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13 most overplayed Filipino cover band songs
You love them, but do they? The workhorses of the Asian bar circuit reveal the songs that test their will to live
From Manila and Singapore to Dubai, Phuket, Hong Kong and Hanoi, bands from the Philippines command the stages in Asia’s cheesiest hotel lobbies, sweatiest bars and hottest nightclubs.
Taking requests from all comers, they provide the-roof-is-on-fire entertainment with note-for-perfect-note renditions of old favorites for rowdy crowds and romance-bound couples.
But, like Kardashians and tequila shots, even old favorites can induce nausea when taken in large doses.
That’s why we asked some of the top Filipino cover bands to fire back on the songs that we could all stand to hear a little less of.
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13. “It’s My Life” (Bon Jovi)
On repeat because: This show-band anthem celebrates the independent ethos of everyone who still dreams of riding a steel horse into a wind-machined, rock ‘n’ roll dream.
But if you’re gonna include this triumphant, wavy-haired howler in your set list, there’s just one rule: don’t mess with the original arrangement.
“It was a slow Monday night at Insomnia in Hong Kong,” recalls Jong Cablitas, bassist of Hong Kong-based Chill Factor, who learned the lesson the Jersey way. “A lady from the audience asked our singer for ‘It’s My Life,’ which we then played as a slow, quiet ballad.
“The lady got so angry, she said, ‘What’s this crap?! I can’t dance to this! That’s my favorite song and I want it played the way it’s supposed to be played!’”
Requested by: Aside from bitter babes in Lan Kwai Fong nightclubs, anyone who loves power ballads and pyrotechnics and still can’t figure out why Nirvana was such a big deal.
12. “Moves Like Jagger” (Maroon 5 featuring Christina Aguilera and Mac Miller)
On repeat because: Even better than Ke$ha did in “Tik Tok,” the contemporary reference to the wrinkly Stones icon ingeniously connects generations on the dance floor.
Even if just for three minutes, 20-somethings get to feel less lame about 40-year-old dudes boogieing next to them.
Requested by: Singles seeking singles who actually have very little in common with Mick Jagger, much less Adam Levine or Christina Aguilera.
11. “Always Something There to Remind Me” (Naked Eyes)
On repeat because: If there’s a synth in the band, it’ll eventually teleport the entire bar to the land of air keybs and New Wave angst.
The gelled-hair crowd goes to passionate lengths to get-not-quite-jiggy to their favorite Casio-tinged beats.
Patty Ragaza, powerhouse vocalist of Powerhouse, a regular at Manila’s Aruba Bar & Restaurant, recalls the night her band refused a request to play this oft-covered 1960s Burt Bacharach/Hal David composition (recorded most notably in 1983 by flash-in-the-pan synthpop wonders Naked Eyes).
“This fan reprimanded us!” she says. “So he got banned from the bar. Well, he was drunk anyway.”
Which probably made him the first guy ever to get tossed out of a bar over a Naked Eyes song. See what we mean about that gelled-up passion?
Requested by: Second-marriage yuppies who still brag about their awesome cassette collections.
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10. “Rolling in the Deep” (Adele)
On repeat because: Everyone loves Adele, which means working bands are contractually obliged to love her, too.
“I get requests for her songs every week,” says Kat Agarrado, who sings at Martinis Bar at the Mandarin Oriental Manila with the Manila Blues Experience. “Audiences are happier when the song is still becoming familiar. They are (attaching) memories to the song.”
Requested by: Helpless romantics and heartsick karaoke veterans wallowing in the exquisite agony of the “We could have had it all!!!” refrain.
9. “September” (Earth Wind & Fire)
On repeat because: EWF may have introduced their syncopated soul sound in the 1970s, but Filipinos have never let it go.
Never mind that the “21st night of September” actually went down in infamy in this part of the world. (Ahem. Martial law, anyone?)
