Natalie Imbruglia’s “Torn” is a cover. Now What?

On August 23rd, 2017, Twitter user @VilinskiKonjic fired off a post that yanked the mask off of Natalie Imbruglia’s “Torn,” airing the song’s true identity like a befuddled Scooby Doo villain.

A quick history: “Torn,” Imbruglia’s magnum opus, is a cover of a song originally written by members of a band called Ednaswap in 1993, though they didn’t immediately record it. The earliest commercially available recording of “Torn” comes to us by way of Lis Sørensen, who sang the song in Danish under the title “Brændt,” also in 1993. Then two years later, Ednaswap put their own version of the track to tape. Imbruglia got her hands on “Torn” two years after that, in 1997, and was even backed on the recording by members of Ednaswap.

Twenty years after that, in the replies to @VilinskiKonjic’s post, baffled Millennials verified the original tweet’s claim after skimming Wikipedia. The post went viral. News outlets picked up the story, which is less about Imbruglia’s non-sole-ownership of “Torn” than it is about the reaction to Imbruglia’s non-sole-ownership of “Torn” itself. It was a near-universally run puff piece. Even Fox News ran a piece, taking a break from irreversibly scaring shitless and poisoning the brains of your grandparents to point out that their grandchildren are a part of an entire generation of dumbasses who feign outrage over this sort of thing.

That “Torn” is a cover really shouldn’t come to us as that big of a shock. And that our social cohort–extremely online twenty-somethings–didn’t know “Torn” was a cover should come as even less of a surprise. There is simply no reason at all for anyone to know that. Imbruglia’s iteration of “Torn” peaked at #42 on the Billboard Hot 100. The fact that it’s even still a staple of Nineties Nights and receives regular air time on adult top 40 radio stations nationwide feels like a fluke.

But the commodification of nineties nostalgia has kept relevant songs that would have otherwise slipped into the pop cultural ether, and “Torn”, benefiting from this phenomenon, finds itself frozen in time and artificially boosted in significance. As such,the faux-nostalgia many of us affix to “Torn” is completely misassigned.

I personally adore the song, but I was also nine when it reached its apex of popularity, not old enough to associate it with usual nostalgic triggers (reaching a key sexual milestone, experiencing heartache, coughing a lot while smoking weed for the first time, etc.). No, the key memories I have of listening to “Torn” contemporary with its brush with commercial success involve sitting in the middle row of my mom’s minivan, feeling mortified and embarrassed when Imbruglia sings about “lying naked on the floor.”

I’m going to unfairly assume my earliest experiences with “Torn” are par for the course for folks of my age and similar suburban upbringing. This is all to say that there is no reason for a song that never cracked the top 10 on Billboard (a song which most of us probably associate with our varying levels of budding sexual repression) to have a universally known origin story.

Blinded by the Light,” the #1 hit that propelled Manfred Mann’s Earth Band to chart-topping heights, is a Bruce Springsteen cover. (Bruce’s version is far superior, but that’s for another post.) This is a song that still lights up classic rock radio, and demolished “Torn” in terms of commercial success. But still, it’s not that widely known to be a cover, even by old-timers who probably performed unspeakable sexual deeds while on unfathomably cool drugs while rockin’ out to it. I’ll give us all a pass for not being privy to “Torn”’s status as a cover.

But this isn’t an article about the public reaction to the revelation. At this point, all that matters is this: Does the version of “Torn” we love kick the shit out of the two other versions we only just learned of?

Let’s listen.

It’s only fair to start with the OGs, Ednaswap. They may not have recorded it first, but there’s no denying the songwriting is top-notch. Ultimately, this version relies too heavily on what we now consider ‘90s alt-rock tropes. The sparse, opening guitar riff falls somewhere on the spectrum between “Yellow Ledbetter” and really any Stone Temple Pilots song. And the lack of bass or drum until nearly the two-minute mark screams “Glycerine.” No shots at the Edna-heads out there, but at this point, the 15 or so ‘90s bands that get a pass on sounding identical to one another are canon, and Ednaswap is simply not one of them.

