JAMES REYNE – Covers the King
April 19, 2010 | Author: Jesse Shrock
Yes, you read right. Knowing full well that he is ‘painting a target on his back’, former Australian Crawl frontman James Reyne is about to release TCB, an album of songs made famous by Elvis Presley.
Though you’d think such a move might be explained by a long-held veneration for The King, Reyne – who says he was never ‘directly influenced’ by Presley – seems more like a moderate fan than a full-blown Elvis aficionado. Indeed, his rationale for doing the album doesn’t seem like a case of ‘why?’, so much as ‘why not?’.
“It just seemed like a good, fun idea at the time…” Reyne says. “It seemed presumptuous enough, and a bit cheeky I suppose…I was talking to Charles Fisher, who produced it, about Elvis and uh… Well, there was no big plan. It just kind of came up.”
“It was a matter of choosing the right songs… Which is quite difficult, because I think there are some songs of Elvis’, like Hound Dog, and That’s Alright Mama, that you just don’t touch. Because they’re too iconic, and you’ll just trip yourself up.”
“I’ve been around for 30 years now, and I think I’ve finally become a singer. I don’t think I really was when I started. But I’ve just developed my craft – I’m a better songwriter and a much better singer. So I thought maybe now I would have the chops to pull this off. Not to do an impersonation or anything, but just to be able to sing these sorts of songs.”
I must admit to some confusion over what Reyne’s idea of ‘iconic’ might be. Surely, some of the songs selected for the album – including All Shook Up and Viva Las Vegas – are about as iconic as you can get! “That’s very true…” Reyne sighs. “As soon as that came out of my mouth I was thinking: ‘Well, hang on…In fact, most of these songs are iconic in some way…’ But there were some of the early ones, like That’s Alright Mama, Heartbreak Hotel, where I just thought: ‘Leave them alone’. Because they were more about him, and the way he naturally stylized them with the way he sung.”
“The only song where I got even in the vague ballpark of doing (an impersonation) is Viva Las Vegas. But that’s just the nature of that song. It’s so fast that, if you’re going to do it properly, it’s going to come out like that a bit.” Reyne also explains that the album’s mysterious title, TCB, is a sly reference to Elvis folklore. “TCB stands for ‘Taking Care Of Business’,” Reyne explains. “Elvis’ inner sanctum – the bodyguard guys and minders who hung around him – called themselves the TCB club, and they had badges saying so. The letters ‘TCB’ were also written on the tail of Elvis’ plane. Once again, my tongue is in my cheek, but I thought it would be just presumptuous enough to suggest that James Reyne is ‘Taking Care Of Business’. As if!”
Where many albums that revisit early rock and roll songs tend to revel in the warmer or rougher textures that were inherent in the production methods of the day, TCB, if anything, takes things in the opposite direction. Many of its tracks have a cleaner, sharper and distinctively digital-age production sound as compared to the original recordings.
“We did have the discussion,” Reyne says. “We could have gone down the Robert Plant/Alison Krauss, the T-Bone Burnett kind of production style… (But) I guess we thought, leave that to the people who do it best. Charles is not that kind of producer anyway. He’s famous for making big, beautiful-sounding pop records. [eg. Savage Garden] And the musicians on it, who are essentially the people I play with – and I’m lucky that, after all this time, I get to play with really fantastic musicians – are more ‘hi-fi’ kind of guys anyway. They’re slick players, so it’s going to come out sounding slick.”
It could be observed that, in recent times, entertainers of Reyne’s generation have been experiencing some of their greatest commercial success with covers albums. (The no. 1 chart debut of Jimmy Barnes’ recent The Rhythm And The Blues being a case in point). Is it reasonable to believe that such trends played a part in Reyne’s sudden compulsion to cover The King? “It certainly wasn’t in my thinking,” Reyne declares, initially arguing that there isn’t a clear-cut case for cover albums being more successful.
Later, though, he makes a concession: “I suppose there is a certain level of thinking at the executive level of the music industry where, if your original stuff gets ignored for long enough, that if you put out something where people know the songs and it’s a no-brainer, that it’ll be like: ‘Oh, he’s still around… Oh, I always liked him.’ It can help revitalize things… But I don’t know that Jim Barnes needs any revitalizing.”
“You’ve got to understand that (for) everybody of our ilk or our generation, any of our original or new stuff… radio just doesn’t play anymore. It hasn’t for ages. That door is closed. I mean, it’s a shame, for all sorts of reasons, but that’s just the state of play at the moment. And we have to work in and around it.”
OTHER ARTISTS TO COVER THE KING:
ZZ Top – Viva Las Vegas
It was the usual flying manes, twirling guitars and scantily-clad girls when the Texan blues-rock troubadours covered this classic for their greatest hits compilation of ‘92. Not surprisingly, it came out sounding remarkably like Legs. So what’s not to like?
The Jeff Beck Group – All Shook Up and Jailhouse Rock
Seminal hard rock pioneers The Jeff Beck Group padded out their admittedly hurried second studio effort, Beck-Ola, with a couple cuts from The King. But with Jeff Beck doing his thing alongside Ronnie Wood on bass and a howling Rod Stewart on vocals, you really can’t go wrong.
The Plastic Ono Band – Blue Suede Shoes
When The Plastic Ono Band, a conceptual ‘supergroup’ formed by John Lennon and Yoko Ono, opened their set at the 1969 Toronto Rock And Roll Revival Festival with this song, it became the first to be performed live by Lennon in a non-Beatles guise. Eric Clapton shreds a solo while Yoko stays mercifully quiet. Can’t argue with that.
U2 – I Cant Help Falling In Love
The Irish juggernauts provided a little respite from their special effects bombast when they closed most of their dates on the ’93 Zoo TV tour with this pared-back tribute. The Edge provides spare baking while Bono, in his dark and tragic alter-ego Mr. McPhisto, croons his farewells to the crowd.
Elvis Presley vs. JXL – Little Less Conversation
Strictly speaking, it’s a remix rather than a cover version, but when Dutch electronic artist JXL (Junkie Expanding Limits) had the bright idea of putting the dance treatment on one of The King’s funkier selections, he had a worldwide club smash on his hands. What’s more, it propelled the Elvis compilation du jour, 30 #1 Hits, to the top of the charts, putting Preley in the record books for being the only artist to score number one albums in four separate decades.
Dread Zeppelin – Heartbreaker Hotel
Paving the way for acts like ‘Beatallica’, this oddball American outfit earned an enduring cult following by performing Led Zeppelin covers in a reggae style with a 300-pound Elvis impersonator known as ‘Tortelvis’ out the front. It’s cheap and cheesy, but some of it – like this clever mash-up of Elvis’ first hit single with Led Zep’s Heartbreaker – works better than you’d expect.