folk music does NOT end with John Denver!
June 4, 2006 11:30 PM   Subscribe

HipsterFilter: help me de-lame-ify a friend's playlist for guitar busking

a good friend of mine who's a cubicle slave in 'real life' has been medicating his creative demons / midlife crisis by doing some guitar busking on the Pearl St. Mall. Recently he was grumping about the fact his playlist 'is kind of lame'.

since he's of the (ahem) boomer generation, he's (naturally) been doing a lot of the classic stuff from that era (i.e. tons of John Denver, Simon & Garfunkel, Cat Stevens, other cliche folk standards etc.). the challenge is that Every. Freaking. Busker. in Boulder does these. we were talking about this last week and I recommended he check out some current indie stuff I thought he'd like. I played him some choices off my mp3 collection. The stuff he really dug includes:

"I Will Follow You Into The Dark" by Death Cab for Cutie (he liked this one so much he went right out and downloaded the sheet music and learned it in like 2 hours).

"Kill" by Jimmy Eat World. nothing beats 3 chords and the truth, even if it is pop music. he's trying to figure out the best arrangement for this one.

"A Lifetime" by Better Than Ezra; pretty rock ballad that might sound a bit spare without all the orchestration, but perhaps not.

I'm also trying to get him to cotton onto Sufjan Stevens but I'm thinking Sufjan's a little too... um... eggheaded? twee? out there? for his decidedly-not-study-rock sensibilities.

he has a great voice and tight acoustic guitar skills - his voice almost perfectly matches the tone/range/quality of the singer for DCFC, which is probably why he liked and picked up that one so fast.

he writes and performs plenty of his own original stuff for gigs, however when you're busking for a non-captive audience it's probably best to do accessible, familiar stuff that will get people to perk up their ears and say 'hey I know / love that song!' - meaning they'll stop and listen.

So does the hive mind have other great recommendations for indie / current stuff that would fit well into a busking repertoire for a solo guitarist with a good tenor voice?
posted by lonefrontranger to Grab Bag (31 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
While it's his piano playing that really defines his act and not his (somewhat sub-par, IMHO) singing, Ben Folds has some stuff that I think would sound pretty good with solo guitar.
posted by rossination at 11:42 PM on June 4, 2006

The first two Belle and Sebastian records (Tigermilk and If You're Feeling Sinister) are my favorite 'folky' things I can think of from the last ten/twenty years. Iron and Wine seem to have been successful, and are good at writing songs. Stuff from Joni Mitchell's Blue record could be really successful with a male voice, and doesn't seem to have been tried that way.

I've also been partial to obscure Dead tunes. And given that he'll be 'busking' (why did I know from the minute I read that word that you were here in Boulder?) those songs might be known by some passersby. Also, Led Zeppelin ballads sound surprisingly good when played simply on a folk guitar.

Well, a lot of that stuff isn't 'indie' or current. But it'd be a breath of fresh air. Also, old country (circa 1950's) is really fun and easy to play for people.
posted by koeselitz at 11:55 PM on June 4, 2006 [1 favorite]

Sound like Elliott Smith songs would suit him and how about ... Elvis Costello? ... Aimee Mann? ... Kelly Joe Phelps? ... Matt Keating? ... Ron Sexsmith? ... Crowded House?

However if he's busking, is he really going to get instant recognition and cash for singing Death Cab For Cutie songs or anything else non-traditional?

I say he should do whacky covers. "Hit Me Baby One More Time" as if performed by Simon and Garfunkel, now that'll attract attention.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 12:02 AM on June 5, 2006

Busker-friendly solo-guitarable songs?

He should be listening to Wilco (try "Heavy Metal Drummer" or "Forget the Flowers," but whatever catches his ear).

Peter Case is excellent busking music (anything off Blue Guitar or his self-titled one is great). Paul Westerberg's solo stuff is good for this too.

He should give Neutral Milk Hotel ("In The Aeroplane Over The Sea" is a slam dunk) and the Old 97's (much of Fight Songs is great and upbeat for this stuff) a listen and see if he digs them.

Other hard-to-miss people? Hm. Elvis Costello? Steve Earle? Vic Chesnutt? Billy Bragg? Kirsty Maccoll? Joe Ely? (I'm assuming he knows about Townes Van Zandt and John Prine, both of whom still go over fine.)
posted by chicobangs at 12:04 AM on June 5, 2006

Iron & Wine.

Jack Johnson (hipsters may balk, whatever. Songs like "Taylor" are easy to play, sing, and are accessible).

The Waifs (Aussie band, good stuff. The song "Lighthouse" is a good starting point).

Neutral Milk Hotel (I wouldn't have suggested this if "King of Carrot Flowers" hadn't just come on in iTunes. I'd love to hear a busker play some NMH).

The Decemberists ("Red Right Ankle" seems to have the mood of that Death Cab song you said he liked. Only it's even better).
posted by teem at 12:05 AM on June 5, 2006

Many of Calexico's non-freeform-jazz songs are simple, beautiful, and attention-grabbing.
posted by notsnot at 12:46 AM on June 5, 2006

Neutral. Milk. Hotel.