Up next, we have Lis Sørensen and her Danish language “Torn,” “Brændt,” which translates to “burnt.” “Brændt” is way closer to the solid studio gold struck by Imbruglia and her backing band. Sonically, it’s more fleshed out, which is nice from a pop music perspective. Danish sounds very nice when sung, and being “burnt” in the context of a relationship gives the song a sort of different meaning. But ultimately Sørensen loses points for her gratuitous employment of out-of-place Spanish guitar licks and general disjointed instrumentation. That, and for some reason Sørensen wears a bindi in the music video. Sure, 20 years ago maybe that was okay, but it’s tough to not watch it through the lens of modern cultural understanding, and Sørensen’s schtick smacks of appropriation.


(one more time)

Oh baby. Now it’s time for the real thing. By now you know where my biases lie, but you also probably also knew deep down in your heart of hearts that Natalie Imbruglia may not have written “Torn,” but she sure as shit owns it. Damn. Just listen to this thing. It’s pop perfection. Imbruglia is Australian but like nearly all great pop songs from this era, it sounds like she’s from Des Moines, singing in a near-accentless, generic American affect. The jarring guitar hits from “Brændt” have been ironed out, and in their place is a track that relies more heavily on the drive of the drum machine and rather sexy–if I do say so–bass line. The angelic backing vocals. The guitar solo outro that doesn’t even try and is just like, three sustained notes. It’s perfect.

At the end of the day, history will not remember that Imbruglia did not originally pen “Torn.” In a few month’s time, Ednaswap will be again relegated to the dregs of Spotify. Between the cover-er and the cover-ee, somebody’s done a better job, and in the case of Natalie, here, she retains her status as rightful voice behind “Torn” because she takes the song to a new level. Sure, this and all other claims of sonic superiority are potentially disputable. But at the end of the day, it’s like what long-dead Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart said, and I’m paraphrasing here: “I know the better recording of a song when I hear it.”

Paul Snyder is on Twitter as @danieldingus. Please pay him to do things.

‘Who will survive in America?’: Gil Scott-Heron, in samples

Who will survive in America?

A pertinent question, at this time and all times. If you asked it surreptitiously, under your breath while you read the news at work or at school this week, your colleague might have looked up, pointed at you, and said, “Kanye. Nice.”

The question is a quote which from the first album of musician and poet Gil Scott-Heron, sampled in the final moments of the epic backhanded apology that is Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (2010).  What began as “Comment #1” (1970), the war cry of a young black man looking to distance himself from white allies-until-graduation, was recontextualized as “Who Will Survive In America,” a cry-for-help from an overserved ubercelebrity.

To his own generation, Gil Scott-Heron was predominantly a writer and a poet who had a successful decade-long turn as a recording artist. Others know him through his infamous turn of phrase, “The revolution will not be televised.” To a few, he was the estranged artist son of Gil Heron, the first black player on Glasgow’s Celtic Football Club. But to many artists, journalists, and crate-diggers, he was the undisputed father of the Hip-Hop movement.

Whether Scott-Heron agreed or not (he didn’t), there is no denying the influence of his sound in rap nor the presence of his actual sounds in 21st century beats. Gil Scott-Heron is, if not the most often-sampled, then perhaps the most significantly sampled artist in recent Hip-Hop music.

No producer has been a more direct (or perhaps a more obvious) purveyor of Scott-Heron samples in Rap than Kanye . If you hadn’t heard Scott-Heron before 2005 then your first experience was probably “Home Is Where The Hatred Is” off of the 1971 album Pieces Of A Man. On a track called “My Way Home” (2005), West recorded Common over a loop of the original tune. Then, when Common didn’t want the track for his own Be album, West included it in his own somewhat underrated sophomore album Late Registration (and amazingly didn’t include himself on the track at all). Years later, DJ Rashad would also sample the track on the bittersweet “I’m Gone” (2011).

In another case of West and Common collaborating over a Scott-Heron anti-drug ballad, Kanye flipped the supremely funky “Angel Dust” into The Game’s “Angel” (2008, featuring Common). The original came from 1978’s Secrets, which Scott-Heron recorded with his most frequent collaborator, Brian Jackson.

