Sometimes the only way to get what you want is to buy something else. That’s what Uncle Dan taught me. He’s quite a guy, if not quite a guy. Actually, he’s the spirit of giving (and taking), a sport and a pastime.
“Uncle Dan” is the official trade name I just invented (I’m in retail, see) for a knockoff single, a cover of a current or still-sought-after hit song otherwise readily available only on the original artist’s full-length album.
Uncle Dan’s budget don’t allow no studio plastic surgery, so his enterprising ragamuffins have to make ad vantage of being just a bit different. They go to nightschool, study where the day’s star pupil stashes basic mistakes and other hidden potential. Uncle Dan calls this “cleaning up.”
Cynthiana’s one nightscholarly urchin who gets extra points for practicing sleight of hand. Her specialty is similar difference: On her improbable dance mixes of Alanis Morissette’s knock-kneed “Thank U,” she sounds just enough like Canada’s High Priestess of Yaah-Yaah to shift her improved delivery from noticeable to startling. The real Alanis murmurs these words, holding them back, not letting them go play with the music, which slogs along, waiting for the chorus (big whoop). But Cynthiana’s balancing her bounce on a mountain railroad, one hand waving free—all that corny stuff! It’s so great how the music sharpens and punctuates “The moment I gave up on it/was the moment I had more than I could hand le/The moment I let go of it/was the moment I touched down”: land just wrong, and the sweet rhythm machine will slice your baloney too fine. I’m not hearing a superstar anymore, I’m hearing the girl in the song—she’s learned life’s lessons, kept some blue notes there to remind her of the mess Alanis left when she went away. But now she’s wheeling out, ready for the next turn, skinny legs and all! Every mix tells the story a little differently, which adds up to a satisfying cumulative effect: You can’t stick a fork in her, ’cause she ain’t done yet.
Even better, the Obscure’s Bill board Maxi-Singles-Sales-top-20 take on the Offspring’s “Pretty Fly (for a White Guy)” sounds just like Dexter from the neck up—Sgt. Rock bellowing “Shape up!!”—but the rest of him is mad dancing eerie cool. Is this the poor wannabe Fly Guy’s (vengeful?) dream? Or Dexter’s own…night mare? Amazing how little had to be done to this righteously rockist song to bring out its natch’l rhythm!
I think these low-rent revelations can be good for everybody. Good for the consumer: Even the ones who think they’re buying the original (Hmm, the Obscure…?) will get a nice surprise (or not, if they buy a dud Dan, but that’s cheaper than a dud original album). And good for the original artist to have some pressure off: Here’s your single, but it’s not me, so the record company’s okay with it (because a lotta people aren’t gonna touch an easy-cheesey lookin’ Uncle Dan). If it stinks, remember, it’s not me (Hmm, wonder why they didn’t like that version?); if it’s good, well, donlike it too much. That’s not Whitney vs. Mariah–level pressure, obviously—I can ignore flash-in-the-pan Uncle Dans, who have no real Behind the Music–type careers, or take the risk of trying things differently, and nobody will know why. (“How’d you ever think of it?” “Wellll…”)
But enough about our hype-othetical “I Superstar”‘s weird problems. You might get a fresh kick out of Chucklebutt’s servicing of Chumbawumba’s “Tubthumping.” You know: Good Girls crooning comments between Bad Boy (will be Boys, overdubbed) chanting “I get knocked down! But I get up again! You’re never gonna keep me down!” over and over. Chucklebutt starts his maxi-single by maybe-mock-pompously announcing his disillusionment with music—you don’t quite know where he stands. Some bland, arbitrary dance mixes, then he starts adding stuff, like a two-note piano exercise betwixt Johnny One-Note’s chants, undercut ting but making them less monotonous. Chucklebutt’s just another use ful muso, even when cracking wise. Until the “Dub” abruptly drops every thing but Johnny, bouncing “I get knocked down-down-down” on a giant (two-chord!) knee, then into a loping rhythm, looking for the rest of his beloved words. He’ll find them some day, won’t he? Meantime, he’s getting some good exercise.
Oh, Chumbawumba’s got their own “Dub” too, on their pricey import single. It distills the pale moods of the Good Girls’ interludes, wipes away the rest of the song, and serves you a glass of Ambience to stare into. But it’s up to Chucklebutt to spike the drink, to refill your ears with sociable music. He’s playing for half-looped humans, even if he does play tricks on some of ’em—he takes his pleasure, he gives some back.
Cynthiana: Interhit Records, interhi t@earthlink. net; the Obscure: Twin Sounds, c/o K-Tel, 2605 Fernbrook Ln. North, Minneapolis, MN 55447; Chucklebutt: Under the Cover, 71 Newark Way, Maplewood, NJ 07040.