I'd go for Holland, 1945 myself.

How about some Mountain Goats? Hard to find something more suited to a solo acoustic arrangement than that. Maybe one of his big-and-in-your-face songs, like No Children. Though I'm partial to Please Come Home to Hamngatan.

MeFi spellcheck suggested "Ghanaian" as the proper spelling of "Hamngatan". Mountain Goats fans out there, please tell me: how cool is that?
posted by mr_roboto at 1:29 AM on June 5, 2006

Damien Rice always pulled in a few quid for me, David Bowie works aswell!
posted by TwoWordReview at 1:33 AM on June 5, 2006

I love hearing unusual covers from buskers. Covering rather well known but non-acoustic stuff really does grab people's attention. I've heard covers of everything from NIN to Devo, 80s synthpop or 60s psychedelic rock and much more.

I used to know this guy that did a lot of coffee house acoustic gigs and he I think he got bored a lot with a lot of the standard acoustic folk guitar fare, so he spent a lot of time transposing/translating odd stuff to acoustic.

It certainly got him more tips. It grabs people's ears to hear familiar melodies or lyrics redone in a completely different voice and style.
posted by loquacious at 2:33 AM on June 5, 2006

Liven things up with some acoustic mashups. I've become partial to playing "Over the hills and far away" crossing into a couple of verses of "Heroin" - the crossover is in the high G/C guitar part. "Here comes the sun" and "Summer of 69" - play the first, sing the lyrics to the second for the verse, then play the chorus of '69'. And you can mixup "Mr Tambourine Man" and "You were right" by Badly Drawn Boy any number of different ways. Hope this is sufficiently clear.
posted by primer_dimer at 3:02 AM on June 5, 2006

Speaking of mashups/medleys, I like "heavy metal drummer," segues into "baby let me follow you down" segues into "stage fright," back to "heavy metal drummer." That's just me tho.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 3:10 AM on June 5, 2006

On the mashups front 'With or without you' (U2) -> 'Fall at your feet' (Crowded House) -> 'Torn' (Natalie Imbruglia) -> 'Road Rage' (Catatonia) and probably about a million other songs in B minor!
posted by TwoWordReview at 3:25 AM on June 5, 2006

The Shins
I think a lot of what makes this band's music great is the rhythm section, but their most obvious asset is the songwriting and James Mercer's unforgettable delivery.
(you can draw a connection with Ben Gibbard [the DCFC guy]--The Shins covered one of his songs on the Postal Service's first little single CD5, Such Great Heights)

Clem Snide
Eef Barzelay's unique singing style and great songwriting are a good match for a busker, I think. Their cover of Christina Aguilera's Beautiful is a good indication of how your friend could work around other pop songs, too.
posted by carsonb at 4:20 AM on June 5, 2006

It's a crime for anyone playing solo guitar not to know a couple of Martin Sexton songs. Black Sheep, Glory Bound, and Hallelujah are all straightforward to learn and are good places to start.

David Poe is another great source for solo guitar songs. Try Family Reunion or The Drifter.
posted by dseaton at 4:44 AM on June 5, 2006

Heck, try some of the current singer songwriter stuff -- Dave Alvin, Tom Russel, Trout Fishing in America, or some of the classic folkies that don't get much respect -- Michael Smith, Steve Goodman, etc.

If Martin Sexton didn't get his start busking, he missed his calling. I was "working" sound for him once, but he'd brought his own guy, who sucked. So, about halfway through the feedback ridden set, he grabbed an acoustic guitar, turned off everything else but the vocal mic, lowered the mic a bit, and went street.

Amazing recovery to a very bad start.
posted by eriko at 4:52 AM on June 5, 2006

I second what loquacious said about seeking out music that wasn't originally performed on guitar (e.g. Ben Folds, as rossination suggested). It delays the "hey I know / love that song!" effect, making it all the more satisfying to listeners, and it's just more fun to play.
posted by scottreynen at 5:11 AM on June 5, 2006

I say he should do whacky covers. "Hit Me Baby One More Time" as if performed by Simon and Garfunkel, now that'll attract attention.

My sister used to cover that song with her rock band (they put a wicked guitar solo in the middle, I wish I had a recording of it) and I can vouch for the fact that people eat it up. They'd make the rock hands \m/ and everything.

posted by Famous at 5:47 AM on June 5, 2006

Colin Hay do Beautiful World or Waiting for My Real Life to Begin.
posted by CrazyJoel at 6:02 AM on June 5, 2006

A little dark, but Smog songs are easy to play and have interesting lyrics. I recommend "Dress Sexy at my Funeral" off Dongs of Sevotion.
posted by rabbitsnake at 6:20 AM on June 5, 2006

you guys all freaking rule! ...geez koesceliz how could I forget belle & sebastian?!... tho that maybe also too 'study-rock' for this guy.

love the whacky covers / medley suggestions too. I *think* this guy has the chutzpah and humour to really pull it off too. my dad used to do this kind of stuff all the time; why I didn't think of that is exactly why I posted this question to MeFi... and also why I don't play music for a living.

