Cover Classics takes a closer look at all-cover albums of the past, their genesis, and their legacy.
It must have been a real drag to be young and watch the whole love and peace era go down the drain. JFK, dead. MLK, dead. Paul McCartney, dead. The music of the turn-on-tune-in-drop-out generation had become so absorbed with its own self-importance that the weight was too much to carry, especially with the early ’70s promising no bright future “comin’ up around the bend.” Bryan Ferry‘s These Foolish Things, one of two all-covers albums released in October 1973 (David Bowie‘s Pin-Ups was the other), served as a healthy reminder that these hippie anthems and cultural touchstones are, after all, pop songs.
When Ferry released his solo debut, Roxy Music was very much still active, and neither the band nor the band leader seemingly had any aspirations toward a utopian world of peace, love, and understanding. “Glam” in all its escapist glory was taking hold, bringing life and exuberant examination back into rock music. These Foolish Things, an album full of both, is a collection of what we now recognize as enduring staples of the first 15 years of marketable rock and roll. Ferry released thirteen faithful adaptations of these classics (well, like most rock ‘n’ roll romances, faithful in their own way); here are five of them.
MP3: Bryan Ferry – A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall (Bob Dylan cover)
There’s something liberating in this totally wacky take on Bob Dylan‘s “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall”, complete with Vegas back-up singers and absurd sound effects that accompany the visions of the blue-eyed son. Most would take the predictably serious route and fall flat on their face. But instead of beating the dead horse, Ferry hoists it up on strings for a silly marionette dance.
MP3: Bryan Ferry – Piece Of My Heart (Erma Thomas cover)
Originally recorded by Erma Franklin (yes, Aretha’s sis), “Piece Of My Heart” is one of Janis Joplin‘s best-known screechers. The Franklin edition is a bit more understated than the “more screaming equals more soul” approach Joplin favored. Ferry brings the tune home where the traditional R&B approach melds with enthusiastic pop sensibility.
MP3: Bryan Ferry – It’s My Party (Lesley Gore cover)
Isn’t it great when performers don’t alter gender in the lyrics to fit their own? It lends a bit of karaoke bliss that frees up the track from all the solemnity that comes from approaching a classic like a delicate relic. Ferry brings this approach to the entire album; here, his version has a little more punch and defiance than the source material. Playing the debutante, Bryan can sing “It’s My Party” if he wants to.
MP3: Bryan Ferry – The Tracks Of My Tears (Smokey Robinson & The Miracles cover)
One of the most instantly enjoyable pieces of music ever recorded, “The Tracks Of My Tears” is another selection by Ferry of the beyond-obvious variety. It’s a pop tune that was practically in your memory bank right out of the box. When did you first hear this song? Somewhere in the whirling sounds of the womb; there’s no way you can remember. This one suits Ferry’s voice extremely well, the rapid vibrato sitting in the tempo perfectly, and is one of the most effective cuts on the album.
MP3: Bryan Ferry – Loving You Is Sweeter Than Ever (Four Tops cover)
Written by Ivy Jo Hunter and a 16 year old Stevie Wonder, “Loving You Is Sweeter Than Ever” was one of many Top 10 hits for The Four Tops. This rendition propels itself forward in a stream of joyful sounds. Some recordings seem to have a phosphorescent glimmer all around them; this is one of those recordings.