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Apr 292020
 

In Defense takes a second look at a much maligned cover artist or album and asks, “Was it really as bad as all that?”

Edge of Seventeen

Lindsay Lohan is now a business woman and back to releasing music, Stevie Nicks is always relevant, and hey, clearly we need more drama in our lives, so let’s get “a little more personal” and talk about what may be a controversial cover of “Edge of Seventeen.”

Nicks wrote the original song, and it appeared on her debut solo album, Bella Donna. It only reached number 11 on the US Billboard Hot 100, which seems inconceivable given its cultural legacy. And yes, part of that legacy is its opening riff being sampled in Destiny’s Child’s “Bootylicious.” Nicks making a cameo appearance in the music video is the ultimate stamp of approval. Alas, Lohan did not receive the same pat on the back. Lohan reportedly wanted to play Nicks in a biopic, but Nicks wasn’t enthused, to put it mildly, referring to Lohan’s drug and alcohol use (after this album, things started to go downhill for Lohan).

This song is not Lohan’s only cover; she also covers Cheap Trick’s “I Want You To Want Me” (for the record, her song “Rumors” on her first album is just a coincidence, not a Fleetwood Mac cover). However, fans seem to be a little more protective of Nicks (or maybe they are just Hillary Duff loyalists). Despite this, a rare, on the road to recovery, Lohan sighting had people coming out and admitting that her cover might, gasp, not be that bad. Let’s investigate!

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Mar 232020
 

In Defense takes a second look at a much maligned cover artist or album and asks, “Was it really as bad as all that?”

Dylan is Bob Dylan‘s first break-up album. Out of print for decades before eventually being issued on CD in 2013, the LP was a result of Bob’s defection from Columbia Records to the fledgling Asylum Records in early 1973. While the split ultimately proved to be a temporary separation, it appeared at the time to be a permanent divorce.

The resulting album is often framed as an act of revenge on Columbia’s part, a collection of poor-quality outtakes specifically designed to reduce Dylan’s stock with record buyers. However, this theory doesn’t add up. Columbia still owned Bob’s valuable back catalogue, which they presumably intended to continue profiting from, and releasing an intentionally substandard Dylan album would have been counterproductive. What was probably going on, as Jon Landau suggested in his review for Rolling Stone, was that Dylan would have been the first in a series of “new” Bob Dylan albums comprised of outtakes from previous Columbia sessions. Decca Records was concurrently doing the same thing with their trove of unreleased recordings by The Rolling Stones.

But why these recordings? The track selection on Dylan is perplexing, especially since Columbia already possessed much of the material that would later surface on the successful Bootleg Series. A likely explanation is that whoever compiled the album (possibly Mark Spector, who assembled an abandoned early version) was under pressure to get the record out before Dylan’s first release for Asylum – which was being recorded at that very moment – and therefore had no choice but to simply grab some of the most recent tapes off the top of the pile. The tapes in question, as it happened, were from the sessions for Dylan’s 1970 albums Self Portrait and New Morning.

Columbia’s ploy worked. Dylan reached No.17 on the Billboard chart and was certified gold, despite overwhelmingly negative reviews. Were the critics right? Let’s take another look.
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Sep 242019
 

In Defense takes a second look at a much maligned cover artist or album and asks, “Was it really as bad as all that?”

The iconic keyboard intro, the rattle of the high-hat, and then Bruce Springsteen’s immortal words, “Blinded by the Light.” Only it’s not Bruce singing: it’s Chris Thompson, lead singer of Manfred Mann’s Earth Band, covering the first track from Springsteen’s 1973 debut album Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J.

If you read Cover Me’s list of top Springsteen covers, published yesterday, you were probably either shocked, or relieved, not to see it on the list. I was even more surprised that it got rejected for inclusion. It is, after all, the only Springsteen-penned song to reach the number one spot on Billboard. (Editor’s note: I couldn’t believe it either, but it’s true – three #5s, two #2s, no other #1s.) I found absolutely no references to it on compilations of worst all-time covers. So instead of penning a simple paragraph for the list explaining why it’s a solid cover, “with a boulder on my shoulder” I wrote this article instead.

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Jul 162019
 

In Defense takes a second look at a much maligned cover artist or album and asks, “Was it really as bad as all that?”

