Legendary Hoboken, New Jersey indie rock trio Yo La Tengo is gracing the Pageant with its presence this Thursday, January 31. The band is notoriously unpredictable live, in part thanks to its virtual encyclopedia of cover songs. Here is a list of Yo La Tengo's six best cover songs. Let us know your favorites in the comments, or better yet, send your comment to Yo La Tengo and see if the band will reinterpret it for you.
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6. "Here Comes My Baby" (originally by Cat Stevens)
Yo La Tengo stacked its 1990 album Fakebook with covers of tracks by Daniel Johnston, John Cale, and Flamin' Groovies. By far, the album's best cut is the Cat Stevens tune "Here Comes My Baby." Drummer Georgia Hubley (who may be recognized by Nitpick Six diehards [aka my mother] as the sixth best sloppy drummer of all time) gives the song a bounce not unlike Simon & Garfunkel's "Me & Julio Down By The Schoolyard," and her low-key harmonized melody with guitarist/singer/husband Ira Kaplan gives it that signature Yo La Tengo gentle touch.
5. "Dreams" (originally by Fleetwood Mac)
"Dreams" actually seems like the perfect song for Yo La Tengo. Much like many of the band's originals (including the fantastic recent single "Ohm"), this Fleetwood Mac classic rides an unchanging rhythm as a vehicle for melodic interest. The band could have done a gorgeous droning version that would have fit perfectly on its Summer Sun album, but the trio made "Dreams" a grungy dirge with Lou Reed-meets-Mick Jagger vocal delivery. Yo La Tengo actually un-Yo La Tengo-fied the track. Brilliant.
4. "You Can Have It All" (originally by George McCrae)
The best covers are those that sound like they were written by and for the artist doing the covering. I don't know the original - naturally, I could click on George McCrae's name above and then pretend I'm an expert - but I do know that if somebody played me Yo La Tengo's second best album (And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out) and asked which song was a cover, I would not guess "You Can Have It All."
3. "Nuclear War" (originally by Sun Ra)
Yo La Tengo might be to rock and roll what Sun Ra is to jazz: strange artists with a sense of humor and a penchant for trying their audience's patience. Ra's "Nuclear War" is a free jazz drone with call and response chants such as "Talkin' bout (yeah) nuclear war (yeah) when you push that button (yeah) your ass gots to go (yeah)." Beside the fact that it's stripped to just drums and vocals, Yo La Tengo's version is fairly faithful, and there's something kind of amazing about hearing these notoriously unhip New Jersey residents say "What you gonna do without your ass?" on repeat.
2. "Little Honda" (originally by The Beach Boys)
"Little Honda" is one of the most obviously unoriginal songs in Yo La Tengo's catalog. The fact that it appeared with little purpose on the band's best album I Can Hear The Heart Beating As One is ballsy. As with most Beach Boys songs, "Little Honda" is all sun and fun and summer. Yo La Tengo make the titular vehicle do doughnuts in a muddy field and then bury the tune in the filth. The textural dissonance between the chipper melody and the fuzz-melted guitars is only beaten by the solo's actual dissonance - which previously ranked on our list of best "bad" guitar solos.
1. "Fourth Time Around" (originally by Bob Dylan)
It's a tall order to say that a cover trumps the original, particularly with Dylan. But Yo La Tengo do to "Fourth Time Around" what Hendrix did to "All Along The Watchtower." The group added so much of its own character that every prior version sounds like a demo. Dylan's original on Blonde On Blonde does not do the song justice, his voice too ratty for his own lyrics. Meanwhile, Georgia Hubley's delivery gives proper breathing room to the song's "Norwegian Wood"-esque linear progression. And, for lack of better music journalism buzzwords, it just sounds amazing.