5 Cover tunes that rank with the originals

Some of you may recall my post last year about original recordings that were better than their covers. Well now it's time to honor some covers that, at least by my way of thinking, rank right up there with the originals. Unfortunately, the floss is no longer allowed to include soundbites, so you'll have to go check these out on iTunes, or hit the YouTube vids provided. Of course, these are just some of my favorites. I'm sure you all have your own, and we'd love to hear about them in the comments below.

1. "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction"

originally written and recorded by The Rolling Stones, released as a single in 1965.

This tune has been covered by Britney Spears, Jimi Hendrix, Cat Power and Vanilla Ice, but the one I think beats out the original is by Devo and was produced by Brian Eno and released on their 1978 debut album Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo! (They had actually released an earlier single of the cover, but the reworked version is better.) And by the way, if you're a Devo fan (and who isn't?) and haven't heard yet, the band is back! Check out their latest video over on their Web site.


2. "Unchained Melody"

originally written for the 1955 film, Unchained, with music by Alex North and lyrics by Hy Zaret.

Todd Duncan was the first to record this classic, one of the most often covered songs penned in the last 100 years, with more than 500 versions in hundreds of languages. Les Baxter, Al Hibbler, Jimmy Young and Roy Hamilton all released versions in the next decade that topped the charts, but my favorite is the Phil Spector version, sung by the Righteous Brothers, released as a single in 1965.

3. "Rebel Rebel"

originally written and recorded by David Bowie, released in 1974 as a single on the album Diamond Dogs.

My problem with the original is that it just seems to run on a wee-bit too long, like Walt Whitman's beard, or commercials toward the end of an episode of Saturday Night Live. Other interesting covers include one by the Bay City Rollers and, believe it or not, Dead or Alive. But my favorite comes from the film The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou and was recorded by Brazilian musician and actor Seu Jorge, who sang all those great Portuguese versions on the soundtrack. This one is just the right length, and works against the grain.

4. "Hurt"

originally written by Trent Reznor and released on Nine Inch Nails' 1994 album The Downward Spiral.

When Nine Inch Nails opened for David Bowie, the year after Downward Spiral was released, Bowie sang "Hurt" in a duet with Reznor. But it was Johnny Cash who really made this song the classic that it is today, on his album, American IV: The Man Comes Around, released in 2002 and jam-packed with covers (another great one on this album is "Bridge Over Troubled Water" by Paul Simon). The recording went on to win awards and become the only entry he ever had on the Billboard Modern Rock Tracks chart, where it hit #33 in 2003.

5. "Walk This Way"

originally released by Aerosmith as the second single from their 1975 album Toys in the Attic.

This was one of my favorite songs as a kid growing up in the "˜80s. First, in the late "˜70s, early "˜80s, we had the original version, which features that great drumbeat solo intro, which we all used to pound out on our air drums. And then in the mid "˜80s, we got the Run-D.M.C. cover released on the hip-hop trio's album Raising Hell. It, of course, features Steven Tyler and Joe Perry on the track (which helped re-cast Aerosmith as a group worth paying attention to), and was the first rap song to crack the top 5 of The Billboard Hot 100.

Check out past On Music posts here.
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
What Happened to Jamie and Aurelia From Love Actually?
May 26, 2017
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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief

Fans of the romantic-comedy Love Actually recently got a bonus reunion in the form of Red Nose Day Actually, a short charity special that gave audiences a peek at where their favorite characters ended up almost 15 years later.

One of the most improbable pairings from the original film was between Jamie (Colin Firth) and Aurelia (Lúcia Moniz), who fell in love despite almost no shared vocabulary. Jamie is English, and Aurelia is Portuguese, and they know just enough of each other’s native tongues for Jamie to propose and Aurelia to accept.

A decade and a half on, they have both improved their knowledge of each other’s languages—if not perfectly, in Jamie’s case. But apparently, their love is much stronger than his grasp on Portuguese grammar, because they’ve got three bilingual kids and another on the way. (And still enjoy having important romantic moments in the car.)

In 2015, Love Actually script editor Emma Freud revealed via Twitter what happened between Karen and Harry (Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman, who passed away last year). Most of the other couples get happy endings in the short—even if Hugh Grant's character hasn't gotten any better at dancing.

[h/t TV Guide]