In 1999, country singer Garth Brooks ditched his signature twang and had an unlikely top five pop hit with the R&B song “Lost in You.” Had it just been an instance of a country singer recording a crossover hit, then we probably would not think much of actor-writer-producer Donald Glover singing the song as his musical alter ego Childish Gambino during an appearance on Australian radio. But since Brooks sang the tune as his own alter ego, Chris Gaines, on an album considered his biggest commercial and critical disappointment, the story may reveal a deeper meaning behind Gambino’s cover.
Newspaper personal ads are like relics of a lost age. Long before dating apps allowed people seeking companionship to post photos of their faces and/or various body parts online, anyone looking to meet someone outside their circle had to go through the lengthy process of submitting a written personal ad. That included filling out a form with a strict character limit, sending it into the paper with a check or money order, waiting for it to be published in print and then waiting even longer for any type of response.
The whole ordeal was memorialized by singer Rupert Holmes in his 1979 hit “Escape (The Piña Colada Song).” Holmes tells the story of an otherwise bored couple who accidentally reconcile after discovering through the personals that they have a mutual affection for sweetened alcoholic beverages, damp clothing and late-night romps in the sand. I guess they did not communicate well in person. The track holds the distinction of being the last number one song of the ‘70s, reaching the top spot on December 22, 1979. The silky-smooth, blue-eyed soul grooves have helped it endure as a classic of the genre now known as Yacht Rock.
Metallica’s “Nothing Else Matters” might be the closest thing the thrash-metal titans have to a soft-rock hit. The song was a shock to longtime fans upon its release on their self-titled 1991 album (aka The Black Album) because the arrangement included, gasp, strings. Written by James Hetfield and Lars Ulrich, “Nothing Else Matters” has become the band’s most covered track, according to secondhandsongs.com. The latest to tackle it is pop empress Miley Cyrus who sang a cover during her performance at the Glastonbury Festival on June 30.
In the Spotlight showcases a cross-section of an artist’s cover work. View past installments, then post suggestions for future picks in the comments!
Earlier this year, a young rapper named Lil Nas X found himself in an odd position. With rhymes about horses, tractors, cowboys, and Wrangler jeans, his song “Old Town Road” was blazing up the country charts. Then, suddenly, it was dropped from the list. Officials at Billboard claimed it was because the tune was not country enough. Some cried foul, some cried racism. Billy Ray Cyrus called it something else.
The country singer, who shook up Nashville himself with his 1992 hit “Achy Breaky Heart,” labelled Lil Nas X a true country outlaw. Cyrus took to Twitter, saying: “When I got thrown off the charts, Waylon Jennings said to me ‘Take this as a compliment’ means you’re doing something great! Only Outlaws are outlawed. Welcome to the club.”
With Lil Nax X’s blessing, Cyrus went into the studio to record some of the lyrics and an additional verse. Just like that, “Old Town Road (Remix)” was born. This time, they did not need the country charts. The song shot up to the top spot on Billboard’s Hot 100, where it has stayed for 13 weeks as of July 1. At age 57, Cyrus earned the first number one pop single of his career. But more importantly, the man known to many as Miley Cyrus’ dad has suddenly been blessed with cultural street cred. On June 23, the two performed the song at the BET Awards with the whole crowd singing and dancing along. It’s a type of cachet that has been eluding Cyrus since the “Achy Breaky” backlash of the early ‘90s.
I can’t help but feel somewhat vindicated by all this. You see, I have been a Billy Ray defender for decades. Yes, I know “Achy Breaky Heart” is corny and was overplayed to nth degree. But once you get beyond his many attempts to replicate his “Achy Breaky” success with equally cheesy sequels, he has many great songs that have held up well in the ensuing decades. Plus, Cyrus can really sing. His voice enables him to take on many subgenres of country, rock, pop, and now rap with equal ease.
As with any country singer, Cyrus has recorded a number of cover songs over the years, including two feminist anthems. Here’s a quick primer for those who dare to embrace Cyrus’ well-worn mullet.
Jake Owen has been a fixture on the Nashville scene since 2006. His music is deeply rooted in ‘70s rock, but finely polished for mainstream country music radio. One of his hits, “Eight Second Ride,” tells the story of a boy who falls for a girl who is enamored by the size of his pickup truck tires and not turned off by his compulsive chewing tobacco habit. Owen recently made headlines by releasing a bluegrass cover of Cher’s “Believe” on Instagram in honor of Pride Month. “I Googled ‘gayest’ songs of all time and the boys and I decided to put our country spin on Cher’s ‘Believe,’” he wrote.
It has been a mere nine months since Willie Nelson’s last album My Way. That means it’s time for some new music from the Red Headed Stranger. The country stalwart released his latest record Ride Me Back Home on June 21. As with many of Nelson’s albums, it includes a mix of covers and original material. Among the covers is Nelson’s take on Billy Joel’s wedding-band staple “Just the Way You Are.”