RIFF REWIND 2015: Disturbed, Adele, Ghost and … Alexander Hamilton

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Hamilton, Lin-Manuel Miranda

Was Lin-Manuel Miranda a better Hamilton than the Founding Father? Discuss.

We’ve got a few firsts this week. There’s the first song from a musical because I apparently forgot Rocky Horror back in 1975, the first cover of a previous Honorable Mention, and a new and novel way to cheat at my five song rule because I couldn’t make a decision!

At the same time there’s some repetition. Two of the artists on the list appeared in the 2011 and 2012 editions, and one is a ’90s band that’s stuck around this long. You see, I’m increasingly old, so my taste has both narrowed and settled in the past.

Disturbed — “The Sound of Silence”

I would understand if you accused me of blasphemy for Disturbed’s cover of “The Sound of Silence” being a top five song while the Simon and Garfunkel original was just an Honorable Mention. And you would likely have a compelling argument. But before you take it out on me on Twitter or in the comments or on my front lawn while holding a torch and/or pitchfork, let me make this two-part explanation:

Part 1: The original came out in 1968. Have you ever tried to pick just five songs from 1968? There was a lot of good music back then! For the song to have made the list I’d have to have bumped Deep Purple, Otis Redding, Johnny Cash, The Beatles or The Rolling Stones. And before you say the obvious cut is Deep Purple, note that the song was “Hush.”

Part 2: As much as I love the original, I like Disturbed’s version more. Especially the Conan performance, which was nominated for a Grammy separate from the album version.

Ghost — “Cirice”

I’ll warn you now: Ghost has three albums, and they’re going to have three entries in this column.

I know, I know—I’m obsessed. But it’s a legitimately great band, and there’s at least one song off each of its albums that deserves a spot among the best of its respective years. And it’s not just me saying so; “Cirice” won the Grammy for Best Metal Performance, making this officially one of the best songs of the year.

Even among Ghost songs, though, “Cirice” is special. See, the band’s whole schtick is subverting religious convention, both in its style with the whole evil Catholicism vibe, and in the music by taking the hallmarks of religious music and twisting them to be metal. In “Year Zero,” for example, the band twisted monastic chants. In the latest album, it’s closer to minor key praise music.

But “Cirice” doesn’t really mirror anything. It’s just a really, really good metal song. For one track, Papa Emeritus and the Nameless Ghouls dropped the crutch of their gimmick and showed that they’re legitimately talented musicians.

Kurt Vile — “Pretty Pimpin”

I continue to be disappointed that Kurt Vile isn’t a stage name for a punk singer. Johnny Rotten, Iggy Pop, Joe Strummer, Kurt Vile. It just fits!

But it’s not a stage name. It’s his actual given name, and he’s a singer-songwriter. A good one—don’t get me wrong—but it still seems like a waste.

How about this? Kurt Vile and Henry Rollins should switch names. It definitely makes more sense for Kurt Vile to be the frontman of Black Flag and Henry Rollins to play the banjo.

Lin-Manuel Miranda — “My Shot”

I wasn’t a Hamilton fan in 2015. I’d heard the cast recording, but songs from musicals don’t resonate with me at all without at least having a memory of the visual aspect. And in 2015, in the Bay Area, on a journalist’s salary, seeing it wasn’t exactly in the cards.

My friend Robin St. Clare, however, was a big fan. A really big fan. It’s all she listened to for a year or more. Her cats are named Alexander Hameowlton and Aaron Purr. So in January 2016 when a block of partially obstructed balcony tickets became available, I clicked refresh until I got us a couple for later that year.

In the interim, I got laid off from my job and, oh yeah, eight days before the show, Donald Trump was elected President of the United States.

After the year I’d had, and after the emotions of the week leading up to it, seeing Hamilton was the most breathtaking, inspiring thing that could have happened. By intermission I had gone from a passing familiarity with the material to being one of those diehard fans who refuse to shut up about it. I can’t say enough about what an absolute masterpiece it is, and you should do whatever you can to see it yourself.

Adele — “Hello”
Leo Moracchioli — “Hello”

Oh yeah, that’s right. The song is on here twice in the same column.

Adele’s 25 came out on Nov. 20, but “Hello” was released as a single on Oct. 23, so there was nearly a month for it to become a ubiquitous hit. So on the very same day the album came out, Norwegian YouTube star Leo Moracchioli released his metal cover.

I honestly don’t know which I like more.

Adele’s voice is at its best on this one, putting even her performance on “Rolling in the Deep” to shame. It’s a vocal masterpiece. But Moracchioli’s cover takes those same powerful, soaring vocals and translates them to a thick, rich, wall-of-sound metal performance so good it made the jump from YouTube to the rotation of SiriusXM’s hard rock stations.

If ever there was a time to cheat, this is it. The same song, released on the same day, in two genres: once on a major studio album that peaked at No. 1 on the Billboard charts and once on a YouTube channel of metal covers recorded by one guy in Norway.

Honorable Mentions

Kendrick Lamar — “Alright”
Rihanna — “Bitch Better Have My Money”
Drake — “Hotline Bling”
The Weeknd — “Can’t Feel My Face”
Fetty Wap — “Trap Queen”

Follow editor Daniel J. Willis at Twitter.com/BayAreaData

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