It must be fun to be a B-52.
Trawling around iTunes trying to find more songs by Victoria Williams, I discovered this adorable Harry Nilsson tribute album. So many artists on here that I love -- Marshall Crenshaw, Ron Sexsmith, Al Kooper, Aimee Mann, Randy Newman, Bill Lloyd, both Brian and Carl Wilson -- and smack dab in the middle of it is our very own Love Shack sherpa Fred Schneider of the B-52s. Now, if you'd asked me which Harry Nilsson song would be perfect for Fred Schneider to cover, I don't know if I would have come up with this one. But the minute I heard it, I realized it was PERFECT.
It's a raucously fun song even when Harry himself sang it, but Fred pushes it to a whole new level. "Coconut" was just a hair shy of a novelty tune; I've always imagined that Nilsson began singing it to himself in the middle of a colossal tropical-drink bender, and luckily remembered enough of it the next day to capture the lightning in a bottle. (So to speak.) There's not much to it lyrically -- mostly just the repeated mantra "you put the lime in the coconut / And drink 'em both up." To tell you the truth, sometimes I forget and think this song was written by Jimmy Buffett. Not that there's anything wrong with that, for all my Parrothead friends out there.
I have one major criterion for a great cover version: It has to bring something new to the song. And on that score, Fred Schneider succeeds brilliantly. (It was first recorded for his 1996 solo album Just Fred.) In the great B-52s tradition, he takes this amiable little tune and sends it off into outer space, with dissonant snarls of guitar, frantic drum smacks, and buzzy little synth riffs that sound like transmissions from Mars.
Besides putting the lime in the coconut, we're also supposed to call a doctor and ask him what to do -- and this is the motif that Fred really goes to town on. His voice comes out of one speaker, frantically begging the doctor to tell him what to do about his bellyache; out of the other speaker, he plays a particularly snide doctor, advising his patient to put the lime in the coconut and call him in the morning. In true Rock Lobster-style, he unleashes layers of wails, growls, and shouts, weaving in and out of those messy instrumentals. (Really, has anybody ever done more with less vocal talent than Fred Schneider?) It's truly a party gone out of bounds.
Well, it's spring vacation and I have NOT gone to the Caribbean. In fact, the landscape outside my window is six inches deep in crusty snow and slush. But Fred Schneider has just delivered an umbrella drink to my lounge chair, and I'm lovin' it.