If you were an ahead-of-the-curve music consumer in 1994, the first Portishead song you might have ever heard is “Mysterons,” the first song on the band’s acclaimed debut album. What would you have made of it? Beth Gibbons, chilly singing offers an accessible enough entry point, but that snare-roll percussion and haunted-house theremin make this a difficult sound to immediately put your finger on. Someone hearing this music cold might well have been a bit bewildered.
Until now, PS I Love You had a good trend going with their covers. First came a version of Robyn’s “Cry When You Get Older,” then a few months later they followed that with Madonna’s “Where the Party?” Their grungy, wailing performance flipped the female pop songs to the heartbroken cries of anguished men.
When you’ve been doing something for six decades, you tend to get pretty good at it. Willie Nelson has been singing for 60 years (and writing songs for longer than that), and his voice is indelibly stamped onto the map of American music. When you hear Willie sing, you know it’s Willie. Which makes Nelson covers an interesting beast, because unlike many artists, he doesn’t have to change very much to make a song his own. Today he released a cover of Coldplay’s 2001 hit, “The Scientist.” It’s for the soundtrack of a short film about sustainable farming, called Back to the Start, that was commissioned by Chipotle Mexican Grill (you may see it play before the start of your movie in the theater this weekend). With just a few tweaks, Nelson has created a stunning new song.
Given their relative proximity to the A.V. Club’s Chicago offices, the Hold Steady always seemed like a perfect choice for A.V. Undercover. Believe it or not, though, they were only the fallback choice for this song. Marnie Stern originally covered Huey Lewis and the News’ “The Power of Love,” but technical difficulties apparently ruined the recording. So in steps the Hold Steady to save the day with another cover.
As you might imagine, quite a few Bob Dylan covers come across our desk. So many that I often don’t get to listen to them all. So when I had the opportunity to press play on “A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall” by Tom Russell with Lucinda Williams and Calexico, I was surprised to find myself listening over and over. With his catchy tex-mex country sound, Russell is no stranger to covering Dylan. Back in April, when we brought you 33 discs of live Dylan covers, we included his performance of “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues” as a standout.
In the Spotlight showcases a cross-section of an artist’s cover work. View past installments, then post suggestions for future picks in the comments!
In some respects, KISS embodies the quintessential American band, or at least the quintessential American four-piece rock group. You can take that assertion a number of ways, depending on how cynical you’re feeling. Perhaps if you’re not particularly a fan of the group – like many critics these days, one might guess – you could argue that their crass and unending commercialism speaks to American values in a way that no other act has mastered so purely. But that would miss two important points about this New York City foursome: one, that they’re a seriously important group that had a huge effect on the music industry and culture in general, and two, that a lot of their music rocks really, really hard.