Mar 122018
 

Tonight, when the Eagles take the stage in Indianapolis for the start of their 2018 tour, they will be joined by country crooner Vince Gill to fill the void left by the death of Glenn Frey. Those who have followed Gill’s career know that his journey to Eagles-dom began in 1993. That year, he recorded a cover of “I Can’t Tell You Why,” for the triple-platinum covers album Common Thread: The Songs of the Eagles. The album, which will mark its 25th anniversary this fall, was such a commercial success upon its release that it played a major role in reuniting the band.

In the early ‘90s, despite having not played live or recorded in over a decade, the Eagles were as popular as they had ever been. The band’s music dominated classic rock radio. Their Greatest Hits (1971-1975) was on its way to becoming the best-selling album of the 20th century in the U.S. And most of the music coming out of Nashville sounded, well, a lot like the Eagles.

To capitalize on the group’s popularity amongst the boots-and-spurs set, Don Henley and Eagles’ manager Irving Azoff organized the tribute album as a fundraiser for Henley’s environmental charity The Walden Woods Project. To serve as executive producer, Azoff and Henley tapped James Stroud who assembled many of the hottest country stars of the era. “Everybody wanted in,” Stroud told Entertainment Weekly. “Once we started, the phones lit up.”

Common Thread was to Music Row in 1993 what Law & Order was to the New York branch of the Actors Equity Association: a full-fledged jobs program. The album featured 10 solo artists, two bands and one duo. More than 70 musicians and backup singers are directly credited as well as an orchestra called the Nashville String Machine. On the production side, 14 people were listed as producers or co-producers, including Stroud and two of the artists themselves: Suzy Bogguss, who produced her version of “Take It To the Limit;” and Billy Dean, who co-produced his rendition of “Saturday Night.” There were also 25 people listed as engineers, assistant engineers or mixers and seven production assistants. Continue reading »

Mar 022018
 

Cover Classics takes a look at great covers albums of the past, their genesis and their legacies.

tower of song songs of leonard cohen

Last week, I wrote about the hugely influential 1991 tribute album I’m Your Fan: The Songs of Leonard Cohen. How influential? Without it, the world – and Jeff Buckley – might never have heard “Hallelujah.”

The 1995 tribute album Tower of Song is not remotely influential. None of its covers have become classics, nor did they introduce any Cohen deep cuts to the popular cannon. Where I’m Your Fan picked the hippest artists of the time, the Tower of Song curators seem to have gone out of their way to pick the least hip. Billy Joel. Elton John. Don freakin’ Henley. Continue reading »

Feb 232018
 

Cover Classics takes a look at great covers albums of the past, their genesis and their legacies.

i'm your fan leonard cohen

Is I’m Your Fan the most influential tribute album ever? That’s not something you can really measure, so let me just say this: Without it, you probably wouldn’t know “Hallelujah.”

So we’ll start there, at the last track, the secret chord. “Hallelujah” became the most clichéd of Cohen covers, but when John Cale picked it for this 1991 tribute album, it was the disc’s most obscure selection. The song had only come out in America the previous year, after Cohen’s label Columbia refused to release 1985 album Various Positions stateside. Explaining his decision, Columbia president Walter Yetnikoff issued the famous quote: “Leonard, we know you’re great, but we don’t know if you’re any good.” Continue reading »

Jan 122018
 

Cover Classics takes a look at great covers albums of the past, their genesis and their legacies.

doc pomus tribute album

“Why now,” you ask. “Why focus on this album in 2018, more than 20 years since it was made and getting on 30 since the recipient of the tribute died? And who he anyway? He didn’t have any hits.”

Well, that’s where you are wrong. Doc Pomus wrote many of the 1950s songs we now see as standards – standards across many genres, encompassing blues through rock (and roll), with a hefty side influence into country and soul. Few people won’t have at least a whistling memory of at least one of these songs, probably more, in versions played by artists as diverse as ZZ Top, Engelbert Humperdinck and the Searchers. Continue reading »

Aug 182017
 

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

long distance salvation

Nebraska is the Bruce Springsteen album that it’s cool to like. Springsteen’s previous album, The River, had his biggest hit in “Hungry Heart,” and he was ready to break huge. Instead, he released an album that was literally a demo on a cassette, with all the intimacy and intensity that that entails. “I was interested in writing kind of smaller than I had been,” Springsteen said, and that’s what he did with Nebraska, focusing on individuals in trouble with an intensity that was more cathartic than a mostly-acoustic album would be expected to carry.

The respect that Nebraska has gained over the past three and a half decades has been equally split among fans, critics, and artists. The latter have saluted the album multiple ways, including a 2000 release from Sub Pop called Badlands, a full-album tribute that featured artists from Johnny Cash to Chrissie Hynde to Los Lobos. It had its moments, but a much smaller release called Long Distance Salvation did a much better job at conveying the original’s impact, even as it expanded on Springsteen’s work.
Continue reading »

May 162017
 

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

true story of dixie

Everything that makes Abner Jay weird and wonderful can be found in the opening track of his 1974 album True Story of Dixie. At first, you might wonder about why an African American man would record “Dixie,” a song often considered a racist reminder of the Confederacy. Jay knows this. In fact, he only gets thirty seconds in before he begins to explain himself.

“The most-loved song in the south by whites, and the most-hated song in the south by blacks,” he begins, “is the song ‘Dixie’ – and all because of a stupid misunderstanding.” And from there he’s off, spinning a tale that begins as an accurate historical retelling about how the song was written before rambling off into shaggy-dog stories about James Brown, bone houses, and how Jay’s “sixteen young’uns” keep the roaches away. Continue reading »