To this day, “We Almost Lost Detroit” remains one of Scott-Heron’s and Jackson’s most celebrated songs. The two recorded it for their essential 1977 album Bridges in response to a 1966 nuclear meltdown in Detroit that writer John G. Fuller drew attention to in his 1975 book of that same title. Common’s “The People” (2007) includes West’s most creative Scott-Heron sample – a pitched-up loop of the singer’s trademark glottal melisma – and producer J. Rawls sampled the song more literally for “Brown Skin Lady” (1997) off of Mos Def and Talib Kweli’s equally essential collaborative album Black Star.

If “Steve Of Internet” was the top Heron-flipper in the aughts, Dilla Of Internet has the title in the teens. Knxwledge got to sampling Scott-Heron early and often in his now-widely-celebrated beatmaking career. One particular gem is “inamerika” (2012), which loops the frequently sampled title track off of Scott-Heron’s and Jackson’s 1974 album Winter in America.

Undoubtedly the most jaw-dropping, hand-over-heart sample of Scott-Heron ever is Knwxledge’s use of “The Bottle,” also off of Winter in America, to make the beat for his rhetorical pimp anthem with Anderson .Paak, “Suede” (2015). (N.B.: The songs have very different messages for the children.)

Completing the trifecta of Knwxledge samples from Winter in America is “Peace Go With You, Brother,” which the producer turned into “Dryice” in 2011. Most Knwxledge fans will also likely recognize the Rhodes keys from Freddie Joachim’s “Waves” which Joey Bada$$ used for his breakout track of the same name. And more attentive listeners may catch the segment of the song that was looped by Willie B for Kendrick Lamar’s Section.80 cut “Poe Man’s Dreams” (I’m not going to tell you where exactly – listen for it ).

Gil Scott-Heron polished the instrumentation and production considerably for the sound of his 1980’s solo work. Yasiin Bey and producer D-Prosper harnessed the glittering keys of “Legend In His Own Mind” off of 1980’s Real Eyes for the reference-heavy “Mr. Nigga” with Q-Tip.

Scott-Heron also made an album with Jackson in 1980 called 1980, inevitably featuring the song “1980.” That title track includes lyrics that eerily seem to anticipate the poet’s impending downfall: “it’s 1980, and there ain’t even no way back to ’75.” Similarly, the 2Pac song “Ready For Whatever” (c. 1997) which samples “1980,” finds Pac wondering aloud if he will survive or die in the streets. That song was produced by Johnny J, who also died a tragic and early death.

Gil Scott-Heron was dropped by his long-time label Arista Records in the mid-80’s and descended into addiction and relative obscurity until more than ten years later, when he returned with the jazzed-out Spirits in 1994. The album finds Scott-Heron revisiting “Home Is Where The Hatred Is” in a series of variations titled “The Other Side,” which Jamie xx would later sample on the track “Home” for his album celebrating the poet and musician, We’re New Here (2011). The standout track of Spirits, however, is the Protean, mood-shifting “Give Her A Call,” which some may recognize from the Pro Era track of the same name.

Alignment with XL Recordings would bring Scott-Heron back to relevance – to serious hype, really – by combining the artist’s poetry and pared-down blues renditions with subtle UK bass production to create his 2010 album I’m New Here. The clap loop from the project’s title track made it an instant classic and has helped to do the same for the songs that have sampled it since – particularly Jamie xx’s “Rolling In The Deep” remix (2011) and Angel Haze’s “New York” (2012).

The Gil Scott-Heron canon of music and words strips and lays bare one of the deepest and darkest souls in 20th century music, not unlike that of Leonard Cohen in its scope. It’s difficult to say with confidence what song is Scott-Heron deepest, but it’s easy enough to say that this is his darkest. It certainly slaps, though: Flatbush Zombies rapped over it once and XL’s Everything Is Recorded just put Grime-lord-cum-OVO-darling Giggs on it for this year’s Close But Not Quite EP.

