“Wharf Rat” is an interesting song within the vast canon of the Grateful Dead. First performed in 1971 and included on numerous live recordings, it was never released as a studio track. The lyrics recount the tale of the singer meeting an old man, down and out, who then becomes the storyteller. This storyteller approach was later used by lyricist Robert Hunter in the multipart “Terrapin Station.” Musically, the song is not complex, but it features different sections and tempos, abandoning conventional verse and chorus format.
The late JJ Cale had a distinctive, laid back sound to his music that was difficult to replicate. Long time fan and friend Eric Clapton recorded several of Cale’s songs over the years – royalties from “Cocaine” and “After Midnight” probably paid Cale’s mortgage for many years – while never straying far from Cale’s basic approach.
Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the U.S.A.” has been misinterpreted many times by casual listeners, politicians and fist-pumping audience members. The rock anthem’s buoyant arrangement, designed for arenas in the 1980s, and the simplicity of the single line chorus, make it easy to overlook the verses that describe the hardships and challenges faced by veterans of the Vietnam War.
Stepping outside of comfort zones is an interesting test for musicians. Do they only do one thing well or can they sound authentic when they move into other genres? CMT Crossroads recently paired Kacey Musgraves and Katy Perry for a set of each other’s songs and a couple of covers. It may look like a battle of the lightweights, but Musgraves revealed a relaxed stage presence and effortless, clear vocals while Perry’s voice sounded forced, at times, and she seemed to be trying a little too hard, at least on the country tunes.
Virtually, every one of Linda Ronstadt’s hits were cover songs. A few of the genres she not only covered, but immersed herself in, during her extensive musical career include country, rock, jazz and traditional Mexican music. Though recently inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, sadly, due to Parkinson’s disease, Ronstadt is no longer able to sing.
Neil Young may be guilty of inspiring too many bad rock and roll bands. If you weren’t already in a band in 1969, hearing “Down By The River” convinced you that anyone could play rock and roll. With an extended two chord jam and deceptively simple, awkwardly phrased guitar solos, the song was immediately accessible. Thousands of garage bands were formed with what seemed like the sole purpose of butchering this tune.