Patty Ragaza of Powerhouse admits to being relieved when her band is asked to limit the “retro portion” of their sets to just a few songs. Those are the lucky nights.
Requested by: Anyone who believes the 1970s should be remembered for matching satin outfits instead of feathered bangs and snarling Thatcher youth with safety pins in their cheeks.
8. “Through the Fire” (Chaka Khan)
On repeat because: Nothing screams perseverance like belting out a decades-old song resurrected by Kanye. (Yes, this is where “Through the Wire” gets its backing track.)
But exercise caution onstage. It takes a singer with killer pipes to pull off this big-lunged curtain caller.
Jessica Fernando, who sings with various hotel bands, remembers a particularly grueling late-night incident.
“After I performed the song, the guy who requested it came up to me with his son and kept asking me for another round of it,” she says. “He wanted to see if I could hit those high notes again! I felt I had to indulge him despite his rudeness, but inside I was so annoyed!”
Requested by: Aside from sadistic stalker/fans who bring their sons to bars, this weirdly versatile warhorse goes out to the freshly hooked-up, freshly married and even the freshly dumped.
7. “Firework” (Katy Perry)
On repeat because: Let’s see, peppy melody over irresistible beat sung by multi-hued, 21st-century sex kitty who shoots whipped cream out of her bra? For some reason, people just associate good things with this song.
It’s also the ultimate audience participation number. Sing along now, the mic’s pointing at you: “Cos baby, you’re a firework! Come on, show ’em what you’re worth!”
Requested by: Everyone with an iTunes account or high school diploma issued during the Obama administration.
6. “Stairway to Heaven” (Led Zeppelin)
On repeat because: It makes guitarists shine and audiences roar.
“No fail, whether expats or locals,” confirms Kat Agarrado of Manila Blues Experience.
Just don’t flub it.
This stoner chestnut requires stamina and showmanship. Fail to meet a reverential audience’s expectation and it becomes the longest eight minutes since your last pelvic exam.
Requested by: Rockers with gray ponytails, hobbit fans and gnome experts who still have deep and meaningful conversations about Aleister Crowley and Humbucker pickups.
5. “Anak” (Freddie Aguilar)
On repeat because: As an ode to a selfless parent’s suffering while raising an unrepentant child (“anak” is Tagalog for “child”), this Filipino weeper’s message resonates across cultures.
“We were down to our last few songs in Indonesia when a drunk man started to yell ‘Anak! Anak!’ repeatedly,” recall members of Manila-based Daughters 5. “The thing is, we had just played it and he was right in front of us! The guard had to take him away.”
Requested by: Passive-aggressive middle-agers dealing with newly emptied nests.
4. “Dancing Queen” (ABBA)
On repeat because: Somehow, the ABBA standard didn’t top the charts in the Philippines when it was released in the 1970s.
Locals have spent the last three decades making up for this national disgrace by playing the roller-rink throwback at every single party, wedding and ad hoc gathering in the country.
“Even if our throats are already bleeding from singing these songs, we always have to sing ‘Dancing Queen,’” confirms Ronald Navarro, bassist of Manila’s Rx80s Band, who have just finished a three-month stint in Dubai and now play weekly at Casino Filipino in Parañaque City.
Requested by: People who have seen “Mamma Mia!” at least three times and groups of friends who like dancing in unison.
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3. “I Will Survive” (Gloria Gaynor)
On repeat because: Who can resist a saucy piece of “kick ‘em when they come crawling back” vindication?
“We include it in our prime set as a dance starter,” says Ronald Navarro of Rx80s Band. “Would you believe even in the slow intro part of the song, people stand on the dance floor and do interpretative dancing? Our audience has more fun with the song than we do.”
Requested by: Gay men and drama queens who crave the spotlight, neon-colored cocktails and ignoring old boyfriends.
2. “Just the Way You Are” (Bruno Mars)
On repeat because: These are the words every girl wants a guy to say to her ... preferably at a pitch and volume that could shatter glass.