A swansong of sorts on a swansong-album – and itself a cover of an old Blues standard – Scott-Heron’s love ballad for no one would become his biggest hit after 1980 due in large part to Jamie xx’s We’re New Here remix, “I’ll Take Care Of U” (2011). Between the release of that remix and Drake’s co-opting it for his single “Take Care” (2011) Gil Scott-Heron would pass away in New York City in May of 2011. Though Drake very safely replaced Scott-Heron’s vocals with Rihanna’s for the song, a small and fast loop of the soul singer’s iconic melisma was included toward the end of the song and could be heard everywhere for months after his death. Few may have known that it was Gil Scott-Heron, but he was always a man who existed in pieces.

Rowan Spencer is a musician, DJ, mixed media artist, and writer from Berkeley, California. He released his first EP A Time May Come in 2016 and is now working on the follow-up. He lives in New York, working in publishing and running Truly Co. in his spare time.
Rowan’s music is on Soundcloud and Spotify. You can also find him on Instagram and Twitter.
 

BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN’S GAYEST HITS

When you think of Bruce Springsteen’s music you think of cars, factories and arena rock. But did you know that some of Bruce Springsteen’s music is also super gay? That’s right folks, there are Bruce Springsteen songs that are either explicitly or subtextually gay, and because I am both very gay, and a huge Bruce Springsteen fan, I’m going to tell you about them now.

DISCLAIMER: This is not to say, of course, that Bruce Springsteen is himself gay or queer. Springsteen often writes in character and just like he’s never fought in Vietnam or served time for statutory rape (re-listen to Working on the Highway because that’s EXACTLY what that song is about) these songs do not mean (ed. note: or…not not mean) that Springsteen himself has had any same-sex experiences.

With that said, let’s dive into Bruce Springsteen’s Gayest Hits.

1. Streets of Philadelphia

This one feels so obvious but I’ve seen straight people mistake lesbian wedding photos for photos of two friends in fun dresses, so let’s start with the obvious. Springsteen wrote this song for the movie Philadelphia, which was one of the first mainstream movies to deal with AIDS, particularly a gay character who had AIDS. The music video even has Tom Hanks, who played said gay character, in it.

But perhaps the clearest piece of evidence is the line “so receive me brother with your faithless kiss” which sounds pretty gay to me, unless the rest of you dudes out there platonically receive your friends with faithless kisses. If you do, I stand corrected.

2. Backstreets

The somewhat gender-neutral name “Terry” already has people thinking it’s about a man. Some say it could be about a romance with a woman named Terry, or a friendship with a man named Terry, or, the correct interpretation, a romance with a man named Terry. No love is quite so filled with defeat as a gay love in 1975.

These two “desperate lovers” are huddled in their cars, waiting to let loose in the deep heart of the night. The lies killed them, the truth ran them down, they saw lots of movies trying to live up to heroes they could never be. If that is not secret teenage gay love, I honestly don’t know what else it could be.

Now, one could read the line “I hated him and I hated you when you went away” as the character pining over a female lover who went to another man. But more accurately, one could read it as the character having his first love abruptly ended because of threats and prejudice from his father, or his male lover’s father, and would hate the man who split them apart.

I’m not saying that’s definitely what it means but I’m saying the evidence for both interpretations is there.

3. This Hard Land

“Just one kiss from you my brother, and we’ll ride until we fall.” That’s an actual unedited line from the song. Not to mention that the character moves out to the frontier, or whatever, with his sister. Because he couldn’t find another women to love. Because he likes dudes. Specifically the dude who he lovingly refers to as brother and wants to ride all night (sorry).

Again, this might be a platonic best friends kiss.

4. Bobby Jean

Bobby Jean is a lesbian. It’s all but spelled out in the song. She likes men’s clothes and she understands Bruce like no one else, probably because they talk about the girls they have crushes on. When she leaves, Bruce doesn’t even try to get her back (if he ever had her in the first place) he just wishes her good luck and wants to say he misses her. He knows she better off finding lesbian love in San Francisco than stuck in the one horse town they used to live in where nobody understood them.

5. Pink Cadillac/Frankie Fell In Love

This hot femme drives a pink car and she won’t let Bruce have sex with her. I bet she falls in love with the nice butch girl in Frankie Fell in Love and they live happily ever after.

6. Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)

Actually not gay at all, but gets a special mention for the line “closets are for hangers, winners use the door” which is a gay line in an otherwise straight song. When you’re a gay audience, you take what you can get.

