Feb 112010

Five Good Covers is an occasional series in which we look at a song that has supplied a variety of cross-genre cover versions. One mark of a well-written song is versatility, so we celebrate such songs with five totally different interpretations.

Time for a new semi-regular feature: Five Good Covers. Lots of websites showcase exhaustive lists of every version the writer could find of a certain song, which is great if you want 35 covers of “Umbrella,” not so helpful if you only want the best few. Here we whittle it down, presenting only five covers of any one song. Fewer songs than you might think can support five varying but valid interpretations.

We start off with a Valentine’s Day-appropriate song: “Be My Baby,” by the Ronettes. This song is often described as the crowning accomplishment of Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound production, with Brian Wilson calling it the greatest pop record ever made. It works equally well without that million-dollar gloss.

Paranoiacs – Be My Baby

The adorable harmonies of Ronettes have been replaced by a sketchy guy in the corner of the bar assuring you your drink doesn’t taste chalky. [Buy]

Jocelyn Scofield – By My Baby

Soft piano gives a tragic twist to this cover. The singer here is probably destined to remain baby-less. [Buy]

We Are Scientists – Be My Baby

Waves of distortion cannot mask this bouncy chorus. [Buy]

Linda Ronstadt – Be My Baby

Linda veers away from her country-folk roots on this twee little nugget of adoration. [Buy]

Steve Carlson – Be My Baby

What begins as a basic acoustic jam takes on a groovy finish with some reggae-inflected riffing. [Buy]

Got an idea for a future Five Good Covers feature? Leave a comment!

Feb 102010

It’s a good week to be a florist. Valentine’s Day is around the corner and roses are selling like a product that actually has some practical value. No, I never quite saw the romance in a present that will make you bleed if you hold it the wrong way. I think this is why no one ever gives me roses. That and the fact that I’m a guy.

Sexton Blake – Rose Parade (Elliott Smith)
You don’t forget the first time you hear Elliott Smith. I remember hearing the first notes of “Speed Trials,” the first track off Either/Or, and realizing I had some catching up to do. Covers of Elliott Smith songs are unusual in one regard: they tend to be better the less they change. [Buy]

Cassandra Wilson – For the Roses (Joni Mitchell)
Joni called this song her “first farewell to show business,” taking a leave of absence after putting out her 1972 album of the same name. It’s hard to imagine any record executive extracted the intended message from the dense imagery though. [Buy]

The Twilight Singers – Roses (Outkast)
One of the strangest pop hits of the last decade. André 3000 and Big Boi goof on golden calculators, support bras and boo-boo, yet it all takes an uncomfortable turn with that disturbingly detailed death fantasy. “Just playin’,” huh? I’m not sure you are… [Buy]

Joan Baez – Rose of Sharon (Eliza Gilkyson)
For decades Baez’s voice was a love-it-or-hate-it-instrument, but in her latter years that glass-shattering soprano has softened to a point that anyone would be moved. Baez opened with this when I saw her live a few years back, a few months before the album came out. [Buy]

Waitswatcher – Trampled Rose (Tom Waits)
Last year Robert Plant and Alison Krauss brought this 2004 Tom Waits song to a vast audience on their Grammy-winning Raising Sand. This instrumental recording may be more obscure, but it’s no less haunting. [Buy]

The Persuasions – It Must Have Been the Roses (Grateful Dead)
The Persuasions record for the Frankly A Cappella label, but that genre designation does not do justice to the deep gospel and soul flowing through their rich vocal arrangements. You might think the music Grateful Dead would be a poor fit, but after listening to Might As Well…The Persuasions Sing the Grateful Dead you’ll never hear the songs the same away again. [Buy]

Maleficent – Where the Wild Roses Grow (Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds)
Who knew a duet between a young girl and her killer could be so romantic? A little less so when shouted perhaps, but the bat-out-of-hell guitar in the background keeps the mantra “All beauty must die” as chilling as ever. [Buy]

The Housewives – Rose Tint My World (The Rocky Horror Picture Show)
The Housewives sound like early Blondie squalling out with Ray Manzarek backing on organ. [Buy]

Everything But the Girl – English Rose (The Jam)
Whatever song Everything But the Girl touches turns to cover gold. They seem to have gone on indefinite hiatus, but their Covers EP should keep you in good hands until they return. [Buy]

Rex Hobart – Every Rose Has Its Thorn (Poison)
Brett Michaels was a sensitive soul long before Rock of Love. [Buy]

Feb 072010

Shuffle Sundays is a weekly feature in which we feature a cover chosen at random by my iTunes shuffle. The songs will usually be good, occasionally be bad, always be interesting. All downloads will only be available for one week, so get them while you can.

