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Wayne Coyne, lead singer of the Flaming Lips performs at the Pemberton Festival on July 26, 2008. Jennifer Roberts/Globe and Mail (JENNIFER ROBERTS/THE GLOBE AND MAIL)
Wayne Coyne, lead singer of the Flaming Lips performs at the Pemberton Festival on July 26, 2008. Jennifer Roberts/Globe and Mail (JENNIFER ROBERTS/THE GLOBE AND MAIL)

Essential tracks Add to ...

Us and Them by the Flaming Lips and Stardeath and White Dwarfs with Henry Rollins, available on YouTube, from The Dark Side of the Moon.

Who better than Oklahoma City's foremost psychedelic rockers to remake Pink Floyd's legendarily trippy Dark Side of the Moon? Taken as tribute, it's hard not to be impressed by the whooshing synths and slow-drip guitar solo, but it's the casual cruelty of Rollins's spoken-word cameo ("I mean, he got off lightly - I would have given him a thrashing") that makes this a real mind-bender.



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Poker Face (Piano and Voice Version) by Lady Gaga, available on YouTube, from the album The Remix.

Having built so much of her public persona around outrageous costumes and provocative videos, it's easy to assume that Gaga is just gimmicks and gadgetry. That's why the smartest track on her newest remix album - her second such album in nine months - isn't a remix at all, but an unadorned piano-and-voice version of Poker Face that brings out her inner Elton John. And yes, this move, too, is probably just another bit of calculated image management, but that doesn't make it any less brilliant.



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Whole Lotta Love by Mary J. Blige, from the album Stronger with Each Tear.

It takes some serious cojones for a soul diva to take command of this hyper-masculine classic, but Blige not only promises to give us "every bit of my love," but manages to make Robert Plant's exaggerated blues mannerisms seem credible even when tied to an Ace of Base-style synth beat. Sure, Ann Wilson of Heart might have made a more convincing cover, but would it have been as much fun?

Born Free by M.I.A., available at vimeo.com.

Thanks to Romain-Gavras's deeply disturbing video, this track became such a source of controversy that its musical merit went completely overlooked. Yes, the utterly NSFW video, in which sectarian suppression is represented by the brutal arrest of random redheads who are chased and killed by gun-toting, flack-jacketed troopers, is the stuff of nightmares, but so is the relentless pressure of the track's grinding bass and distorted drums, a combination that makes the irony of M.I.A.'s rap painfully inescapable.

 

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