really liking all the ben folds / martin sexton / shins / crowded house (eek cannot BELIEVE I forgot about them!!) type recommendations too. this will keep me busy in itunes for awhile. thanks also teem for remembering 'Ben Gibbard'... I had exactly one braincell left functioning when I posted last night and could not think of his name to save my life.

thank you MeFi! oh and I also forgot to clarify: Boulder happens to be a huge college town (30,000 students enrolled next fall; I work on campus). you'd be amazed how many people really WOULD recognise DCFC / Belle & Sebastian / Calexico, etc. etc... indie type music they heard played on the street. that's the big reason my friend wants to *update* his collection - to perhaps get some of the younger folks to stop and listen too, not just the tried-and-true Boulder hippie / boomer / tourist crowd.
posted by lonefrontranger at 6:32 AM on June 5, 2006

Ryan Adams has some stuff that might work. For harder stuff, try Rock-n-Roll or Demolition, for softer alt-country try Cold Roses or Jacksonville City Lights. Gold has a few that might work as well, and be recognizable to the Boulderites.

For guitar-driven pop that's easily recognizable, you could do worse than to cover Oasis.
posted by griffey at 6:39 AM on June 5, 2006

Good suggestions so far.

I was going to say Red Right Ankle; Grace Cathedral Hill, Clementine, Legionnaire's Lament, and Eli the Barrowboy are other good acoustic Decemberists tunes.

Elliott Smith-wise, I recommend Waltz #2 from XO.

Belle and Sebastian-wise, you can't go wrong with Get Me Away From Here, I'm Dying.

Where The Shins are concerned, New Slang is a good bet.

Neutral Milk Hotel covers can be good, but also very bad. Some of them can be very difficult to do convincingly. In the Aeroplane and King of Carrot Flowers are good ones; April 8th would be a nice acoustic one, too. I'd be wary of Holland 1945.

Lots of Devendra Banhart songs would be good. I recommend This is the Way or This Beard is for Siobahn.

People will recognize Flaming Lips songs. Fight Test, Do You Realize, or Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots would all be good.

The Mountain Goats are a good call.

The Magnetic Fields - try Book of Love, All My Little Words, Come Back from San Francisco, or any number of the 69 Love Songs.

Ain't nothing wrong with a little Sufjan - Casimir Pulaski Day could work.

Rilo Kiley - try With Arms Outstretched from Execution of All Things.

And of course, never underestimate the wide-reaching appeal of a competent Beatles cover.

And lastly, I would recommend not playing I Will Follow You into the Dark. But that's just me.
posted by ludwig_van at 6:58 AM on June 5, 2006

Also, Bonnie Prince Billy.
posted by ludwig_van at 7:00 AM on June 5, 2006

More suggestions here. (earlier post)
posted by mecran01 at 7:11 AM on June 5, 2006

The right tracks from Mike Doughty and Ani DiFranco, if he could pull them off, would kill in a busking scenario. Also, selections from Jonathan Coulton -- Code Monkey would be particularly appropriate for a cube slave -- would be hot, and Coulton's Baby Got Back cover is a good example of how to wackily folkify something.
posted by blueshammer at 7:15 AM on June 5, 2006

you could do worse than to cover Oasis.

yea I was thinking that - and perhaps Coldplay too, now that you mention it.

this is a phat thread, again thanks to all for being helpful and not snarking. I'm definitely guilty of not being very aware of a lot of the more recent singer-songwriter stuff but this has really expanded my knowledge.

for the folks recommending alt-country kind of fare, I was just burning a couple tracks of my Over the Rhine & Metal Hearts collection to a mix CD for him, thanks for the additonal info!
posted by lonefrontranger at 7:42 AM on June 5, 2006

A few weeks ago I saw some buskers covering Scissor Sisters at the West 4th subway station in NYC. "Take Your Mamma Out Tonight."
posted by billtron at 8:11 AM on June 5, 2006

I've seen a video of a busker covering Lil John's 'Get Low'. He did almost like an upbeat DMB song (like Tripping Billy's).
posted by PenDevil at 8:29 AM on June 5, 2006

Aztec Camera recorded a neat acoustic arrangement [single voice and guitar, IIRC] of Van Halen's "Jump".
posted by chazlarson at 9:41 AM on June 5, 2006

Am I crazy, or could "Hit Me Baby One More Time" actually be mashed up with "Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme"?

If Oasis aren't completely unknown/out of favour in this environment, their songs are often terrific busking songs. Though performing "Wonderwall" on a cold day your pinkie and ring fingers may get frozen into position on the top G and D...
posted by AmbroseChapel at 1:41 PM on June 5, 2006

Am I crazy, or could "Hit Me Baby One More Time" actually be mashed up with "Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme"?

Hmm... and Scarborough Fair is in the public domain...
posted by winston at 6:32 PM on June 5, 2006

« Older Help me rid my house of acrid smoke!   |   I want to invest in the future! Tell me how! Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.