Welcome to Cover Me Q&A, where we take your questions about cover songs and answer them to the best of our ability.
Here at Cover Me Q&A, we’ll be taking questions about cover songs and giving as many different answers as we can. This will give us a chance to hold forth on covers we might not otherwise get to talk about, to give Cover Me readers a chance to learn more about individual staffers’ tastes and writing styles, and to provide an opportunity for some back-and-forth, as we’ll be taking requests (learn how to do so at feature’s end).
Today’s question, courtesy of Cover Me staffer Mike Misch: What’s a favorite song you learned about on Cover Me?
Christina Aguilera was one of those artists who passed me by. The only reason I knew “Genie in a Bottle” was because of Freelance Hellraiser’s “A Stroke of Genius” mashup. As far as I was concerned, she was another one of Disney’s prepackaged little stars not worth my attention.
Aguilera’s cover of James Brown’s “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World” was not the work of someone who was only famous for being famous, but that of a real talent, a truly soulful singer, one who could emote at full throat without screeching and look as glamorous as she did. I wasn’t even distracted by the footage of Brown in concert behind her, and normally I’d be mad every time they cut away from that.
Christina, I’m sorry I sold you short. And Kevin, thank you for setting me straight.
Those who listened to pop radio in the late ‘90s are likely familiar with Chumbawamba’s hit “Tubthumping.” With its infinitely catchy chorus “I get knocked down, but I get up again,” the song earned the band a spot on Rolling Stone’s top one-hit wonders list. Despite the moniker, “Tubthumping” was not the band’s only musical effort. Between 1986 and 2013, the British group released 19 albums. On the 2000 record WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get), they included an acapella cover of the Bee Gees’ “New York Mining Disaster 1941.” With a blend of male and female vocals, the cover channels the spirit of the ‘60s folk revival. I discovered the track after reading Seuras Og’s 2016 Cover Me article about its history. The song was the Bee Gees’ first worldwide hit, long before they sang about the perils of Saturday night. It has inspired numerous covers, but given Chumbawamba’s history I found theirs the most satisfying listen.
When I hear the opening of this song come on (“I come on like a freak show takes the stage”), I can’t be held responsible for my actions. When I was in college, Darlingside once played at a party. When they played this song, I may have shrieked, drawing some stares. This song somehow triggers an intense nostalgia of my glory days, despite being released when I was too young to think about the semi-charmed-ness of life.
The C’Mons’ version of “Semi-Charmed Life,” brought to my attention by Maggie Clancy’s post, brings the gloomier side of looking back on the past. It starts with a haunting piano, soon followed by ominous “doo doo doo”s. No one makes eye contact with the camera or one another, adding to the foreboding ambiance. The C’Mons don’t just change the mood, they have the poise needed to change the tune a bit. Their slowed down, acoustic version allows the listener to actually understand the at times dark lyrics that are hidden by the chipper music of the original. The simple percussion brings a powerful emphasis to the lines in the chorus. The C’Mons certainly know the four right chords that can make me cry.
The Eels‘ impressively simple deconstruct of “Girl from the North Country,” a song that is far from complex anyway, is quite something, dissipating memory both of Bob Dylan’s “original” and any number of versions of the source material, whether by Simon and Garfunkel or by Martin Carthy. If anything, it offers more to Mark Oliver Everett’s similarly solo piano take of Elvis’s “Can’t Help Falling in Love.” The vocal is perfect, a fragment away from dissolution, held together only by the rudimentary piano, which places a comforting arm around Everett’s shoulder, ahead of the string section, giving then full permission, for the listener, to bawl uncontrollably. Consummate. From the Eels 2006 live record With Strings: Live at Town Hall, so quite how it came to be in the best of 2009 beats me. [Editor’s Note: It’s because Ray Padgett was writing about the version released on Myspace Transmissions. Not on YouTube, but you can still access it on MySpace and just maybe elsewhere.]
There I am, finishing my piece about The Bird and The Bee’s long-awaited second installment in their cover album project. I wanted to add a link for other covers of Van Halen that we’ve talked about, so I was browsing the site. I came across Patrick Robbins‘s list of 10 covers important to him, which I remembered seeing when it was originally posted, but as I scrolled through the post, my eyes caught it: “Maggot Brain.” Someone covered “Maggot Brain”? ran through my head as I clicked the link. It felt like I had just found a door in my house that I somehow hadn’t noticed before. How could “Maggot Brain” even be covered? It’s just a guitar solo (and I mean, it’s more than “just” a guitar solo: it’s one of the greatest guitar solos ever recorded). I am not super-familiar with Mike Watt or any of his previous bands, but just a few seconds into the song, as the guitar blistered my ears, I realized that, yes, you can cover “Maggot Brain” and yes, it can be incredible. Patrick’s story of why the song was important to him made the discovery even more poignant. I love this cover and it reminded me that, even as a contributor, I’m still a huge fan of Cover Me and the power of great music.
Ray Padgett, Editor-in-Chief
Every now and then, I discover a cover that so thoroughly bowls me over I get annoyed at myself for not having known it before. After all, knowing these things is my whole job! But the joy of cover songs is that, no matter how many thousands I amass in my iTunes library, the next mind-blowing discovery remains just around the bend.
It’s even more wonderful when that discovery comes on the pages of the very site I started. In its first few years, Cover Me purely reflected my personal taste. But since we opened our doors to other writers ages ago, I’ve gotten to experience the same rush of discovery our readers do. Reading insightful articles about covers I’d never even heard of has become one of the best parts of the gig. (Plug: We’re always looking for more writers!).
I’m currently working on a Best Covers of 1969 feature, so one gem that’s been on my mind and in my headphones has been ’60s psychedelic soul group Rotary Connection‘s “Respect.” In 2016, our writer John Paul (the Michigan bassist, not the Pope) introduced me to their fantastic covers album Songs on these pages. On it, the band reinvents contemporaries from the Rolling Stones to Cream (three different songs of theirs). Every one is a gem, but “Respect” stands above. It’s the only version I can think of that owes little to either Aretha Franklin or Otis Redding. There’s no “R-E-S-P-E-C-T”, so in that respect closer to Otis, but instead of his blues belter the band creates a groovy vamp that splits the difference between Muscle Shoals and Motown – if all the players were on LSD.
If you have a question you’d like us to answer, leave it in the comments, or e-mail it to covermefeature01(at)gmail(dot)com.