Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Scarlett Johansson Covers Chris Bell

Posted By on Wed, May 27, 2009 at 2:16 PM

d9cb/1243445699-scarlettjohansson10.jpgScarlett Johansson's latest musical foray, Break Up, a collaboration with Pete Yorn, is due for release on Rhino's Atco imprint on September 8. You can get a preview of the album's first single, "Relator," via iTunes or this site.

The real news, however, is that the actress and the singer/songwriter duet on a version of the late Memphis musician Chris Bell's "I Am the Cosmos," slated to be the sixth song on Break Up, which was actually recorded in 1996 2006 (predating ScarJo's debut album, Anywhere I Lay My Head, by 2 years.)

According to Billboard, Anywhere I Lay My Head — comprised of Johansson's interpretations of 10 Tom Waits songs, and one original — was met with a mediocre reception, selling just 19,000 copies since its release in May 2008. Entertainment Weekly dubbed it the worst album of the year.

Let's analyze other versions of "I Am the Cosmos":

838d/1243445736-album-i-am-the-cosmos.jpg"Every night I tell myself,
'I am the cosmos,
I am the wind'
But that don't get you back again"

Memphis-born musician Chris Bell, who died in a car crash on Poplar Avenue at the age of 27 in the early morning hours of December 27, 1978, recorded "I Am the Cosmos" at Ardent Studios earlier that year. The song was originally released as a single for Car Records that year, although most folks didn't hear it until the 1990s, when Rykodisc released a full album of Bell's solo work.

Surprisingly, the now-iconic "Cosmos" hasn't been covered all that often.

In 1991, This Mortal Coil recorded a version of the song with vocals by Ivo Watts-Russell, included on their final album, Blood. TMC's take on "Cosmos" sounds more like Alex Chilton than it does Chris Bell, but the rock-and-roll raggedness feels oh-so-right.

Manchester, England's Northern Uproar revisited "Cosmos" five years later, followed by fellow Brit rockers Jonestown and New York based singer-songwriter Kim Garrison. Three different takes, all not-so-inspired.

Years before Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow were recruited to fill Bell's shoes in Big Star, their group the Posies delivered a soaring power-pop induced take on "Cosmos," originally released as a B-side for the song "Feel" and later included on the 2000 best-of compilation, Dream All Day.

Former Lotion frontman-turned graphic designer Tony Zajkowski contributed a depressingly dirge-y, synth-heavy version to the forgettable 2001 comp A Tribute To Big Star.

And Wisconsin psych-rockers Squarewave seemed to borrow equal parts from the Posies and Zajkowski when they cut "Cosmos" for their appropriately titled 2006 album, Dullhead.


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