click is all is takes to generate a motivational poster, with a short, snappy phrase and a filtered, 'shopped image to reinforce the message. AI is great, right? The future has arrived, right?

Except AI, at least as implemented here, is all about the "A" and not so much about the "I". Either that or Inspirobot has had some form of existential crisis. Because I had a little play with the AI, and here's what I got back (you can click all the pictures for a full-size view):

Things started off okay... ish. I mean, boring ideas aren't great, are they? So it's okay, if a little too on the nose:

Things took a slight left turn after that. I mean, I imagine a pretty face and a tea would help, but they are far from all you need, surely?

Next up, things took a darker turn, with Inspirobot suggesting crime pays. Or at least is rewarded with cake! All reinforced with a nice light, frothy picture.

And then... Inspirobot then went to a much darker place. All you can say is that it would have been even darker if the two phrases had been the other way around. The picture doesn't help either, raising the question of whether the guy with his hands in his pockets had been disposing of the bodies in that lake...

I stopped at this point. And I'd hesitate to call this AI. It's just a random poster generator, surely? For if this is what passes for AI in 2017, to the extent that someone is proud enough of it to put it online for the world to see, we can safely say we are some way away from being enslaved by Skynet.

Anyhoo... if you're bored and have five minutes, why not give Inspirobot a go yourself? You might get something unintentionally funny. Or you might get something a little more sinister...