For Episode 339: Break-Up, contributor Starlee Kine, along with musicians Joe McGinty and Julia Greenberg, wrote their own break-up song—"The Three of Us."
The song changed dramatically depending on how it was mixed. Witness: the slower, sparer version we played in the show vs. a happier, poppier version. Julia's vocals are the same in both versions; it's just Joe's arrangement that changed.
So we thought it'd be cool to have a remix contest to see what you would do with the song. We also thought we'd be lucky to get a handful of entries. We got 129. Thanks to everyone who entered. You all rock!
Starlee Kine's Picks
You don't really know "surreal" until you find yourself on a Sunday night listening to 129 versions of a song you wrote about the guy who crushed you, remixed by 129 people you've never met. I just wanted to say thanks to everyone who took the time to do this. I ed to every single song, if that matters to anyone. I think it would matter to me. There were a few times I found myself completely choked up, and I say that hoping it doesn't come across as me tearing up at the brilliance of my own words. At the Oscars this year, they showed a clip of Emilio Estevez's crappy film Bobby, and then they cut to his face right afterwards, and he was actually crying, he was that moved by the power of his own film. I've successfully avoided being Emilio Estevez my whole, entire life, and it would be awful to start now. Thanks—really.
1. The Summer Darlings (Website)—Arcata, CA
I really liked that they took each aspect of my song and made it their own, while still keeping the original sentiment intact. The added line "I am losing" is just awesome, and pretty much exactly how you feel when you're not the chosen one. I had a line about winning and losing in one of my other break-up song drafts, and it's nice to see that I was somewhat on the same page with actual musicians who know what they're doing.
2. Roxy Moron & the Bible (Website)—San Francisco, CA
They tweaked the lines a bit so the song goes, "and glory hallelujah, somehow we start loving us," which is so ridiculously lovely and profound and great. When the guy singer comes in at the "you love me less" part, I laughed out loud.
3. Nick Thomas—Columbus, OH
"The Three of Us" unplugged, which makes me feel rather happy and grateful to this guy. His voice is so cool that I imagine that he must have strangers constantly offering to buy him lunch, just so they can hear him order a sandwich.
4. Birds May Bite (Website)—Seattle, WA
This one did me in. It makes you feel sad in about 20 different ways—happy sad, grateful sad, it's-a-brand-new-day-but-I'm-still-sad sad...just a variety donut box of sadness. I'm convinced there's some sort of typewriter at play here, as in that's what's being used to create the melody. I played this for a friend of mine, and she didn't hear the typewriter at all, but that didn't faze me. She's not really like us musical types.
5. We Were Pirates (Website)—Great Falls, VA
I'm impressed by the way they managed to sell the most unsellable of all of the lines, the "I'm oh so sad" part. It utilizes one of the great secrets of radio production: a well-placed pause that packs a punch.
My top choice for the song remixed with Julia's singing was Charles Boehmig's version. He set the song against piano accompaniment, and it's just so well done, so fitting and natural, that I really felt like he was in the room with Julia—or, rather, in the bar. It's that kind of song. And if you happened to find yourself in the bar the night that they performed, you'd feel lucky because you were there for the right night, and you'd tell your friends about it afterward and they'd feel sore over having missed it. Which is, really, the key ingredient to a good break-up song: The ability to cause regret in anyone who listens.
And I do think Bart Blichmann deserves a nod for his all tuba, all the time instrumental rendition of the song. This is a man committed to the instrument he most likely got assigned to him in junior high...and I thank him heartily for that.
Joe McGinty's Picks
Let me first say that this project has been as interesting and exciting as I hoped it would be. I'm a big fan of cover songs. When we did the Loser's Lounge tribute to Burt Bacharach, I put together a compilation CD with 22 different versions of "Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head," with versions by Johnny Mathis, Shonen Knife, Tiny Tim, Andy Williams, Burl Ives, etc., etc. To hear our song interpreted 129 different ways was really fun (though a bit time-consuming).
Needless to say, it's truly impossible to pick my favorites. There were lots of interesting remixes, but I gravitated towards the reinterpretations.
2. Birds May Bite (Website)—Seattle, WA
This arrangement evoked Brian Wilson and Van Dyke Parks during the SMiLE era. A very tasteful arrangement indeed. I also liked the, um, "two girls and a guy" aspect.
3. Bryce Can't Reed—LaPorte, IN
This re-envisions the song as a minor-key indie rock classic.