Bella Pori is a state government employee and co-founder of Call Them In, an email reminder service that makes it easy to call your Senators and support progressive legislation. She loves to talk about Bruce Springsteen, so talk to her on Twitter @BellaPori.

Daddy Yankee :) but also :(

The summer isn’t technically over, but I think we all know the only possible choice for the song of summer is Despacito, by Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee. Despite all my attempts to resist this infectious jam, it shimmied its way into my heart and the top of the charts, its corresponding music video reaching 1 billion views faster than any other YouTube video ever.

This means that the United States has a Spanish language song at the top of of the charts for the first time since 1996, and more importantly, it means Daddy Yankee is relevant again.

As a young person in New Mexico, Daddy Yankee’s 2003 reggaeton hit “Gasolina” was absolutely inescapable. You couldn’t get through a school dance, child’s birthday party, or outdoor event without everyone breaking out into that catchy chorus. Even for the kids who didn’t speak Spanish, it was a pretty easy chorus to sing: All you had to do is belt out “Dame mas gasolina” at appropriate intervals, and you could fit in!

And what is this “gasolina” that you want more of? Surely the gas you use to fill up your sweet car, I thought, so you can drive as fast as Daddy Yankee spits his rhymes. It’s a staple of  children’s birthday parties. There’s no way “gasolina” has a nefarious meaning, or signifies anything inappropriate. RIGHT?!?

 

Wrong. What Daddy Yankee refers to as “gasolina” is what a doctor would refer to as semen, what a hip hop artist would refer to as skeet, and what yours truly would refer to as jizz. When you sing the chorus to “gasolina,” you’re really asking for someone to…well you get the point.

When my innocent childhood memories of frolicking to Daddy Yankee were marred by this more nefarious double entendre, I was shocked.

But not as shocked as I was when I learned that Daddy Yankee is apparently a huge fan of John McCain.

That’s right. In a 2008 appearance during Senator John McCain’s presidential campaign, Daddy Yankee went on record calling McCain “a fighter for the Hispanic community” and “a fighter for the immigration issue.’’

In fairness to Daddy Yankee, this was before McCain supported the draconian Arizona law, S.B. 1070, which allowed police to arrest anyone (read: any non-white person) who wasn’t carrying identification or immigration papers. But it was after McCain chose Palin as his running mate, so really, what were you thinking, Daddy Yankee?

When asked in 2008 what “Gasolina” was about, Daddy Yankee insisted the song was about energy independence. I don’t know if I’m more disillusioned to learn that a favorite song of my childhood is about sex, or if Daddy Yankee is a Republican.

Of course, none of that is going to stop me from listening to Gasolina. Even at a children’s birthday party.

 

sorry, not that way, John.

 

Bella Pori is a state government employee and co-founder of Call Them In, an email reminder service that makes it easy to call your Senators and support progressive legislation. She loves to talk about Bruce Springsteen, so talk to her on Twitter @BellaPori.

Playlist: Veggin’ Out

 

Howdy, seed-savers – resident part-time playlist maker, part-time farmhand Nicola Householder is serving up a nice flavorful mix of some vegan, gluten-free, totally freerange jams to carry you from harvest season all the way through canning. Turns out most of the greats did eat their greens.

https://open.spotify.com/embed/user/no_new_music/playlist/4hjkqaqFkKByoRQfFl2tSd

Nicola Householder is a San Francisco-based graphic designer and former college radio DJ for Pratt WPIR. She specializes in print, packaging, and pranks. Find her online at nicolahouseholder.com and @nicolasage.

Nuns Who Have Fun: Some thoughts on Hoobastank, Sister Janet Mead, Sufjan, and Christian Rock

We’ll get to Sister Janet, but first, a confession. When I was 16, I took it to the next level with my boyfriend: I brought him to youth group. It was a normal Sunday night for me, but under the microscope of a relationship the routine made me self-conscious – kickball, prayer, dinner, prayer, singing, prayer. The last non-prayer activity in particular had my Catholic-reared, agnostic beau squirming. Later I said to him, “I’m sorry you came on a singing night,” as if that were an exceptional circumstance, rather than the norm.

