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: What’s your favorite cover song of the 2010s?
It’s become kind of a cliche when writing about cover songs to say that they will “change the way you hear the original,” or some variant thereof. I’ve been guilty of using that cliche myself, many times. In fact, when I wrote about Dan Reeder‘s cover of “Stand By Me” in a 2016 Cover Me Post, I said that you wouldn’t hear the words “Darlin’, darlin'” the same way ever again.
Well, in this case, those weren’t just words. Whenever I hear Ben E. King’s rightfully famous “Stand By Me” on the radio, I immediately start singing Dan Reeder’s version. Hell, I’ll start singing it in just about any context. See, for me, King’s version is uplifting, taking pride in strength in numbers. Reeder’s version… well, it feels like home to me. It’s warm, it’s jaunty, and it doesn’t lodge in your brain the way earworms do so much as seep in and grow there.
Dan Reeder’s “Stand By Me” is now a part of my psychological fabric, and I’m very happy to have that be the case.
In the 2010s we saw the passing of many rock stars. These included rock’s founding fathers Fats Domino and Chuck Berry as well as icons such as Gregg Allman, David Bowie, Tom Petty and Prince. With so many fabled rockers now reaching their golden years, this trend will continue through the 2020s. The pending die-off, combined with changing tastes in music, has led to claims that the rock n’ roll genre is in its final days. This, in turn, has led fans and critics to the inevitable search for a new savior. In recent years years, Greta Van Fleet, a band of five barely-legal boys from Frankenmuth, Michigan, have been vying for such a moniker.
The band exploded onto the global music scene in 2017 with a sound that channels the spirit of ‘70s rock. In early 2018, the group released a hard-rocking take on Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep” as a Spotify single. They are certainly not the first male rock band to cover the work of an iconic female singer early in their career. Judas Priest covered Joan Baez’s “Diamonds & Rust” in 1977. Megadeth recorded a metal version of Nancy Sinatra’s feminist anthem “These Boots Were Made for Walkin’ ” in 1985. Van Halen covered “You’re No Good,” a song first recorded by Dee Dee Warwick and popularized by Linda Ronstadt, on the 1979 album Van Halen II.
I first learned about this version of “Rolling In the Deep” in a Cover Me article. It took me a few listens to truly embrace the song’s power. The track starts out slowly, but now each time I hear it I wait for its explosive mid-song tempo shift. At the song’s finale, I just want to lip synch to Josh Kiszka’s Robert Plant-inspired vocals, air guitar to Jake Kiszka’s bluesy solo and throw in a few air-drum fills for good measure. “We could have had it all.” Long live rock n’ roll!
This may sound odd but when I realized what my favorite cover of the past decade was, the one I listened to the most, still listen to, I was kind of disappointed. For one thing, it’s nerdy in the most unpleasant way. It’s the kind of thing geared toward a particular brand of fan, namely the eternally forgiving, irrationally loyal kind who has loved an artist since childhood and never lets go because they just freakin’ can’t, no matter how rubbishy the records get. And it’s far more old school than my usual tastes lean these days. But the undeniable fact is, I love it to its absolute core.
In 2011 Todd Rundgren kicked out an album called (re)Production, where he covered songs from albums he’s produced over the course of his illustrious career. The track selection is power-pop-AOR-glam wonderful, but the actual recordings are what I would qualify as being of the dreaded “for fans only” variety. Meaning if you didn’t already worship The Todd and know of his historic CV, you might think it wasn’t very good. While I place myself firmly in that worshipful fan group, when I heard it for the first time, I too wasn’t impressed. I was especially put off by the fact that he’d recorded some of it at one of those Fantasy Band Camp things, which lent it the unpleasant air of a novelty record. And so while on paper, the album had promise (brilliant songs! Todd!), the reality sounded like a tossed-off, one-listen curiosity to be forever filed away while waiting for a new, normal Todd studio album of originals. I played it once and stuffed it into the shelf, done with you.
Or so I thought. A few months later some inexplicable force drove me to fish it out and re-listen to it. And then it happened. After 10 songs had drifted by, this shiny diamond appeared, an auto-tuned synth-swathed version of a Badfinger deep cut, called “Take It All.” The track had originally appeared on the band’s seminal 1971 album Straight Up, which was famed for being home to two of the band’s finest moments and biggest hits, “Day After Day and “Baby Blue.”
I had owned the Straight Up album for a while at that point and though “Take It All” is literally track 1 on side 1 it had made no impression on me whatsoever and I literally had no recollection of ever hearing it. Yes, that probably sounds sacrilege to power pop nerds, like I’m missing a gene, I get it, but it’s true. I needed Todd to make it palatable, embraceable. What changed? Why was it suddenly blowing my mind? Well, Todd melodified it, which is a verb I just made up because I can’t explain it any other way. He took a sensitive rock piano ballad, slathered a ton of make up on it, and turned it into this ridiculously plush, shiny neon thing and I have played it hundreds of times over the past decade.