A comparatively recent addition to the play-it-or-we-become-violent set list, this contemporary wedding march is destined to become the “Faithfully” of the 2020s.
Requested by: Anyone who can’t remember Billy Joel’s “Just the Way You Are.”
1. “Faithfully” (Journey)
On repeat because: When Manila homeboy Arnel Pineda was plucked from YouTube obscurity to become Journey’s frontman, a cocktail of pride and envy spilled through the cover-band community.
After all, he wasn’t the only singer who’d been slogging through Journey’s classic rock catalog seven nights a week.
In the Philippines, Pineda’s ascension to global fame vaulted Journey from mere legends to music immortals.
You could fill half this list with Journey songs, but its recent reprisal on “Glee” has made this “Is it getting misty in here?” ballad a more popular request than a second drink on a first date.
(Plus, even we’re too sick of “Don’t Stop Believin’” to include it here.)
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Jake Hicaro, bassist of Cookies N' Cream, who plays regular Manila gigs at Offshore Resto Bar & Grill and Octoboy's Japanese Pizza and Takoyaki, has an even better reason for being loyal to this most treasured of Journey’s otherworldly gifts to mankind.
“Since the time ‘Faithfully’ was requested on a tissue paper wrapped in a 500-peso bill, we’ve made sure to have a cover version of it ready at all times,” he says.
Requested by: Follow-Your-Dreamers and Follow-Your-Hearters who’ve somehow wound up as part of the dwindling talent pool pounding San Migs in hotel bars at 2 a.m.
Want to see a great Filipino cover band perform live? Click to the next page for information on gigs by the bands quoted in this article.
Where the bands are
Want to see the groups that contributed to our survey play these songs live? Dates and gigs are always changing, but here’s where you can find some of the best musicians in Asia.
Just go easy on the “Don’t Stop Believin’” requests.
Regular gig: Insomnia Bar
38-44 D’Aguilar St., Central, Hong Kong; +852 2525 0957; www.liverockmusic247.com
Cookies N' Cream
Regular gigs Offshore Restobar & Grill (Tuesdays), Octoboy Japanese Pizza and Takoyaki, aka Octoboy Japanese Sizzling Pizza (Fridays)
Offshore Restobar & Grill, 9745 Kamagong St., San Antonio Village, Makati City, Metro Manila; +63 2 216 6568
Octoboy Japanese Pizza and Takoyaki, Unit 2-C, 186 Tomas Morato St., corner of Scout De Guia, Quezon City, Metro Manila; +63 2 384 8506; www.wix.com/octoboy
Regular gigs: Patio Carlito and White House (Wednesdays), 360 Bar (Fridays), Bagaberde (Fridays)
Patio Carlito and White House, 84 Scout Tuazon St., corner of Eugenio Lopez and Mother Ignacia Avenue, South Triangle, Quezon City, Metro Manila; +63 2 352 7140; email: firstname.lastname@example.org
360 Bar, Resorts World Manila, Newport Boulevard, Newport City, Pasay, Metro Manila; +63 2 836 6333; http://www.rwmanila.com
Bagaberde, CCP Complex, Sen. Gil Puyat Avenue, corner of Roxas Boulevard, Pasay City, Metro Manila; +63 831 2242; www.bagaberde.com
Manila Blues Experience
Regular gig: Martinis at Mandarin Oriental Manila (Wednesdays)
Makati Avenue, corner of Paseo de Roxas, Makati City, Metro Manila; +63 2 750 8888, ext. 2457; www.mandarinoriental.com
Regular gig: Aruba Bar & Restaurant (Fridays)
Metrowalk Commercial Complex, Meralco Avenue, Ortigas Center, Pasig City, Metro Manila; +63 2 636 4702; on Facebook here.
Regular gig: Casino Filipino Parañaque
PIRC Building, Ninoy Aquino Avenue, Parañaque City, Philippines; +63 2 854 1605; www.pagcor.ph
First published April 2012, updated August 2012