Aug 192016
 

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

sketch10

With Out of Time, R.E.M. completed their transition from college band to global stardom, and they wanted their next album to move away from Time‘s gentle lushness and move into harder-rocking territory, more suited to the grunge-y times. But when the band members reconvened, they found they were no longer of a mind to write loud ‘n’ angry. Result: Automatic for the People, a meditation on loss that’s downbeat without being depressing, from a band turning away from a world begging to be conquered so it could consider its disquiet. The record wasn’t what they originally promised, but it didn’t disappoint either – it went top-five worldwide, and today it’s considered the band’s masterpiece, the kind of album you put on and then you just lie down and you let it engulf you (or so it is said).

“Every one of its 12 songs is worthy of attention,” MOJO said, and in 2007 the website Stereogum proved it with their tribute album Drive XV: A Tribute to Automatic for the People. A celebration of Automatic‘s 15th anniversary, the tribute featured artists who grew up with R.E.M. as a constant in their lives, and hearing that familiar band speaking with a new voice clearly made an impression on these musicians who were still discovering their own voices and the ways they could be raised.
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Jun 242016
 

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

Laura_Nyro_-_Gonna_Take_a_Miracle

Following the cultural tumult that was the end of the 1960s, many musicians opted for a more introspective, seemingly autobiographical approach to their songwriting. Artists like James Taylor, Cat Stevens, Joni Mitchell, Jackson Browne, and scores of others suddenly made it okay to turn down the volume and once again focus on the lyrical content that tended to get swept aside during the height of psychedelia. Yet not all introspection resulted in the creation of original material. With the nation seemingly falling apart, many artists began looking back to the late-1950s and early-1960s, essentially their formative years, to help better understand how they arrived and, in the process, finding themselves temporarily transported to better times.

For a musician like Laura Nyro, herself always open and contemplative within her own songs, the approach transcended the internal here and now in favor of a more accurately autobiographical look at how she ended up where she did by the time of 1971’s Gonna Take A Miracle. Rather than digging deeper into herself in an attempt to find a wealth spring of inspiration, she returned to her original inspirations as though they were a palate cleanser designed to erase the memories of the preceding years’ social unrest. By returning to her roots and the music that inspired her in the first place – her “favorite teenage heartbeat music,” she called it – Nyro sought to find her center, looking backwards for answers contained within what was beginning to be (incorrectly) perceived as a simpler time.
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Jun 032016
 

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

rotary_connection-songs

With the rise and, more importantly for the record companies, financial success of the pop music market in the mid-to-late-’60s, it should come as little surprise that this era served as one of the most prolific for cover songs. Some artists merely issued them as singles, while others saw fit to fill entire albums with pop hits of the day. And while the majority were given something of an easy listening makeover or subtle rewrite, there were a handful who saw fit to take this well-known, well-loved material and turn it on its ear. One of the best one-off examples of this is Smith’s smoldering reworking of Burt Bacharach’s song “Baby It’s You,” in which co-lead vocalist Gayle McCormick gives one of the best vocal performances of the era.

Taking a similar tack, psychedelic soul group Rotary Connection set their sights on the psych and pop hits of the day to create something wholly new and different with their 1969 album Songs. Where others who chose to take songs like the Band’s “The Weight,” “Respect” (either Otis Redding’s original or Aretha Franklin’s iconic version) and Cream’s riff-tastic “Sunshine of Your Love” stuck largely to the recognizable for understandable commercial reasons, Rotary Connection opted to take each song in an entirely new, often wildly experimental direction. By stripping the songs of their melodic and rhythmic familiarity, even the most played-out of these covers feels entirely new and different.
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May 272016
 

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

almostblue

Some of us were just a wee bit old for punk. Hell, yes, of course we said we liked it at the time. Probably actually did, in truth, but with a throw back crossed-fingers of restraint, without the hard-core readiness to burn all before ’74. (OK, year zero was ’75, but scans less well, and what’s a year in the 40 [forty!] years since?) So my generation, teens in the age of prog, took to Elvis C., knowing he was one of us really, outwith the bombast and wardrobe design. And we knew he had heard the records we held dear, and more. At times he seemed he knew more records than anyone, ever, given the sometime less than subtle steals from ’60s rock and soul, something he honestly admitted to in his largely entertaining autobiography, Unfaithful Music. At 15 I was a twin aficionado of folk-rock and country-rock, desperate to make sure the hyphen-rock was included, terrified of being mistaken for a finger-in-ear folkie, or rhinestoned “and western.” I’d had a whiff of Elvis’ love for the latter – he had name-checked my poster boy Gram Parsons in interviews, and a couple country weepers showed up on the odds ‘n’ sods cassette-only Ten Bloody Marys and Ten How’s Your Fathers (released as Taking Liberties in the US). So it was both delight and affirmation when, in 1981, he issued Almost Blue, both his first album of all covers and his first album produced by other than Nick Lowe. I was in heaven, knowing the nay-sayers to my arcane listening were wrong, and I play the record a lot to this day.
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May 062016
 

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

jeffdig

I was fifteen years old when I was first introduced to the world of Infinity Cat Recordings. I was immediately enamored with the punk DIY aesthetic presented by a group of young Nashville punks. When I say “young,” I mean YOUNG. Like only a few years older than me at the time young. Brothers Jake and Jamin Orrall, in their late teens at the time, formed the indie label with the guidance of their father in 2002. A host of psychedelic and grunge-tinged punk bands emerged from the label right from the get-go, leading publications like The Guardian and Billboard Magazine to name it one of the best indie labels in America. JEFF the Brotherhood, a two-piece psychedelic garage-rock band also formed by the Orrall brothers, acted as a sort of nucleus for the label, guiding the overall sound and feel of the rest of the bands that make up the collective.

In a way, the band has always been a source of centering for myself as well. Maybe they aren’t guiding my life choices, but they do have a way of bringing me back to my suburban teenage rebellion years – a time when I was determined to take the world by storm and (pardon my French) fuck shit up, Nashville punk style. JEFF The Brotherhood serves as a reminder to do what I want, and how I want to do it. Every now and then, I will go back to one of their first singles, Noo Sixties, and be reminded of that seemingly contradictory hard-working-punk ethos.
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Feb 192016
 

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

badfinger

Badfinger combined magic and tragic like no other band in rock history. They were one of the few bands signed to the Beatles’ Apple label who made an impact of their own, but the Fab Four’s blessing carried its own curse of people not taking them as more than clone wannabes. They scored multiple top 20 hits, but saw very little of the revenue they generated, due in no small part to their corrupt manager. Finally, two members of the band, Pete Ham and Tom Evans, were driven to suicide. Today, the sorrow of Badfinger’s fate remains – but so does the music. Some of the strongest power-pop songs came from the band, including “No Matter What” and “Day After Day,” and their song “Without You” became a worldwide smash when covered by Harry Nilsson and (more than twenty years later) Mariah Carey.
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