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12 Songs I Would Perform

This week, recess will feature my second story about cover bands this year. As you can tell, I am utterly fascinated by groups who devote their time to mimicking the sounds and mannerisms of other musicians.

Interviewing the members of these tribute groups has really only got me to thinking about what I would want my cover band to be. Of course, no one group fully encapsulates the range and diversity of my musical tastes. Instead, my cover band would have to be a collection of songs, a "cover set" if you will. After much introspection and iTunes scrolling, below is the list of the 12 songs that I would most want the ability to cover, with a few sentences justifying each selection. It's worth noting that I do not actually know how to play any instruments.

1. "Oh Yoko!" - John Lennon. John Lennon and I do not have a lot in common. He was British. I am American. He liked having long hair whereas I prefer to keep it short. He changed the face of music. I change clothes most days. Yet, there are two things that unite me with what may be the greatest songwriter of all time: a respect for the power of simple melodies and an unending love of Asian women.

2. "Johnny B. Goode"- Chuck Berry. No other song has made me want to play an instrument more than this Berry classic. Plus, I feel like being able to whip out this song would salvage even the most deplorable of gigs. If you don't like, or at least respect this one, I don't think I want to know you. [ Youtube ]

3. "I Want You Back" - The Jackson 5. I figure my covers set would have to feature at least one funk song, so why not the best one of all time? Plus, as an English major, I am a man who appreciates his metaphor. Was it Dante or a young Michael Jackson who first said, "Trying to live without your love is one long sleepless night?" I forget. I also chose this track because I think it would afford me a great opportunity to single out the most attractive girl in my audience, make continual eye contact with her and act as if I were singing this solely to her. As you can tell, I've put a lot of thought into this. [ Youtube ]

4. "Ain't Too Proud to Beg" - The Temptations. I chose this Motown classic not just because it is an incredible track, but also because performing it would require perfecting some sort of elaborate, choreographed dance, which I am all for. I imagine sequined jumpsuits would be prominently involved. [ Youtube ]

5. "96 Tears" - ? and the Mysterians. The ultimate revenge song. In the major motion picture based on my life, I am demanding that this song play in the background during the montage where I systematically ruin the weddings of all my ex-girlfriends. Plus, I would get to briefly act like lead singer Rudy Martinez, who is hands down the coolest figure in the history of rock 'n' roll. This is a man who legally changed his name to "?" and claims to be a Martian who lived with dinosaurs in a past life. Also, he never appears in public without sunglasses. [ Youtube ]

6. "Bewildered" - James Brown. If I could convey only one tenth of the passion and emotion put forth by the hardest working man in show business on this track, then I could die happy. I don't think there is a more relatable song in the history of music. I feel you, James. I feel you. [ Youtube ]

7. "Sympathy for The Devil" - The Rolling Stones. In the land of "songs that make you feel cool just by listening to them," all tracks bow down before their master, this 1968 classic (see The Rakes' "Work Work Work (Pub Club Sleep)" and The Clipse' "Dirty Money" for a similar, if infinitesimal, effect). Admittedly, I am not as big a Stones fan as I should be, but there's no denying that this is an unbelievable song. Audiences would have no choice but to respect and fear me if I could put forth even a passable version of this one. [ Youtube ]

8. "Jesus Walks" - Kanye West. There is no way I am leaving out the most influential rap work of the decade (no, "Thong Song" does not count). This has to be the best track about a Jewish man since Frank Sinatra first serenaded Sammy Davis Jr. If Kanye needs Jesus like Kathy-Lee needed Regis, then my covers set needs this song like 50 Cent needs to retire. [ Youtube ]

9. "Just Like Heaven"- The Cure. While most would have gone with "Boys Don't Cry," I have a special fondness for this 1987 gem. Robert Smith laments, "Daylight licked me into shape/ I must have been asleep for days/ And moving lips to breathe her name/ I opened up my eyes/ And found myself alone alone/ Alone above a raging sea/ That stole the only girl I loved/ And drowned her deep inside of me." I am not going to pretend like I can relate to what he is talking about. All I know is that I hope I never do. [ Youtube ]

10. "A Change is Gonna Come" - Sam Cooke. Sometimes, it doesn't hurt for cover sets to get a little dark and even philosophical. Enter Sam Cooke, who poignantly reveals, "It's been too hard living/ But I'm afraid to die/ Because I don't know what's up there/ Beyond the sky." That about it says it all, right? [ Youtube ]

11. "Late in the Evening" - Paul Simon. Another song where incredible guitar skills are a prerequisite. Bonus points for the horn section and cool background vocals. Granted, I am skeptical that Mr. Simon can in fact remember events when he was "one or two." Still, who doesn't want to sing "I've never loved no one the way that I've loved you?" Note that it doesn't really matter if this is a blatant lie. [ Youtube ]

12. "Ooh La La" - The Faces. Predictable? Yes. Cliché? Yes. The most insightful song ever written? Maybe. I don't care in what context I hear this track, I am going to extract meaningful life lessons. Eating Frosted Flakes with The Faces will often become my own Proustian moment- revealing eternal truths I was unaware of at the beginning of the bowl. Ronnie Wood edifies, "Poor young grandson, there's nothing I can say/ You'll have to learn just like me/ And that's the hardest way." Put simply, this song makes me want to forgive my father for all the terrible things I only imagined he did to me. [ Youtube ]

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