In Pick Five, great artists tell us about five cover songs that matter to them.
Plenty of musicians write songs about politics. Fewer write songs about economics. But that’s the subject of all ten tracks on British singer-songwriter David Ford’s new album Animal Spirits, out Friday.
If an album about markets and trickle-down theory sounds kind of, well, dry – it isn’t. At all. Like all of his albums, Animal Spirits is brilliant: bluesy barn-stormers mixed with a few wedding-worthy love songs. Check out the title track:
I don’t get to write about Ford on here as much as I’d like. He’s been one of my favorite songwriters for years – some days my favorite period – but he’s too busy writing his own songs to record many covers. He does get covered though. A couple years ago, French superstar Johnny Hallyday sang Ford’s older song “I’m Alright Now” in French as “20 Ans.” It was one of Hallyday’s last Top 40 hits before his passing last year, and won Ford a French Grammy for Best Songwriting – a funny award for someone who doesn’t actually speak French (as seen in his endearingly awkward acceptance speech).
On the rare occasions Ford dips into covers himself, they are phenomenal. A few years ago we premiered his wonderful cover of Al Wilson’s Northern soul gem “The Snake.” Note, this was before Donald Trump started quoting the song’s lyrics at rallies – a fact that, judging from Ford’s pointed political songs like “State of the Union” and “Surfin’ Guantanamo Bay,” would probably not thrill him. But don’t let the association taint the cover, which remains great.
Now I have another excuse to write about Ford, since he took some time out for preparing to tour – no small task: he travels with an arsenal of instruments and looping pedals – to send us some cover recommendations. They’re a lovely mix of classics and deep cuts, undisputed icons and so-called guilty pleasures. Tom Waits pops up twice, which seems appropriate since that’s someone Ford’s often compared to (by me at least). See Ford’s picks below.
1. Ike and Tina Turner – Proud Mary (Creedence Clearwater Revival cover)
David says: “The Turners take John Fogarty’s laid-back roll on the river and turn it into some kind of speed-funk explosion. Not all cover versions will benefit from an approach that amounts to playing the song really slow and then crazy fucking fast, but then there aren’t many singers who can handle such a range of intensity like Tina.”
2. Little Feat – On Your Way Down (Allen Toussaint cover)
David says: “Little Feat’s Dixie Chicken album has this thick New Orleans flavour to it. So it’s only fitting that they include a song by legendary New Orleans writer, producer, arranger and all-round genius, Allen Toussaint. Their version is not radically different from his except for the sassy additions of backing vocals and Lowell George’s trademark slide guitar.”
3. Tom Waits – Somewhere (West Side Story cover)
David says: “I don’t know if this qualifies as a cover version but I’m throwing it in anyway. Tom Waits is my favourite songwriter but this Bernstein/Sondheim jam was my first introduction to his recordings. The hopeful beauty of the song married to his whiskey-soaked hobo delivery makes it so curiously poignant.”
4. The Clash – I Fought the Law (Bobby Fuller Four cover)
David says: “The Clash’s version of ‘I Fought the Law’ is so iconic, it sounds like it must be the original version. If anything, the chintzy pop approach of the original recording seems inappropriate next to the pounding drums and Joe Strummer roar of Clash version.”
5. Bette Midler – Martha (Tom Waits cover)
David says: “Tom Waits gets covered a lot and for me, no matter how valiant a stab various singers have taken at embodying moments from his catalogue, they rarely bring anything new to the party or come close to improving on his original version. Rod Stewart’s ‘Downtown Train’ shows how fit-for-radio Waits’ songs can be when polished to a high shine but Bette Midler singing ‘Martha’ is a proper heartbreaker. She sings the emotion, makes it real, makes it personal. I don’t know if this is down to her friendship with Tom or just her gift for the dramatic but her performance of the song on Saturday Night Live is a magical meeting of his song and her voice.”
Preorder Ford’s new album ‘Animal Spirits’ – and hear a few more early tracks – at his website. He is playing shows in New York, Philadelphia, and Rochester this week, and many more in the UK over the summer.