This song won’t change your life. You might hate all the special effects, or feel that Badfinger’s meat and potatoes version is the definitive one. I do understand. But Todd’s “Take it All” is the very definition of swooning to me. It is my favorite cover of the past 10 years and fact is if it was a human and not a song I’d slow dance with it forever.
I know I included “Love Will Tear Us Apart” by June Tabor & Oysterband in an earlier post, and, much as I wanted to include something different, circumstances dictated I couldn’t. Not if I were to be honest.
“Love Will Tear Us Apart” is a song that I have amongst the most covers of in my collection, alongside “Hey Joe” and “All Along the Watchtower,” aged warhorses both, this being a mere 40 year old youngster, or thereabouts. Yet the original is nothing much – that being, until recently, my standard appraisal. Oysterband I have always loved, since catching sight of them in the now-extinct mag Folk Roots some 33 years ago, possibly catching them live a couple of dozen in the intervening years. Every now and then they would work with June Tabor, one of the doyennes of the UK folk tradition, tending then to throw covers more into the mix than in their own records. (Although they had earlier done a credible version of “Love Vigilantes,” also by Joy Division.)
Ragged Kingdom, Oysterband’s second collaboration LP with Tabor, came out in 2011, and included this glorious cover, hauling in the grief to exquisite levels of pathos. This live performance comes from UK music showcase Later With Jools Holland. I guess I never thought I would actually see it performed live myself. But this year, two things happened. One, I finally GOT Joy Division, playing their records to death, and I’ve decided that their version actually is OK. And two, June Tabor again toured with the Oysterband. I caught them barely a month ago, and (yes, of course it was) this song was the high point of the set, my eyes mysteriously filling up as they played. And again, as I think about it.
As much as I like to think my taste in music is nuanced, I bet Spotify’s recommender system has me pegged. A sure-fire way to get me interested in a cover is to pick a ‘90s/early-aughts R&B song, double down on any syncopation (especially with some spirited guitar strumming and tapping) and bend the original genre (country/hip hop is my favorite duo). Of course, some lyrical girl power is also a must.
Just squeaking in at the beginning of the decade, this Carolina Chocolate Drops version of Blue Cantrell’s “Hit ‘Em Up Style” checks all the boxes. My favorite cover of the ‘10s, it also has a special place in my heart as the song that I referenced in my application to write for this blog several months ago.
The opening lines have the requisite syncopation and spunky instrument strumming. The fiddle hits us with the country-folk vibe immediately, before we can quite identify the original song. By the time we get to the chorus, our heads are bobbing in time, maybe we’re even stomping our feet along with the beat, and we’re in love with that soaring yet edgy fiddle line.
“Hey, ladies,” as we leave this “buck-wild” decade and enter a new one, remember: “you better let him know that if he messed up you gotta hit ’em up.”
Since this is really an impossible task, I decided to go with the first cover from the 2010s that popped into my head, recognizing that there would be some “recency bias.” And that song was The Mavericks’ live cover of Pink Floyd’s “Us and Them.” But I already wrote about that song for this blog, so I decided to move on to the second song that popped into my head, King Crimson’s cover of “Heroes,” my favorite David Bowie song.
Some might put this into the category of “self cover” because Robert Fripp, the guitarist for King Crimson, played the iconic, memorable solo on “Heroes,” but I don’t think so, since no one thinks of “Heroes” as a Fripp (or Crimson) song.
In 2016, King Crimson performed “Heroes” in Berlin as “a celebration, a remembrancing and an homage,” as Fripp wrote in connection with the release of an EP including the cover. Fripp continued, “The concert was thirty-nine years and one month after the original sessions at the Hansa Tonstudio overlooking the Berlin Wall. This is released in the Fortieth Anniversary year.” Presumably, Bowie’s death earlier in 2016 had to have been on his mind, too, although the band had played the song as early as 2000 with a different lineup.
There really isn’t anything really unusual about the cover—although the version of King Crimson playing it featured three drummers with full kits, and Mel Collins adds some nice baritone sax, and the musicianship is extraordinary. But what makes the song special is hearing Fripp play the sinuous guitar line again after 4 decades.
Recently, Fripp, who has long been vocal about his unhappiness with the economics of the music business, announced that “currently we are in dispute with the David Bowie estate and PPL [a UK music rights licensing organization], who refuse to acknowledge that RF is a featured performer on both Heroes and Scary Monsters albums.” If you want to read more about this dispute, go here. Also available at the dgmlive website are more live versions of “Heroes” and other Crimson songs for download—some even for free!
But I recommend instead that you listen to the King Crimson cover—in particular, watch the video, which won “Video of the Year” at the 2017 Progressive Music Awards.
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