Cover Classics takes a closer look at all-cover albums of the past, their genesis, and their legacy.

pickin

Anyone attempting to make the argument that Pickin’ On Modest Mouse: A Bluegrass Tribute Featuring Iron Horse is a Cover Classic – an argument that was promised/threatened by my response to this Q&A a few days ago and is related to a defense of bluegrass covers we made a while back – needs to refute two rational, gut-level reactions to the artifact that is this album. First, one needs to establish that the album is not simply another gimmicky entry in the Pickin’ On series, a collection of fairly obvious mid-oughties albums that attempted to pin the banjo on unlikely donkeys in ways that were often funny and almost always “pretty good for a novelty album.” Second, one needs to demonstrate that this album is somehow different than other albums attempting to strip away all of the Modest Mouse noise to reveal the sensitive songwriting lurking just beneath the shouting.
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Cover Classics takes a closer look at all-cover albums of the past, their genesis, and their legacy.

I guess I felt a little bad about by my recent damning by faint praise of Annie Lennox, so I’ve been feeling the need to redress with something topnotch. And I have it, with Relations, the 2004 LP by Kathryn Williams, silky-voiced folkish songstrel. I guess she isn’t well known outside her fan-base in the U.K., which is a shame because she damn well should be.
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Cover Classics takes a closer look at all-cover albums of the past, their genesis, and their legacy.

OK, where do I begin? Cover Classics is the name of the game, yet few, perhaps, would accord Annie Lennox’s Medusa that status, at least not within the world of critics, who, by and large, were damning, back before it became the norm to decry the later efforts of Ms. Lennox. This isn’t an In Defense piece, so I am not required to address her current standing (to some relief), yet I want to. So what to say of an artist who was once so right, then suddenly so wrong? And is that view still applicable?
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Cover Classics takes a closer look at all-cover albums of the past, their genesis, and their legacy.

In 1990, the New Musical Express presented The Last Temptation of Elvis, a collection of covers from Elvis Presley movies designed to benefit the Nordoff-Robbins Music Therapy Centre in London. Executive producer and NME journalist Roy Carr landed some big names – Paul McCartney, Bruce Springsteen, and Robert Plant all showed up – and some even bigger tonal shifts. The album careens from rock to a capella to parody to metal and ends up with the King himself performing “King of the Whole Wide World.” “No performance implies any other,” Greil Marcus said about the album in his book Dead Elvis. “There’s no way to predict what anyone will have to say.”
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Cover Classics takes a closer look at all-cover albums of the past, their genesis, and their legacy.

Weird Al Yankovic got a lot of attention this summer (and deservedly so) for releasing a new album that made it to number one on the charts, but he’s not the only novelty master from the ’80s to be doing well for himself lately. Big Daddy, the band that sprayed american graffiti all over the hits of the day back in the day, have a new album coming out next week – Smashin’ Songs of Stage & Screen, which Big-Daddifies songs from hit musicals ranging from Wizard of Oz to Saturday Night Fever. Earlier this year, they also put out a collection of their greatest hits of the ’80s and early ’90s, Cruisin’ Through the Rhino Years, that cherry-picks highlights from the four albums they released for the Rhino Records label. If you’ve already got The Best of Big Daddy, their 2000 compilation, you’ll have sixteen of these songs already – but you’ll want to spring for this to get five more.
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Cover Classics takes a closer look at all-cover albums of the past, their genesis, and their legacy.

The Beatles being the Beatles, they’ve had several permutations of their work served up in full-album form. Reggae, bluegrass, punk, C&W, lullaby – you name it, somebody out there’s done it. What’s surprising is that it took a good quarter of a century after the genre’s arrival before someone thought of doing an all-shoegazing album of Beatle covers. With their 2013 album Beatless, the Meeks proved that it was absolutely worth the wait.
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Apr 182014

Cover Classics takes a closer look at all-cover albums of the past, their genesis, and their legacy.

The Elektra label has a history of celebrating itself with various books and anthologies, but then, there’s a lot to celebrate. Started by a teenaged Jac Holzman in his dorm room in 1950, it grew into major label status while retaining an eclectic roster of musicians who were given the chance to spread their artistic wings, just as likely to reach pinnacles of cult fandom (Tim Buckley, Love) as pinnacles of worldwide success (the Doors, Queen). In 1990, Elektra celebrated its 40th anniversary by releasing Rubaiyat, a 4-LP/2-CD/2-cassette box set with a unique premise – the label’s current artists covering songs from the label’s prior artists. Rarely have such disparate musicians rubbed shoulders as they do on this release, whether on levels of dissimilarity (Tracy Chapman and Metallica – together again!) or familiarity (the Shaking Family was infinitesimally as well known as the Cure), but that was the point, and they all got together here for some fine and enlightening work.
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Cover Classics takes a closer look at all-cover albums of the past, their genesis, and their legacy.

Richard Thompson is a Cover Me favorite, and for good reason. His songwriting and playing are brilliant, and his songs are often covered by musicians who recognize his genius, even if he has escaped widespread popularity. Not only that, he has, since his early days as a teenaged guitarist in Fairport Convention, performed many wonderful covers of other artists. Thompson also has a wicked sense of humor, which is hinted at in his lyrics, but more often displayed in his writings, interviews and stage shows. Rarely does Thompson perform without unleashing a zinger or ten, often directed at audience members who mistakenly believe they can best him in a battle of wits.

So when Playboy magazine came to him in 1999 and asked him to join other musicians in providing a list of the ten greatest songs of the millennium, it is not surprising that he mischievously took them literally. As Thompson wrote:

Such pretension, I thought. They don’t mean millennium, do they? Probably about 30 years is the cut-off: Tears for Fears might sneak in, Cole Porter probably not.

He called their bluff and did a real thousand-year selection, starting with a song from 1068 and including one effort from the 20th century. Playboy, which is rumored to have articles, chose not to print Thompson’s list, sparing their “readers” the opportunity to consider a toe-tapper by St Godric.
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