Pat Boone

Reasons abound for maligning Pat Boone’s career in popular music. The catalyst for his career was a string of covers of R&B tunes by black artists for whom the legacy of segregation never afforded the same amount of wealth. White artists made substantially more than their counterpart artists of color. Major record labels had larger distribution chains, promotional budgets, and stronger connections to radio and television networks to advantage their artists. By contrast, black musicians on “race records” benefited from none of these privileges. While artists like Little Richard, Big Joe Turner, and Fats Domino have enjoyed staying power and wide acclaim for being architects of rock music, in the early decades of that genre, white covers were commercially more successful. Added to this was the exploitative nature of covers on larger labels that made more money than the originals while paying out no royalties to the black originators. Boone was unapologetic that his career benefited from this exploitation.

It is also noteworthy that Boone’s performance and lyricism of some of rock’s first generation of are a case study in the sanitized tastes of the burgeoning white middle class in the 1950s. His smooth vocal delivery was reminiscent of crooners rather than the raspy, full-throated yowl of Little Richard. And the lyrical changes on “Tutti Frutti” were a nod to teenage infatuation stripped of any of the sexuality in Little Richard’s original.

Despite Boone representing the residuals of white privilege while Jim Crow reigned supreme, there is a note of appreciation to be made for Boone and contemporaries Elvis Presley and Bill Haley in helping to extend the reach of rock music to new audiences at a critical juncture in that genre’s history.
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Jun 182019
 

In Defense takes a second look at a much maligned cover artist or album and asks, “Was it really as bad as all that?”

across the universe soundtrack

Moviemakers can’t get enough of the Beatles. At the end of the month, Yesterday debuts, with a tantalizing premise: What if no one but you remembers the Beatles? You can claim their songs as your own and piggyback your way towards stardom. 

Over a decade ago, Julie Taymor, perhaps best known as the director who brought The Lion King to Broadway, took a swing at another Beatles-related movie, bringing us Across the Universe. This movie takes place in the ’60s and follows characters with original names like JoJo, Jude, Lucy, Max, Prudence, and Sadie through the Vietnam War and plenty of drug trips.

Despite the fact that Sir Paul McCartney himself said he enjoyed the film, a fun fact revealed by Taymor to Oprah during an interview, critics have middling feelings. Peter Travers of Rolling Stone gave it 2.5/4 stars. Stephen Holden of the New York Times admits:

Somewhere around its midpoint, ‘Across the Universe’ captured my heart, and I realized that falling in love with a movie is like falling in love with another person. Imperfections, however glaring, become endearing quirks once you’ve tumbled.

Rotten Tomatoes’ Critics Consensus summarizes the overall sentiment best:

Psychedelic musical numbers can’t mask Across the Universe’s clichéd love story and thinly written characters.

All that being said, these are critiques of the movie, not the music, and I’m here to defend the soundtrack as an enjoyable cover album. Throughout, I’ll set the scene in context of the movie because the motivation behind the evoked emotion is crucial to the success of these covers. These covers all have very different tones than the original. They don’t try to be the Beatles. The performers just try to express their feelings and tell their own stories through the words and tunes of the legends.

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Oct 062017
 

In Defense takes a second look at a much maligned cover artist or album and asks, “Was it really as bad as all that?”

punk goes pop covers

It’s clear that many people despise the erroneously titled Punk Goes cover compilation series. Much has been said and written about how awful they are. Yet, just like the emo and pop-punk genres generally, they are wildly popular with teenagers despite not getting any critical respect. Since the series began in 2000, there have been 17 volumes and over two hundred songs released in the series. In the U.S. the cover series has sold one million albums, nine million tracks, and it streams in the hundreds of millions. But most people out of high school seem to hate them.

Well, I’m here to defend some of these as great cover songs. I’m an insider, you could say – I was the Fearless Records salesperson behind nearly all of these albums. During my 13 years at the California independent label, I was the head of sales and also served as general manager. I didn’t contribute to the Punk Goes compilations as a curator or A&R. My role was to make sure the albums and tracks had the best positioning at major retailers like Target, Best Buy, iTunes, Amazon, etc. Continue reading »