Last Friday, I posted a few videos from last week’s Town Hall tribute to Bob Dylan’s 1963 concert at the same venue. I included Bill Murray, Steve Buscemi, Geoff Muldaur, Emily Haines, and Bob Neuwirth’s performances, and promised I’d add more videos as they landed. Well, they never landed. But we’ve got the next-best thing: a bootleg audio recording of the full concert. It includes beautiful covers of songs Bob performed at that 1963 concert by the Milk Carton Kids, Laurie Anderson, Mark Kozelek, and many more. And we’ll get to them…but first we have to talk about the dog in the room.
April was the best month for covers of the year so far. There’s no particular reason for that, I suspect. These things just ebb and flow. But the fact remains that it was a proverbial embarrassment of riches, as the length of the list below confirms.
As always, there’s no quality difference between the main picks and the honorable mentions; a cover’s categorization is only determined by how much I had to say about it.
Lorde‘s “Green Light” ranked on many publications’ “Best Songs of 2017” lists (#3 on Pitchfork). Fittingly, it’s seen its fair share of covers, from Arcade Fire to All Time Low. But when Swedish duo First Aid Kit stopped by the BBC over the holiday break, they picked a (slightly) deeper cut from Lorde’s Melodrama: “Perfect Places.” If you’ve ever heard the harmonies of sisters Johanna and Klara Soderberg – the Everly Brothers meets Haim – you won’t be surprised by how gorgeously they transform the pop song into a lilting country waltz.
But let that be the amuse bouche to the real treat here. Last March, the pair led a massive Leonard Cohen tribute concert in Stockholm. We posted fan-shot videos at the time, but they didn’t do it justice. This fall, the full thing aired on Swedish television. It is, frankly, stunning. The sisters, a few friends, and a full orchestra and choir tackle twenty Cohen songs and poems, from classics like “Suzanne” to new songs like “You Want It Darker.” The arrangements are mesmerizing, making you hear afresh even a song you’ve heard a million times. I thought I never needed to hear another “Hallelujah” cover again. I was wrong (that one’s fronted by guest Annika Norlin). Even the poems – which in most tribute shows would be an afterthought – come across powerfully with the sisters’ voices raised to the ceiling. Their recitation of Leonard’s farewell letter to Marianne on her deathbed into “So Long, Marianne” will give you chills.
The Mountain Goats’ latest album Goths contains a song titled “Andrew Eldritch Is Moving Back to Leeds,” which requres a bit of explaining. Andrew Eldritch is the lead singer of pioneering gothic rock band Sisters of Mercy. As Mountain Goats frontman John Darnielle explained to Noisey about the song, “The Sisters of Mercy haven’t made any music in over 20 years, and I just thought at some point you have to go home and I liked the idea of Andrew Eldritch being a person. Like, ‘I take off my hat and my sunglasses and go hang out with my friends who knew me when I was just a person who enjoyed a nice, sunny day in Leeds.'”
Growing up as a teen goth (though he knew the genre as “death rock”), Darnielle’s favorite band was the Sisters of Mercy. “My girlfriend and I loved the fact that everyone else was making albums and touring, but in the beginning, the Sisters of Mercy only made 12-inch EPs that were fucking unbelievable,” he told Noisey. “We loved the first album [1985’s First and Last and Always], I saw them twice on that tour, but it lacked the magic, the total mystery of these 12-inches that had almost no details of any kind, just the names of the musicians and the songs. Each EP felt like something to parse, like a text to say how they’d grown.”
Ten years ago today, I had a whim.
I was studying abroad one semester and found myself with a lot of free time – school work was light, and a college student’s budget limited my international explorations – so I decided to start a blog. A second blog actually, since for several years I had run a personal blog of concert reviews and bootleg downloads called Dylan, Etc (it had more “Dylan” than it did “Etc”). I’d fallen in love with the cover song after hearing Bob Dylan (who else) play a revelatory cover of “Summertime” on his short-lived radio show. I’d already hosted a Cover Me college radio show, and decided to expand us to the World Wide Web.
These were the days of the so-called “MP3 blog,” which included a vibrant subgenre of cover-songs blogs. That’s right, I’d like to claim credit for inventing the category, but I didn’t – not even close. RIP to Copy Right?, Cover Freak, Fong Songs, and the rest of the pioneers – and shoutout to our fellow survivors from that era, Coverville, which was releasing podcasts before most people knew what that word meant, and the folk blog Cover Lay Down, which began around the same time as us.
A lot has changed over the past decade. We’ve published 3,564 posts as of this one. Oh, and did you notice the pronoun change there? Cover Me is no longer an “I” – it’s a “we”, with over 60 writers contributing over the years. We’ve grown from an ugly Blogspot to our spiffy own domain (which is overdue for a redesign itself, frankly). And in case the large banner ads all over the site weren’t clue enough, I just released a book also called Cover Me, which – back-patting alert – Variety called “one of the best multi-subject music books to come down the pike in years.”
We wanted to do something special to celebrate our tenth birthday. And we wanted to celebrate not just ourselves, but celebrate the cover song itself. So we put together this little album Cover Me Turns 10: A Covers Tribute to Covers as a gift to our readers. We contacted several dozen of our musician friends and asked them to cover a cover. That is, to honor the many great songs we might not even know without an iconic cover – Aretha Franklin reinventing Otis Redding’s “Respect,” Quiet Riot amplifying Slade’s call to feel the noize, Prince learning that nothing compares 2 Sinéad O’Connor.
We’re honored that so many of our favorite musicians contributed, and frankly speechless at how great a job they did. So speechless, in fact, that we asked them all to introduce their own work with a few sentences. A million thanks to all of them, and also to Cover Me writer and art whiz Sean Balkwill for designing the lovely – ahem – cover. The whole thing is free to download at Bandcamp until downloads run out, and free to stream forever.
Enough chatter from me. For ten years this blog has been all about celebrating the music and we’re not going to stop now. Thanks for taking this journey with us.
– Ray Padgett
Cover Me Founder
—November update: The book is now out, but if you review it on Amazon or elsewhere, the mixtape can still be yours! Just send proof of review to the email below.—
Cover Me: The Stories Behind the Greatest Songs Of All Time comes out October 3. It dives deep into twenty iconic covers, from Elvis’s “Hound Dog” through Adele’s “Make You Feel My Love.” I interviewed artists like David Byrne and Roger Daltrey to get the untold stories behind their greatest covers. You can read all about it here.
Now we’ve got a special bonus for anyone who preorders: a free digital album of other covers of those same songs.
What’s the greatest “Take Me to the River” that’s not by Al Green or the Talking Heads? My favorite “Hurt” untouched by either of those men in black? An “I Will Always Love You” that sounds like the artist has never heard either Dolly Parton or Whitney Houston’s versions? This mix answers all those questions.