Nov 192018
 
wil gold digger

Kanye West’s 2005 hit “Gold Digger” has origins that pass right through the heart of 20th century popular music. The story begins in 1954, when a black gospel group called The Southern Tones recorded a song called “It Must Be Jesus.” Its lyrics served as a warning to all sinners that Jesus is “Goin’ around” and “Takin’ names.” The song might have been lost to history, had it not been for a young R&B singer named Ray Charles who reworked it as “I Got A Woman.” The song would become one of Charles’ signature tracks and serve as an inspiration to Elvis and the Beatles, who both covered it.

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Nov 162018
 

“Covering the Hits” looks at covers of a randomly-selected #1 hit from the past sixty years.

gettin jiggy wit it covers

Will Smith’s 1998 number-one hit “Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It” would have been perfect for our current era of YouTube covers.

First and foremost, the song was massive. It topped the charts for three weeks and won Smith his second-consecutive Grammy Award for Best Rap Solo Performance. But more specifically, the simple novelty number boasts an instantly-identifiable hook (“Na na na na na na na…”) that would remain recognizable transposed into any genre. Google searches of “Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It metal” and “”Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It bluegrass” would likely turn up a dozen options apiece.

But “Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It” came out in 1997, eight years before YouTube’s founding. Though a massive, inescapable hit – if it wasn’t, it wouldn’t fit this feature – almost no one covered it. We’ll get to the few who did below, but what strikes me most is how this dearth of “Jiggy” covers opens an interesting window into how drastically YouTube has changed the cover-song landscape. Continue reading »

Nov 142018
 

In Pick Five, great artists pick five cover songs that matter to them.

erin mckeown cover songs

After almost two decades of critically acclaimed albums, singer-songwriter-guitarist Erin McKeown just added another hyphenate to her resumé: “theatrical composer.” She wrote music and lyrics for the new Public Theater musical Miss You Like Hell in New York. Variety wrote after seeing the show, “Erin McKeown makes an impressive stage debut with music that is eclectic and appealing.” Here’s a taste, two-time Tony nominee Daphne Rubin-Vega singing McKeown’s new song “Mothers”: Continue reading »

Nov 132018
 

The Wall ReduxOften ranked among the best concept albums of all time, Pink Floyd’s The Wall was released on November 30, 1979. Produced by band members David Gilmour and Roger Waters along with Bob Ezrin and James Guthrie, it’s overwhelmingly considered Waters’s baby. He conceived of Pink, the fatigued rock-star figure on whom the album centers, and who is widely thought to contain characteristics of both Roger Waters and Pink Floyd cofounder and original frontman, Syd Barrett. The musical narrative confronts war, the ugly side of stardom, and the conformity encouraged by many English private schools of the day – blending the nominally unrelated subjects into seamless theme.

Covering an album as entrenched in the musical culture as this one is ambitious and dicey by nature. Many well-known acts have covered Pink Floyd, and even the more celebrated among those covers are not immune to pushback from tie-dyed-in-the-wool Floyd fans. The bands behind The Wall Redux certainly get points for chutzpah. The newest redux effort from Magnetic Eye Records, this compilation invites artists from rock and metal to revisit all the songs on Pink Floyd’s 11th studio album.
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Nov 122018
 
lucius christmas time

As the clichéd complaint goes, the Christmas season seems to come earlier every year. That’s certainly true in the cover-song world, at least. While this may be the first 2018 Christmas cover we’re posting, it’s hardly the first we heard. That happened – really – in September (it was still technically summer!).

But today, we finally end our no-Christmas-covers blackout. And the cover that proved so good we couldn’t even make it to Black Friday? Lucius’s gorgeous cover of the A Charlie Brown Christmas standby “Christmas Time Is Here.” The duo of Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig lend their ethereal harmonies to a version that retains the original’s swooning beauty, even with indie-pop twinkles replacing the jazzier touches. Continue reading »

Nov 092018
 

Five Good Covers presents five cross-genre reinterpretations of an oft-covered song.

The Smiths

If you Google “perfect Smiths song,” you’ll find a lot of different titles – “The Boy with the Thorn in his Side,” “How Soon Is Now,” “I Won’t Share You,” “Half a Person,” and “There Is a Light That Never Goes Out,” just to name the results on the first page. But some opinions are bigger than others, and in lead singer Morrissey’s opinion, the perfect Smiths song – or at least, in his words, “very close indeed” – was “Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want.” Allmusic.com calls it “a minimal yet lush two minutes of almost otherworldly beauty… Almost impenetrably sad, [it’s] a masterpiece both musically and emotionally.”

Starting life as a Johnny Marr instrumental called “The Irish Waltz,” the song became something more once Morrissey sang his lyrics of longing in a voice far gentler and quieter than his usual melodramatic croon. “Please Please Please” turned into a hymn to the art of pining and yearning, the anthem of the unrequited lover, cf. Duckie in Pretty in Pink. And it did so in a minute and fifty seconds, making it the shortest Smiths song ever. Why so short? Morrissey explained:

When we first played it to Rough Trade, they kept asking, “where’s the rest of the song?” But to me, it’s like a very brief punch in the face. Lengthening the song would, to my mind, have simply been explaining the blindingly obvious.

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