Feb 162018
 

Under the Radar shines a light on lesser-known cover artists. If you’re not listening to these folks, you should. Catch up on past installments here.

jade bird covers

On the 25-track David Bowie tribute album Howard Stern’s show released this week, many of the names were familiar: Billy Corgan, Dawes, Peter Frampton, etc. One that didn’t ring a bell was Jade Bird. But her version of Bowie’s Hunky Dory deep cut “Quicksand” was a surprising highlight. I wondered how I was so late to discover her.

Turns out, I wasn’t. Despite running in such heady company, Jade Bird (her real name) has only released one EP so far. But things are moving fast for her, and by the time she releases her debut record, she might not be so under the radar any longer.

She was just nominated for the BBC Sound of 2018 which, if you’re not in the UK, might not mean much. But it’s as good a measure as any of who might blow up in the next year. Winners in the past decade include the then-little-known Sam Smith, HAIM, and, oh, Adele. Hell, the losers include The Weeknd, King Krule, and Savages (and that was just in one year!). Continue reading »

Feb 152018
 
pj harvey an acre of land

You have probablynever heard “An Acre of Land.” It’s a very old English folk ballad, and not even a particularly well-known one in that niche. But you don’t need to have ever heard the song before to be stunned by PJ Harvey’s new cover of it.

The few other versions I dug on YouTube tend to be sung by people with thick accents off albums with titles like Widdecombe Fair. And they’re pretty, in a Fairport Convention-sings-songs-of-yesteryear sort of way. But Harvey’s version, a collaboration with London composer Harry Escott for the movie Dark River, is a different beast entirely. Listening to it doesn’t feel like a history lesson. It feels like something fresh, unburdened by tradition. Continue reading »

Feb 132018
 
nana mouskouri amy winehouse

Nana Mouskouri is one of the best-selling female vocalists of all time. Even though she never became a household name in the U.S., estimates put her total album sales well above 200 million (some say as high as 300 million). By one count, she has recorded 1,550 songs in ten different languages.

With such impressive numbers, people ought to be lining up to record tributes to her. Instead, the 83-year-old decided to release a tribute album of her own, paying homage to actors, bands, and singers whose work has inspired her over the years. The album, Forever Young, includes covers of songs by Bob Dylan (obviously), the Beatles, Elvis, Bryan Adams, and Leonard Cohen, to name a few. But perhaps the most unusual choice is her cover of Amy Winehouse’s “Love is a Losing Game.” Continue reading »

Feb 122018
 
david bowie howard stern covers

Over the weekend, Howard Stern’s SiriusXM show aired a massive set of 25 new David Bowie covers by big names across classic rock (Peter Frampton, Todd Rundgren, Daryl Hall), 1990s alternative (Garbage, Smashing Pumpkins’ Billy Corgan, Slipknot’s Corey Taylor), and current indie favorites (Dawes, Car Seat Headrest, Sun Kil Moon). Gems abounded, but we’ve picked out the best eight covers of the bunch.

They are, not coincidentally, the songs that changed the most from the originals. David Bowie was constantly reinventing his sound, so it seems wrong to cover his songs too faithfully. Continue reading »

Feb 122018
 
beck velvet underground cover

The Spotify video series Music Happens Here is a must-watch for music lovers. Each episode takes the viewer on a hot tub time machine journey to many of the most famous music cities in the world. Seven episodes in, it spans the landscapes and soundscapes of Los Angeles, London, New Orleans, Seattle, Chicago, Nashville, and, most recently, New York. The producers do a terrific job in showcasing the past, present, and future of each individual music scene. The New York episode, in particular, is a diverse affair that features the Hip Hop beats of A$AP Rocky, the dirty boulevard vibe of CBGB’s, and angel flight wearing pulse of 1970s disco at Studio 54, with side trips to The Dakota and The Fillmore East. Continue reading »

Feb 092018
 

That’s A Cover? explores cover songs that you may have thought were originals.

tainted love covers

Imagine, if you will, a world without synthpop.

The year is 1982. The airwaves are dominated by slick, highly produced pop-rock: Olivia Newton-John’s “Let’s Get Physical”; Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger”’ Joan Jett’s “I Love Rock ’n Roll.”

Into this guitar-heavy slurry comes an arresting—and catchy!—song about abuse and paranoia: “Tainted Love.” The artist is Soft Cell, an English duo consisting of singer Marc Almond and multi-instrumentalist David Ball. The spare, electronic production resembles nothing else then on the airwaves, and after a brief spell in the lower rungs of the US Billboard Hot 100, it climbs to number 8, in total spending a record-breaking 43 weeks on the chart.

What most of the perplexed American radio audience didn’t then know was that the song was a cover, having first been recorded in 1964 by a then-little-known American artist, Gloria Jones, who would go on to re-record it in 1976, in effect covering herself. And while neither of her versions would make any impact on the charts, the story of this agonized song would enfold a long, strange string of figures from the bowels of rock history. Continue reading »