Nice Hits! is a Reverb column that unironically dissects, reviews, and appreciates the best songs of the current Top 40. It is unsnobbishly premised on>"/>
Nice Hits! is a Reverb column that unironically dissects, reviews, and appreciates the best songs of the current Top 40. It is unsnobbishly premised on the logic that just because a lot of the music on the radio is crap doesn't mean all the music on the radio is crap.
Current chart position: Every now and then I like to write about songs that aren't charting on Billboard or iTunes but have the potential to; this is one of those songs. Mike Posner isn't a stranger to the Top 40, either--last year his hits "Cooler Than Me" and "Please Don't Go" both cracked Billboard's top 10. ("Cooler Than Me" also won him an ASCAP award earlier this year).
The team: Posner's "Rocket Man" cover can be found on The Layover mixtape, which he released in late November. The songs on that mixtape were produced by DJ Benzi, who's remixed songs from Lil Wayne, Jay-Z, and Kanye West, among others, and Don Cannon, the Philadelphia producer and DJ who's worked with Young Jeezy, Fabolous, and 50 Cent. "Rocket Man" itself was obviously originally written in 1972 by Elton John and Bernie Taupin. Except for Bun B's verse in this cover. Elton John didn't write that.
Breakdown: Posner's becoming a covers master; he's put his own spin on Adele's "Rolling In The Deep" and Coldplay's "The Scientist," both of which seem like they'd be terrible but are actually successfully unique and listenable. Continuing this trend of transforming soft-rock hits into electro-hip-hop jams, the idea of Posner covering "Rocket Man" initially sounds bizarre but ends up working beautifully. Instead of aiming to devoutly reproduce the original, he recreates the song into his own shinier, modern day version.
Posner's gravelly voice and sharp high notes handle the melody easily and stay pretty true to the original. But Elton John's solemn piano melodies are gone--all of the original instrumentals are, replaced by whooshes of swirling synths, a procession of electronic beeps and blips, and, following each "I'm a rocket man," a revving, spiraling sound effect that simulates the noise of a takeoff. Bun B's verse takes the space metaphor all the way, somehow linking an argument with a lover to the Houston command center. The whole song has a spacey, miasmic atmosphere to it, and in that sense it more directly reflects the space age rage that's always connected to the original. The sound effects are metallic and robotic, but at the same time it holds on to the yearning passion that John first brought to the song. I've read some unhappy comments to the effect of, "You fucked up a classic!" but I hardly think that's fair to say. "Rocket Man" is a timeless song--one of my all-time favorites actually--and, forty years after its creation, it inspired an artist to use it to as a foundation to explore a new, uncharted direction. It feels like that's the exact purpose the classics should serve.