Before I’m burned at the stake for being a total loser, let me remind you of two things: one, I had a boyfriend, and two, it was a cool church; we sat on pillows instead of chairs and were told God loved everyone by big-hearted adults with strong capacities for humor. This hipness extended to the music, which mixed traditional worship with upbeat, folksy compositions, and edgier fare – not unlike the sludgy alternative rock you could find by tuning in to Q-106.3, pre the devastating Top-40 takeover.

Which is why for over 10 years of my life I thought Hoobastank’s “The Reason” was about God, or at the least, Jesus. Contextually, why wouldn’t it be – “the reason is [Y]ou”? Duh. God. I mean honestly, being about finding religion makes that song a lot less pathetic than being about a relationship.

Pro tip: If your song is generic enough to be either about God or someone you’re bonin’, you could be a genius, but most likely you’re a terrible songwriter (or worse, Father John Misty). Being bad at songwriting is not a condition unique to Hoobastank, and the same level of gracelessness afflicts mediocre songwriters on both sides of the aisle; in fact, in 2004 John Jeremiah Sullivan laid out a convincing argument in GQ that Christian rock has “excellence-proofed itself,” by “reward[ing] both obviousness and maximum palatability.”

In the same article, which you should really just read, Sullivan notes the reluctance of talented Christian-identified artists like Damien Jurado (“firstrate song[writers]”) to associate publicly with the faith lest he be linked by extension, to the genre; an updated article could as easily pivot to the bashful poetics of Sufjan Stevens, who regularly disorients his majority Pitchfork-reading (and -raising?) audience with work that reveals an intimate, if conflicted, familiarity with the Good Book.

Between obviousness and maximum palatability, Sufjan has neither; lines like “I’m drawn to the blood / the flight of a one-winged dove” deny the Christian rock camp the satisfaction of mainlining praise in favor of complexity and spacious, synth-tinged bridges.

The literal if boring evangelicals, though, and the shy and subtle poets of the faith may do well to heed the tale of Sister Janet Mead, an Australian nun who cut to the chase–and the top of the national charts—with her pop cover of “The Lord’s Prayer.”  

It begins with a riptide of distortion, preparing the listener for almost anything but what’s to come: A bright, sunny rendition of Christendom’s most common text which sounds as if the Mamas and Papas had decided to tackle Jesus, all eight arms wide open.

Sister Janet’s “The Lord’s Prayer,” certified gold, is an almost unbelievably straight-up version of the church staple. No words are altered; there is no tongue-in-cheek phrasing; no asides – just “Our father, who art in Heaven…” ad finitum. There are no oblique references to ex-lovers or niche local geography; nor does the song subscribe to the overreaching sycophancy of faith-based rock bands attempting to reinforce their soul-saving swagger; just the capable soprano of Sister Janet – and, in the video, the band of the lounging parochial schoolgirls who accompany her Sister Act (it’s definitely not Britney, bitch).  

Like a ’70s “Gangnam Style,” Sister Janet’s success in the American and global markets seems inexplicable and practically foreign – while both she and Psy have their charms, the confusion is less rooted in the music itself than in how something so different than its contemporaries (on the year-end Billboard 100 chart, Sister Janet was sandwiched solidly between Jim Croce and Lamont Dozier) succeeded so stratospherically while breeding no recognizable copycat hits.

Further beating the odds, Sister Janet took off while the nation’s religious faith was in freefall; the census allowed respondents to select “no religious affiliation” for the first time in 1971, registering about 7-8% of the population, a number which grew steadily in the decades to come.

Still, the people listened. Sister Janet Mead is hardly the most rockin’ Sister of all time—we’ll give that title to Sister Rosetta Tharpe, even though she wasn’t a nun, with the very metal Hildegard von Bingen as stiff competition—but Sister Janet’s indifference to her newfound success certainly stands out. She donated all proceeds from the record, claimed to despise the fame, and never had another hit (though she did quietly release another album in 1999, to little fanfare).

Do we have another Sister Janet-esque songstress to look forward to in this new millennia? The past six months have been rife with bizarro-world surprises, but by and large a Second Coming seems unlikely. That being said however, as a musical novelty and historical oddity, hallowed be her name.

Charlotte Murtishaw is an American.