In just a few short days, the annual Umphrey’s McGee mashups will turn five years old. That’s right. Five years of the unexpected, the outrageous, and the hilarious. Some bands cover full albums, others do a full set of random covers, others just dress the part, but Umphrey’s as usual takes it to the next level, injecting their own brand of creativity to construct a Halloween experience unlike any other.
These creations have come in all different shapes and sizes, from the powerful and classic (Another Brick In the Wall/Thriller) to the bizarre and downright insane (Sad But True/Clint Eastwood), but all have their rightful place in Umphrey’s lore. Unfortunately for this list, only five make the cut, so here’s what we were looking for in the perfect Umphrey’s McGee mashup:
1. Song Selection: Obviously, the songs chosen have to be, well, good. You’ll see that the aforementioned “Sad But True” and “Clint Eastwood” mashup didn’t make the cut to be in the top five. This is a prime example of why song selection is so crucial to the overall success of the mashup. While Metallica’s rocker “Sad But True” and the Gorillaz’s bouncy number “Clint Eastwood” may be passable songs by themselves, when mashed up, there was clearly something missing. The flow and overall construction of the mashup relies on the song selection to be picture perfect.
2. Musical and Lyrical Construction: The performance is the essence of what we’re grading. Along with song selection, the arrangement of the two (or more) songs musically and lyrically is the heart of what a great mashup is all about. We know the band looks for songs in a similar key, and begins to construct a mashup from there. With that in mind, we broke down every mashup from an arrangement point of view to try to get inside the heads of Mr. Bayliss, Cinninger, and company as they built these individual mashups. Not only did we discover fascinating aspects about song construction, but also about tone, flow, and the purpose of the mashup itself. Intentional or not, it was very interesting, but more on that later.
3. Flexibility: Is it bendable? Adaptable? Malleable? Okay, mashups aren’t metals, but can you slap a “Jimmy Stewart” on the end of it and make it work? Then you’re a great, flexible mashup. We discovered that this is the category where the top-2 really separated themselves from the others. While this isn’t limited to massive, 10+ minute jams, the general question when addressing this topic is: “Is there room to breathe within the mashup?” No matter how big or how small the improv, the openness and breathability of the mashup was graded in this section.
Each of the top-5 was graded on a scale of 1-5 in each category, with 5 being the best. That said, without further adieu, here is our top-5 Umphrey’s McGee Halloween mashups:
5. The Way You Rule The World (Tears For Fears/Michael Jackson)
Song Selection: 4
The 2010 mashup of the Tears For Fears classic “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” and Michael Jackson’s “The Way You Make Me Feel” is a textbook Umphrey’s mashup, which is why it edged out slightly riskier mashups such as “Land of Wappy” and “Come Closer” in the scoring. One of the things we loved most about this was the overall flow. Take a listen to how Bayliss and Jake almost finish each other’s sentences on the guitar, combining the two songs flawlessly.
Vocally, every time Bayliss breaks out his Michael Jackson voice, it is bound to be a highlight. He has the ability to nail that boyish falsetto perfectly. Joel and Kris do a fantastic job on the Tears for Fears vocals, executing the changes from the chorus to the bridge perfectly while mixing in elements of the MJ portion. Kris also joins in on the MJ breakdown, adding more points to the score. The climax of the typical UM mashup occurs when both songs seemingly face-off at the end, which is what occurs here as the vocals become intertwined before the band drops into a nice outro breakdown. Again, pay attention to the flow and ease of which they pull this off. We decided to attribute this more to song selection, as both songs by themselves just work together. The band does get a lot of credit though, which makes this their 5th best mashup to date.
4. Nemo’s Fat Bottomed Good Times (Umphrey’s/Led Zeppelin/Queen)
Song Selection: 4
This mashup, for me, is simply masterful. One of the OG mashups and very worthy of the #4 spot. Song selection speaks for itself, really. Taking one of your originals and throwing it in with a Zeppelin and Queen song is extremely ballsy to begin with, but to execute it like this is nothing short of miraculous.
The question when examining this mashup is whether or not there is enough space for each song to breathe, and the answer to that is a resounding yes. Starting with the Queen lyrics and Zeppelin music, then bouncing to Nemo, back to Zeppelin, and then PERFECTLY transitioning to Nemo once again is a testament to how good these guys are. If you had no musical knowledge, and I told you this was an Umphrey’s original, there is no way you would dispute me. Vocally, Bayliss carries most of the burden, with Joel helping him out on the Queen section. That is understandable, since Jake has not only himself to imitate on the guitar, but Jimmy Page and Brian May as well. Nemo’s Fat Bottomed Good Times is a musical achievement not just for Umphrey’s McGee, but for all bands looking to create something from already existing pieces. However, it is not the best mashup. We roll on.
