In Pick Five, great artists tell us about five cover songs that matter to them.
We first came across Geographer in 2011 with his great cover of New Order’s “Age of Consent.” Seven years later, he’s blossomed into a killer electropop producer, singer, and songwriter. His new EP Alone Time finds him pushing his pop instincts to their limit, on five insanely catchy dance jams that would work equally well in a club or on headphones. Here’s a sample, new single “Read My Mind”:
Geographer main man Mike Deni told PopMatters “Musically, [the EP] represents an obsession with pop music that went to its furthest reaches and boomeranged back again into making not just lyrics, but sounds, that matter.” On the five covers he picked out for us, though, he dug beyond that pop music obsession into his songwriter roots, picking classic performances by the likes of Jeff Buckley and Harry Nilsson (though fans of his poppier side needn’t worry; by the end he gets to a “karaoke classic”).
He displays the depth of his knowledge here too; a few of his picks are songs a lot of people don’t even realize are covers. So we’ll turn it over to him…
1. Jeff Buckley – Hallelujah (Leonard Cohen cover)
Mike says: “By far my favorite cover song ever recorded. Leonard Cohen’s song is heartbreaking and beautiful, but Buckley’s vocal touches, the subtle ways he lifts the song ever so slightly above its mere construction, much in the same way Aretha Franklin would do to a song, turns Cohen’s masterpiece in a work of revelation.”
2. Harry Nilsson – Without You (Badfinger cover)
Mike says: “The greatest cover of all time. So great, in fact, people think it’s the original. Harry Nilsson won a grammy for his vocal performance, and showed the world not only that Badfinger had somehow written a classic, but also that Harry Nilsson was an artist that should be taken seriously.”
3. Nico – These Days (Jackson Browne cover)
Mike says: “I don’t know if you can really call it a cover, since Nico recorded her version first, but it was a song Jackson Browne had written for the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, that he gave to his then lover Nico to record. Andy Warhol produced the track, and you can hear Jackson’s iconic fingerpicking pattern on the electric guitar. This combined with Tom Wilson’s string and flute arrangement (done without Nico’s consent) and Nico’s haunting, untrained voice, makes this the definitive version, that was never topped, not even by Greg Allman or Jackson Browne himself.”
4. Jack White – Love Is Blindness (U2 cover)
Mike says: “It’s a beautiful song when U2 does it, but with Jack White at his best, his exposed and vulnerable, raw arrangement, brings the song’s true power to the surface. There’s no image or Bono to consider, just the gorgeous, amorphous metaphors that take jabs at the truth of love.”
5. Whitney Houston – I Will Always Love You (Dolly Parton cover)
Mike says: “A karaoke classic, and maybe not your favorite song, but you can’t deny it was a career high for Houston. Very rarely does a cover fit so well into the zeitgeist of two completely different eras, let alone define two singers’ careers, but that’s just a testament to Parton’s gorgeous and simple songwriting that transcended both genre and time.”