Unsatisfied with the shameless real-time castration of some of rock n’ roll’s earliest classics, Boone attempted a late-late-late career comeback in 1997 by donning a leather vest (ewww) and doing a heavy metal theme album called No More Mr. Nice Guy, choosing 12 of the most iconic hard rock songs of the previous three decades and turning them into slick big band punchlines. (I’ll concede: his Latin-jazz take on Van Halen’s “Panama” has a certain Manilowian charm. Is that Reparata singing back-up?.) The obviousness of the song choices make the gimmick transparent. “Stairway to Heaven”? You get a sense that he’s playing for the laughs and doesn’t really respect the songs or the artists who originally performed them. It’s one thing to play fun with Van Halen, but when he starts crooning “The Wind Cries Mary”, that joke isn’t funny anymore.
A few years after No More Mr. Nice Guy, 50s teen star turned 70s adult contemporary maestro Paul Anka recorded an album called Rock Swings, proving that this sort of thing can be done well; among a few gimmicky selections (“Smells Like Teen Spirit”, Van Halen’s “Jump”) he delivered lovely, stylish, and wholly unironic interpretations of such unlikely numbers as Pet Shop Boys’ “It’s a Sin” and the Cure’s “The Lovecats.” Rock Swings is still very much a Paul Anka album – there’s not a guitar solo in sight – but he approaches the alternative and hard rock songbooks the same way he might approach any other American standard. You get the sense that he really understands, for instance, what a great melodist Robert Smith is – and what a romantic. Listening to Anka sing “The Lovecats”, I wish he’d do a whole album of Cure songs.
Dee Snider “Mack the Knife” (2012)
This month, Twisted Sister frontman (and recent Celebrity Apprentice contestant) Dee Snider turned the tables, releasing Dee Snider Does Broadway. As a fan of both Twisted Sister and Broadway showtunes, I’m happy to report that Snider takes the Paul Anka approach to this concept: he clearly loves the songs he’s singing; he sings them damn well. And along with guests Clay Aiken (his Celebrity Apprentice rival) and Cyndi Lauper (another Celebrity Apprentice alum), he gets buy-in from two of the greatest Broadway divas of the last three decades: Patti Lupone, who joins Snider for the album-closing medley of “Tonight” and “Somewhere” from Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story, and Bebe Neuwirth who reprises her role as temptress-from-hell Lola, a role she played in the 1994 hit revival of the Adler & Ross musical Damn Yankees, on a duet of “Whatever Lola Wants.”
His duet with Clay “Always the Bridesmaid” Aiken on Frank Loesser’s “Luck Be a Lady” (from Guys and Dolls) turns that sleak, jazzy 1950 gambler’s plea into a shark-jumping send-up of Sunset Strip decadence. But while he never loses his sense of humor, he plays much of the rest of the stuff – an appropriately snarling take on “The Ballad of Sweeney Todd”, for instance – like the Twister Sister songs Stephen Sondheim had no idea he was writing. Which is to say not necessarily straight-faced, but also not entirely without reverence.