“The Tennessee Waltz” has always frustrated me. The singer lost his woman, but all he can think about is how beautiful the song playing at the time was. Which makes you want to hear this majestic “Tennessee Waltz.” But he’s singing this song now…about how his girl left him…when they were playing this song…about how his girl left him….when they — DEATH SPIRAL!

Many good songs have been nonsensically self-referentially — “Crocodile Rock,” “Roll Over Beethoven,” “You’re So Vain” — but few have inspired so many classic recordings, ranging from Sam Cooke’s upbeat swing to Senator Lamar Alexander’s mournful piano. It’s one of six official state songs of Tennessee and it all started in 1947 with Pee Wee King, performing it here with the Golden West Cowboys.

One of the more unlikely renditions comes from Leonard Cohen, a man who is covered every time you turn around but almost never covers anything himself. Still, he broke tradition in Poland in 1985, cleaning up the concert recording a couple decades later for inclusion on his most recent album, 2004’s Dear Heather. A video of the original performance (and endearingly awkward dedication) still circulates.

I shuddered a little when I heard that Hem covered this country classic, dreading the imminent Finnish metal onslaught. My fears were assuaged when I heard the opening harmonies and realized I was confusing them with Helsinki goths HIM (who, to be fair, do a unique “Solitary Man”). Whew.

Hem – The Tennessee Waltz (Redd Stewart & Pee Wee King) [Buy]

What do you think? Sound off in the comments section below.

Feb 062010

Cover News is a weekly feature keeping you up to date on the goings-on in the world of cover tunes, tribute albums, etc. Plus, at the bottom we post the array of cover tunes we’ve been sent in the past week. Have you recorded a cool cover? Send an mp3 to the address on the right!
 And as always, follow Cover Me on Twitter for the latest news.

Dropkick Murphys

This Week’s News

Another Commissions cover this week: California songwriter Brady Harris putting a ‘30s folk spin on Blondie’s “Heart of Glass.” [Cover Me]

The cover blog family just got one more member: Cover By Numbers. Welcome! [Cover By Numbers]

Will I stream a new Preservation Hall Jazz Band covers record, featuring guest appearances from Andrew Bird, Merle Haggard, Dr. John and Tom Waits? Why yes, I will! [Preservation Hall Jazz Band]

The message of “Everybody Hurts” is “Hey friend, sometimes life sucks for all of us.” Does that really make it an appropriate song to cover for Haitian relief? [YouTube]

“I Put a Spell on You” may be a better choice, simply because there’s zero “message.” And with the Pogues’ Shane MacGowan behind the wheel (with Nick Cave and Johnny Depp), it’s sure to get rowdy. [Pitchfork]

A football fight song redone. It’s no “Super Bowl Shuffle,” but really what is? Go Saints! [Team Glory Bound]

Attention Austria: Deerhoof and Xiu Xiu will be covering Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures in full at a Krems festival. Make the most of it. [Click Music]

Us folks stateside will just have to console ourselves with the Flaming Lips playing a 2am Dark Side of the Moon at Bonnaroo. And this is after two hours of their own material! [Spinner]

Peter Gabriel’s soft piano run through Bon Iver’s gorgeous “Flume” takes some getting used to. Once you wrap your mind around a harmony-free rendition though, it’s something special. [Stereogum]

While I like the idea of Roberta Flack doing a Beatles cover album, does the world really need another soul-tinged “Let It Be”? [Spinner]

Coming February 20: two-disc New Order tribute album dedicated to Factory Records bossman Tony Wilson. [New Order Tribute]

Also coming soon: A 21-song tribute to punk pioneers the Swingin’ Utters. Get a taste with Dropkick Murphys’ “Strongman.” [Alternative Press]

This Week’s Submissions

Steve Acho – Rio (Duran Duran) [more]

Billy Gewin – The Other End (Of the Telescope) (Elvis Costello / Aimee Mann) [more]

Brady Harris – Heart of Glass (Blondie) [more]

Or, the Whale – Toxic (Britney Spears) [more]

Sentient Machine – Disco Inferno (The Trammps) [more]

Still Standing – Blister in the Sun (Violent Femmes) [more]

Send your cover to the email address on the right for inclusion in next week’s Cover News!

Feb 042010

Cover Commissions is a monthly series in which a featured artist covers a reader-selected song for this blog. Any artists interested in participating, email me at the address on the right.

When Blondie released “Heart of Glass” in 1979, the New Wave pioneers were accused of abandoning their roots for the emerging disco sound. For once the critics may have a point, since the tune was written as a funky blues number before producer Mike Chapman got his hands on it.