Molly Molasses and the Second Amendment with their old-timey burlesque arrangement. Charles Boehmig's minor-key jazz piano reharmonization. I also liked The Summer Darlings' quiet interpretation and the harpsichord-heavy version by Benjamin Frisch. My favorite cut-up version is the .d88b. mix, which takes the "spaghetti moog" line and makes it into an ostinato. Very creative. And, of course, how could I not like a version arranged for solo tuba? Kudos to Bart Blichmann!
There were lots of added guitar parts and creative drum loops. I enjoyed the slowed-down, the sped-up, the instrumental, and the a cappella. Far too many to mention. Thanks to everyone who contributed!
Julia Greenberg's Picks
1. Molly Molasses and the Second Amendment—San Francisco, CA
This version peered straight into my show tune soul and saw that every song I write is essentially some version of "Adelaide's Lament" from Guys and Dolls.
2. Roxy Moron & the Bible (Website)—San Francisco, CA
Excellent thrashy, Pogues-y duet. I was disappointed that other versions sung by men changed the sex of characters in the song (open your minds, people!). In this version, they say, "Somehow we start loving us," which I think is a beautiful sentiment.
3. Reade Pryor—Los Angeles, CA
I was compelled to pick this one even though dark, brooding ballads are not usually my cup of tea. I always wished I could write a clutch-your-pillow-and-cry-in-the-dark kind of song, and Reade Pryor has transformed the song into a beautiful version of just that! And it's a nice mix and pretty arrangement.
Jim DeRogatis's Picks
Co-Host, Sound Opinions
Pop Music Critic, Chicago Sun-Times
1. Bryce Can't Reed—LaPorte, IN
This is my favorite partly because it's the most radical reinterpretation of the original and partly because the direction it takes toward that end is one of my favorites, drawing heavily from the British "shoegazer" movement of the early '90s for a swirling and hypnotic psychedelic assault. My Bloody Valentine, the Jesus and Mary Chain, and Slowdive are obvious reference points, whether the auteurs know it or not; it's also possible they were going for Smashing Pumpkins. Either way, the buzzing cloud of noise stands as a great musical evocation of the pain and chaos of a ruined romance—with just the right hint of hope for the future, courtesy of the pretty and melodic synthesized strings.
2. Ross Nelson—Omaha, NE
This one stands out because it's a very different and very minimal take: think Nick Drake circa Pink Moon or Elliott Smith at his most tortured and introspective—which, of course, is really saying about the pain of this particular break-up. There's no artistic distancing or guarded irony here, just pure misery. Please ask Ira Glass to send this fellow some Wellbutrin.
3. Tinmantle (Website)—Portland, OR
In stark contrast to the previous version, this one is downright giddy and even a bit goofy at times; gotta love those weird little keyboard fills that subtly burble up at inappropriate times. The melodic arrangement and sped-up tempo make for an effervescent rendition that contrasts all the more with the hurt inherent in the lyrics. It might be a bit too They Might Be Giants, with the novelty souring after half a dozen s, but I'm still liking it just fine after four.
4. Roxy Moron & the Bible (Website)—San Francisco, CA
Going out even further on the cheerfully gonzo limb, we come to this reading, which sort of paints a picture of a couple of old-time circus clowns speeding away on methamphetamine while having a conversation over a tinny telephone line. That is to say, it's pretty freaking weird—especially when you come to the moaning interlude. But it certainly got my attention, and I can imagine it offering some sort of strange solace in a time of heartbreak. Since it's a little Tom Waits, I'm betting Kot will like this one, too.
Greg Kot's Picks
Co-Host, Sound Opinions
Rock Music Critic, Chicago Tribune
1. We Were Pirates (Website)—Great Falls, VA
Pure pop. This should be the next Fountains of Wayne single. Brisk tempo, handclaps, simple rhythm piano; the giddy arrangement contrasts with the sad truth in the lyric. The vocalist sounds like he's confiding in the er. He's breaking the bad news and trying to be matter-of-fact about it. But you know he's just devastated. The pregnant pause he inserts in the line, ìAnd Iím, oh, so...sad, is genius. Gets me every time.
2. Alfred Brown—Buffalo, NY
The vibe is "innocent, pure-voiced girl corrupted by the big, bad, ugly world." It reminds me of Julee Cruise's vocals in the David Lynch-Angelo Badalamenti scores for Twin Peaks. With all those twinkling music-box effects, it just keeps getting slower, sadder, dreamier, and creepier.
3. Keith Kefford—Keaau, HI
Cool how the reverb guitar accents the '60s girl-group vocals. The arrangement is spacious and epic, as if the Shangri-La's were strolling through the Grand Canyon in their cowboy boots while singing about the bad boy who got away.