3. 1901 Jump Fuck You (Phoenix/Van Halen/Cee-Lo Green)
Song Selection: 5
This one might seem like the surprise of the group, as the second 2010 mashup makes an appearance in the three spot. One of the most attractive parts of this mashup is the stark contrast between the two songs. Obviously, Phoenix and Van Halen don’t get mentioned in the same breath, so to take a song from each and transform it into a mashup will get you noticed, hence the perfect score in our Song Selection category. Moving on to the composition, the band starts with the “Jump” lyrics over the “1901″ music, and masterfully switches on a dime after the first chorus of “Jump” to begin the Phoenix portion. Joel is particularly clutch on the execution of the switch, as both synth-heavy tunes require him to be on point.
Vocally, Jake and Brendan alternating is a big plus for me when it comes to the versatility and creativity of a mashup. That’s why I believe this one gets the edge over the “Nemo” mashup overall. Lyrically, pay attention to the crafty imagery between the “Jump” chorus and the “falling, falling” section of “1901.” The contrast between these two songs lyrically makes this mashup unique, and it begins to take on a feel of it’s own as the mashup progresses, which is the end goal. I’ll let you interpret the songs on your own, but to me, the theme and feeling of taking a “leap of faith,” whether it be personally or professionally, is evident as these two lyrics blend together. This is definitely a mashup that connects with me, and of course the touch of Cee-Lo at the end really put the cherry on top. I was convinced The Pageant was going to collapse when they threw that wrinkle in.
2. Sweet Sunglasses (Eurythmics/Corey Hart/MGMT)
Song Selection: 5
I’ll be brief with this one, because quite frankly I could break it down for 85 pages. I won’t, but I will tell you this is a masterful mashup. It really encompasses everything that a mashup is supposed to be. Almost, that is. “Sweet Sunglasses” came close to a perfect score, which would’ve created a tie at the top, but alas, it fell just one point short in the Composition section. I’ll explain that since everything else is basically flawless. The reason for the 4 in the Composition section rather than a 5 is the repetitive nature of the mashup overall. You’ll see that in our best mashup, there are different twists and turns that take you on a musical adventure. “Sweet Sunglasses,” while easily the best jammed out mashup the band has, there is definitely a one -dimensional aspect to it that kept it from forcing a vote-off at the top. That said, enjoy this one. Some classic 80′s tunes melded together with a little MGMT fun at the end. We’ve seen this one get jammed into the end of “Nothing Too Fancy” and many others. It is as versatile as they come and definitely one of those gifts that keeps on giving, but someone had to be number two!
1. Come As Your Kids (Nirvana/MGMT/Dead Or Alive)
Song Selection: 5
And here is your winner. I said it as soon as it ended, and I stick by it today. This is the best mashup Umphrey’s McGee has ever done. There are a couple things to pay attention to when it comes to the second set opener on 10/29/11. The first is the seamlessness with which the two songs (Nirvana’s “Come As You Are” and MGMT’s “Kids”) blend together. I mean, Jake is playing both guitar riffs- BOTH! Brendan comes in with the epic, haunting, and emotional (the lyric “and I swear that I don’t have a gun” still freaks me out) Cobain lyrics before slamming into an aggressive breakdown that leads into the first verse of “Kids,” which he also handles.
After a couple of ebbs and flows between verses, the band drops into an absolutely gorgeous section featuring the “water is warm, but it’s sending me shivers” lyrics of “Kids” and the chorus before launching into the Nirvana bridge. Jake is controlling everything with some beautiful “watery” effects on the guitar. Again, I’ll let you interpret the songs for yourselves, but I think, lyrically speaking, this is the most haunting and terrifying mashup. The totality of the mashup really keeps with the Halloween spirit and mood, as it melts into a perfect groove. After a few minutes of some actually decent improv (for a mashup, of course) the band finds itself right into Dead or Alive’s “You Spin Me Round” before fading out. If you were in Atlanta, you saw them end “Mulche’s Odyssey” out of this, if you were in Milwaukee, you saw Jake slay the end of “Pay the Snucka,” and if you were in Oakland earlier this year, you caught the end of “JaJunk” out of this great mashup. All of these examples solidify, to me, why this is the best they have ever done. Not only does it work musically and lyrically, but it has the versatility in the end to open the door to endless possibilities.