“We didn’t expect the song to be that big,” guitarist Chris Stein responded. “We did it as a novelty item to put more diversity into the album. It’s not selling out; it’s only one song.”

November Cover Commissions artist Brady Harris takes “Heart of Glass” back from disco. He takes it way back. Here’s what he has to say:

I always admired how Blondie could move comfortably from genre to genre – hit to hit.
 “Heart of Glass”, like most well written songs, lends itself easily to multiple stylistic interpretations and genres. Perhaps unconsciously taking a cue from The Lovin’ Spoonful, I decided to go with an Americana-30s kind of vibe when recording this arrangement.

I laid down the acoustic guitars and a scratch vocal here at my own humble home studio then I took the song to my friend, multi-instrumentalist John Adair and his studio in Santa Monica. John laid down the mandolin, banjo, upright bass, lead guitar, piano, backing vocals, etc. I re-cut my lead vocals there and we were done but for the mixing, which John did the following week. 

Musical geek-out note on the recording: I love how on the last “Ooh-ooh, ooh-oh” you can hear the bass reach up and grab the melody riff that the mandolin’s been playing the whole song, like some poor grunt reaching for the spotlight at the last possible moment.

Thanks to John Adair!

And thank-you, Ray!

No, sir, thank you. The rich folksy swing is sure to revitalize this oldies classic for anyone sick of the disco-cheeze original.

Brady Harris ft. John Adair – Heart of Glass (Blondie)

Check out Brady’s website and MySpace for more tunes (highly recommended: his Cover Charge album, featuring takes on the Vines, Culture Club and more) and catch more John Adair at his site or ‘Space.

This mp3 may be freely shared with the artist’s blessing. Post it on your blog, send it to your friends, tweet it to the world. When you share this though, please include a link to this site. Cover Commissions is a monthly occurrence. Check back for future installments.

Feb 012010

The first post of the month always features covers of every track on a famous album. Got an idea for a future pick? Leave a note in the comments!

Despite the fact that he had already released songs like “Piano Man,” “New York State of Mind” and “The Entertainer,” it took Billy Joel until his fifth album to hit the big time. After The Stranger hit in 1977 though, weddings were never the same again.

The Pale Pacific – Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song)

One of the all-time great rock stutters gets an appropriately full-volume delivery by some Seattle indie vets. [Buy]

Lowtide – The Stranger

Lowtide’s MySpace page describes them as “the musical equivalent of a computer virus,” which is pretty accurate. They didn’t seem to bother learning the real words here, so it’s viral in every sense of the word: unexpected, annoying, and infectious. [Buy]

Alex D’Castro – Just the Way You Are

Billy Joel is as sick of this dreck as you are. “I feel hypocritical [playing this song],” he told the New York Times a few years ago. “I divorced the woman I wrote it for.” Perhaps he should revert to the less schmaltzy version he sang for Oscar the Grouch in the ‘70s. Or perhaps he should check out with swinging salsa version. [Buy]

Titta and Trombetta – Scenes from an Italian Restaurant

Any Billy Joel cover that doesn’t employ a lick of piano deserves props, particularly if it’s substituted with a double-acoustic guitar jam. [Buy]

Ingrid Graudins – Vienna

Billy Joel has listed “Vienna” as one of his two personal favorites (the other being “Summer, Highland Falls”). It’s certainly among his most personal, detailing the time while on a trip to see his estranged Austria-dwelling father he saw a 90-year old woman sweeping the street and realized how much America abandons the elderly. “I thought ‘This is a terrific idea – that old people are useful -and that means I don’t have to worry so much about getting old because I can still have a use in this world in my old age,’” he said years later. “I thought ‘Vienna waits for you…’” [Buy]

After the Fall – Only the Good Die Young

Insert joke about Billy Joel being old here… [Buy]

The Diamond Family Archive – She’s Always a Woman

A song that puts the “z” in “cheeze,” “She’s Always a Woman” gets a surprisingly sensitive treatment from these banjo-and-mandolin folkies. And listening to that voice, you’ll want to be the woman he’s singing about. [Buy]

Kool T – Get It Right the First Time

Last November one website sponsored a Billy Joel beat-making contest where would-be DJs could only use sounds from the original tapes of this and “Stiletto.” Most are exactly as terrible as you might expect, but Kool T took a few hooks from “Get It Right” and created something almost unrecognizable. It’s technically a remix I suppose, but you find me a decent cover of this song and we’ll talk. [Buy]

The Manhattans – Everybody Has a Dream

The Stranger ends with this quiet gospel-tinged number, but these Philly soul sensations blew it wide open in a 1978 single that went to #65 on the R&B charts. [Buy]