#8 – “1999” (1985)

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L.K.: I forgot how screamy this cover was.
A.S.: This is such a fantastic cover, in that bears-virtually-no-resemblance-to-the-original early TMBG way.
L.K.: I love early TMBG covers because they’re all so delightfully fucked up.  Did they not know the lyrics, or did they just decide it would be more interesting to scream gibberish instead of attempt to enunciate anything?
A.S.: I doubt they knew all the words, but they knew some of them, and I guess they just decided that “The sky was all purple” was the only one worth singing in the verse, probably due to the continuous thread of “purple” in Prince’s existence. They’ve done a fantastic job turning a futuristic 6-minute dance-rock smash into a 2-minute dissonant hyperactive swing tune. Linnell’s accordion cluster chords are wonderful, as well.
L.K.: I am actually not that familiar with Prince’s music, although upon re-listening to the original “1999”, I realize that I have heard it before. I just couldn’t recognize it at all from TMBG’s cover.
A.S.: Yeah, it’s one of Prince’s biggest hits, and the start to an excellent album.
L.K.: It’s like They Might Be Giants were in competition with themselves to see how much they could make a cover not resemble the original song. As heretical as it is to say, I usually wind up prefering the TMBG versions, oddly enough (except for their Rodgers & Hart “covers”, which we will get to eventually in Song-A-Day…)
A.S.: Sometimes I like their versions better, although in this case, they really feel like two incomparable, completely different songs.
L.K.: Oh yeah, I’m not saying that it at all resembles the original. Just that I like it, despite it being its own crazy beast.
A.S.: I’m a little surprised and slightly disappointed that TMBG didn’t include the “Mommy, why does everybody have the bomb?” part in the song, since that’s definitely the weirdest part of “1999”
L.K.: Well, it is a very loose adaptation.
A.S.: True, but that seems like the part they’d most likely want to include.
L.K.: They seemed to want to scream more than anything else.
A.S.: Good for them. I wonder if Ween’s heard this.
L.K.: I think at least half of Ween is on record as actively disliking TMBG, though I’m not sure if that’s still the case or not.
A.S.: Yeah, I’m reading a thing from 1997 and it seems pretty negative, which is a shame because there’s definitely a kinship in the simultaneous admiration/distortion of Prince here, even though they’ve approached it from different angles, with TMBG deconstructing Prince and Ween hyperbolizing and directly paying homage to him.
L.K.: John Flansburgh is on record as liking both Ween AND Prince, but then again he seems to like a pretty wide selection of bands.
A.S.: “Nothing pisses me off more than when we get compared to They Might Be Giants. They’re like smart, anal college humor. Our humor is straight up scumbag.” – Gene Ween, 2007. Although that more or less seems to stem from the same sort of derision w/r/t being labeled as a joke or novelty band that Ween, very much like TMBG, have had to dodge for pretty much their entire existence, so there’s another commonality they have.

L.K.: As usual, I have no idea what John Linnell’s feelings are about anything…pretty sure he likes (or at the very least deeply respects) Prince too though.

A.S.: And yeah, I’m sure John Linnell respects him, if “Purple Toupee” is anything to go by.
L.K.: Ah, I forgot about “Purple Toupee”! But that’s another day’s discussion! While we’re on the subject of screamy covers…
A.S.: Yes?
L.K.: I’m just thinking of that band John Flansburgh was in before They Might Be Giants, The Blackouts, where he said they did James Brown covers and he basically just screamed.
A.S.: Oh yes, Flansburgh’s James Chance no wave band.
L.K.: Yeah.
A.S.: I really hope he has something recorded from that era – anything – even just a shoddy live tape somewhere.
L.K.: “We did, uh… we did some really messed up stuff.  We did a bunch of James Brown covers that were un-identifiable as James Brown covers.  I was playing the role of James Brown.” Again with the unrecognizable covers.
A.S.: Sounds almost exactly like what James Chance was doing, presumably a couple of years later.
L.K.: Yeah, but just that they were apparently very into unrecognizable covers even before TMBG was a thing.
A.S.: Ah, good point.  Perhaps a Residents influence? Third Reich and Roll maybe?
L.K.: Also quite possible.
A.S.: That record is practically ground zero for fucked-up covers.
L.K.: There’s probably some precedent, but I’m not sure what.
A.S.: It’ll come to me as I’m falling asleep tonight.
L.K.: Unrelated, but I think Duke Ellington recorded some really ugly cover of “Summertime” to express his dislike of George Gershwin. But we’re talking about covers that are artistically “ugly”, and not merely “I hate this guy/band, so I’m going to butcher this song”. “1999” is the opposite of “I hate this band”, in fact.
A.S.: So you mean Duke Ellington is to blame for the “ironic cover”? That bastard. Actually, I feel like some classical douchebag had parodied some piece of music he hated from another composer in his own composition at some point, so screw that guy, whoever he is.
L.K.: It’s a long, sad tradition, whoever started it. Say what you will about some of TMBG’s more far-out covers, but they’re at least done from a real spirit of love of the source material. (Except “Butcher’s Tale”, which is just a terrible, terrible, terrible cover but alas, that is a story for later…)
A.S.: Oh geez, I forgot about that one, but aside from that, there isn’t a single joke cover in the catalogue, which is a great thing.
2 Responses to “#8 – “1999” (1985)”
  1. Jon says:

    You guys are doing one of the coolest things I’ve seen in a TMBG blog. Keep it up, your conversations are fun and informative.

    – Jon
    CapitalQ on TMBW

  2. artieadams says:

    I love that there are people out there that are just as obsessed with these guys as me. I’m Def gonna be coming back here – this is awesome!

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