Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The Best VersionS of "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" Part 2: The Best Indie Rock Version

TBOE continues celebrating March "coming in like a lion, going out like a lamb" by presenting The Best VersionS of "The Lion Sleeps Tonight." Okay, it's a weak justification, but I love this song and so do a lot of other people.

Is it fair to call REM an "indie" rock band anymore? It was true, no doubt, when REM was releasing "Radio Free Europe" with lyrics that nobody could understand, and albums titled "Document No. 5," unless it was called "Document," and it was the 5th album? (Indie bands do that all the time. The Violent Femmes, who I love, released an album called "3." It was something like their fourth or fifth album.)

But can REM still be an "indie" band when they've been around longer than the Beatles? When everyone, really, knows who they are except maybe my dad, who stopped buying music when "Saturday Night Fever" came out? Can REM be an indie band when they've released the song "Stand" and remade one of their songs to include Muppets in the lyrics?

You probably think I'm joking about that. But I'm not:

It's called "Furry Happy Monsters."

The answer to those questions is: "yes, they can still be an indie band." Here's why: (A) They are still cool and inscrutable and don't get a lot of airplay, and (B) I still like them and I like indie music even though the "indie" music I like is increasingly showing up on Oldies' stations.

You people my age should re-read that last sentence and absorb it before you get the kind of shock I did when I turned on the "oldies" station expecting to hear a little Chuck Berry or Elvis and instead got The Cars. On the "Oldies" station. 80's music is now "oldies" music, and if you like it, you're an "oldie."

Except for REM, because I am declaring them to still be "indie," and their version of "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" to be The Best Indie Rock Version of that song, because I need some things in my life to not remind me how old I am, and so this is one of those things:

And, really, they do a good job of it, don't they? Slowed down, acoustic guitars, a capella beginning, it's got a sort of swing-y feel to it, and places emphasis on the sleepier side of the song; it's almost a lullaby, almost dreamy. You can feel the peace descending on you as the horns kick in and then Michael Stipe comes in with the almost-vocal-only "hush my darling."

Did you notice, too, that he changed it? He says don't cry my darling, not don't fear my darling. That's part of the lullaby feeling, too: What do parents say to little kids? Not don't fear but don't cry.

I could almost see this being played in the Babies! room as they fall asleep at night. REM would be softly playing this song, and the Babies! would go from wondering who these old guys are and why they're blocking the TV to sitting quietly, softly swaying back and forth, to drifting off to a dreamland where the lion is sleeping, the village is peaceful, and indie music is not on the oldies' station.

Want to see other great versions of this song? Check out The Best Version of "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" from a TV show.

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