Sean Michaels received the 2014 Scotiabank Giller Prize for his novel Us Conductors. He is the editor of the music blog Said the Gramophone.
The Human League vs. Svantana - Workin' In A Cocktail Bar (2015)
Earlier this summer, a mysterious YouTube-based remixer shared something called Workin' In A Cocktail Bar. It was a silly, brilliant remix of the Human League's 1981 single, Don't You Want Me. Svantana's version has the same beats per minute and catchy synth-pop riffs, but almost all of the lyrics have been taken out. Instead, singer Philip Oakey is made to intone, again and again,"You were working as a waitress in a cocktail bar."
With this small change, one of new wave's biggest hits becomes a model of low absurdism. And a song I never needed to hear again becomes a perfect summer snack. In the car, in the gym, floating on a floaty in your pool: bet you can't listen just once. I heard Workin' In A Cocktail Bar at a wedding last weekend. Musicians mimed it from the stage, turned Oakey's goofy ‘come-ons’ into a kind of mute theatre. It made me so happy. It made me want to dance. It made me wonder what this stupid world is coming to.
Katie Moore - Baby Can I Hold You (2015)
This Tracy Chapman cover, by one of Canada's loveliest singers, is full of sorrow and aglow with hope. The performer has had years to consider her apology."Words don't come easily," she concedes."Like, 'I love you.' / I love you." But hope is a double-edged thing. Perhaps, after three easy minutes, the listener will regret the comfort they drew from that gleaming rhodes and welcoming guitar, from Moore's voice, from the rising tide of violin. Perhaps, after three easy minutes, they will find themselves sitting in uneasy silence. Yes, hope is a double-edged thing. It is a reason to keep going, a barricade against despair. But it's never a promise. There's no guarantee of a happy ending.
Amy Winehouse - Love Is A Losing Game (acoustic demo) (2006)
Amy, a new documentary by Asif Kapadia, presents a vivid portrait of the late singer Amy Winehouse. Her unguarded, meteoric rise feels almost as tragic as her well-publicized fall, and this revelation is conveyed purely through home movies and archival footage. Yet the viewer's sense of intimacy is also faintly grotesque: here we are, still voyeurs, watching Winehouse through the lenses of paparazzi. So many people failed Winehouse. Lovers, colleagues, family, and I find myself wondering whether we failed her too, we listeners with ravenous appetites."For you I was a flame," Winehouse once sang. In this demo we can hear the unshakeable calamity of it. We were reckless with our desire. We loved her for standing in the heart of the fire. Of course we did, and how could it have been otherwise?"Love is a losing game," she sings. But all I'm really certain of is that this need not be true.