In the world of alt-country, Asleep at the Wheel frontman Ray Benson has more cover song credibility than most. In their four decade career, the nine-time Grammy winners have recorded not one but two Bob Wills tribute albums with guests like Willie Nelson and the Dixie Chicks, which were so successful that they turned into a touring musical (which Ray starred in). He’s covered W.C. Handy with Willie Nelson and Red Foley with Brad Paisley. And on his new solo album A Little Piece, out next week, he takes on Randy Newman‘s “Marie”.
Back in 2010, Anna Rose performed the Stooges “Gimme Danger” for the “Jam for Ron Asheton” honoring the recently-deceased Stooge with current band members Scott Asheton, Mike Watt and Steve Mackay. As these things generally are, the tribute night was somewhat of a karaoke-esq affair. In the subsequent years though, she stuck with the song, re-arranging it and fiddling with it to arrive at the version you hear below. She delivers the song like nightclub singer with a spaghetti western bent, like if Blue Velvet was set near the Alamo.
“I will now sing to you the 2013 song of the year,” Patti Smith said at her 67th birthday concert last week in NYC, then launched into a moving – not to mention unexpected – cover of Rihanna‘s “Stay.” Never one to cover a pop song ironically, Smith and pianist Tony Shanahan delivered the lyrics with poise and purpose, even when nerves caused her to forget a few of the words partway through.
Andre Mistier formed The Adversary after a trip to Burning Man, so for their first cover what better artist to choose than the Flaming Lips – basically the Burning Man of bands? Mistier, formerly of alt-rock quartet Ism, chose “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots.” The narrative of the song overlaps with the dark post-apocalyptic dreamscape the group explore on their debut EP Chapter 1: The Ruins.
Another year, another long weekend of sweaty clubs and frantic cab sprints across the east river for CMJ. A few of our past picks have broken out a little bit since we wrote about them – Lord Huron, Widowspeak, Houndmouth – so once again, we’d like to give some small boost to our five favorite bands from CMJ, along with a cover from each.
Well, our five favorite bands who had a cover that is. To the rest of our knockout discoveries (like EULA, Reuben and the Dark, GEMS, Pete Bauer) – hurry up and cover something so we can write about you too!
As usual with We Are Scientists, they explain things better than we ever could. Here’s the statement they gave…
“The path to covering Berlin’s “Take My Breath Away” was for We Are Scientists a long and twisted one, spanning at least two generations.
“We had Top Gun on VHS when I was a kid — we’d watch it three or four times a week. My dad would always play tasteful pedal steel whenever Kelly McGillis was on-screen. That’s kind of where the idea for it started,” says Chris.
Keith continues: “Chris and I first watched Top Gun together on the tour bus a few years ago, and I remember Chris kept singing these really lovely ambling pedal steel parts under his breath when Kelly McGillis was on-screen — well, I thought he was doing a trumpet at the time.”
Later, in the spring of 2013, the band decided to record a cover along with several other tracks that would ultimately land on the forthcoming Business Casual EP (Oct. 14). Chris volunteered that he had always wanted to do a version of “Wonderful Tonight,” by Eric Clapton.
“Man, that song’s a total piece of shit,” Keith told him.
“Ha. I guess you’re right,” said Chris. Then, as was his habit during moments of tension, he began quietly humming an improvised pedal steel part for “Take My Breath Away.”
“Wait, you realize that’s pretty much the same chord structure as Wonderful Tonight, right?” Keith said.
“That Top Gun sex song — it’s pretty much just Wonderful Tonight without awful Eric Clapton. Let’s just cover that.”
They had found a solution that would let everybody win except Eric Clapton. The next day, they brought in multi-instrumentalist and occasional Scientist Max Hart, whose extemporized pedal steel part — both lilting and playfully reminiscent of Top Gun’s brazen sensuality — outdid even Chris’s gilded memory of those childhood recitals. When Andy Burrows’s pounding drums drop into the mix, the evocation of blasting jet engines and throbbing adult desire is unmistakeable and timeless.
“Everybody wins except Eric Clapton,” says Keith, “which of course is what everybody except Eric Clapton wanted.”
“Take My Breath Away” comes off the band’s new ‘Business Casual’ EP.
Next week, Reimagine Music releases Esperanza: Songs From Jack Kerouac’s Tristessa, an album of songs inspired by the Beat icon’s lesser-known 1960 novella. The Low Anthem, Marissa Nadler, Lee Ranaldo, and more contributed, with Gregory Alan Isakov donating a track he wrote using lyrics from the book – one he liked so much he decided to put it on his own album The Weatherman as well.