Sep 182017
 

In Memoriam pays tribute to those who have left this world, and the songs they left us to remember them by.

Grant Hart

Last week Grant Hart, who first won fame as the drummer for Hüsker Dü and went on to release music on his own and with Nova Mob, died of liver cancer at the age of 56. His bandmate Bob Mould, with who he shared a fractious but fruitful relationship, paid tribute by calling him “a gifted visual artist, a wonderful story teller, and a frighteningly talented musician. Everyone touched by his spirit will always remember.”

The list of those touched by Hart’s spirit number in the thousands upon thousands – not just the legions of fans who latched onto his songs back in the ’80s, but the musicians who were inspired enough by his work to cover it. What follows are some of those covers – and one cover of Hart’s.
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Sep 152017
 

Five Good Covers presents five cross-genre reinterpretations of an oft-covered song.

enola gay

A discussion about a 1980 synth-pop song that references the atomic bombing of Hiroshima may run the risk of being, unintentionally, too close to current world events. But the popular new wave band who recorded the original version happens to be in the news themselves because of a brand-new studio album, their thirteenth, that dropped on September 1st. Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, also known as OMD, formed in 1978 in northwest England. Founding members Paul Humphreys and Andy McCluskey saw their first significant UK and US dance chart success with the release of “Enola Gay.” Named for the plane that dropped the first A-bomb ever dropped on a city, the McCluskey-penned antiwar dance track was the only single from their second album Organisation, and predated the success the band would experience in the late-‘80s with Top 20 hits like “If You Leave,” “Dreaming,” and “(Forever) Live and Die.”

“Enola Gay” has been ranked as one of the greatest songs of the ’80s by NME, and MusicRadar says that “its almost naive arrangement… includes some of the biggest synth hooks of all time.” But it turns out a good cover of “Enola Gay” doesn’t need a synthesizer. As you’ll see, the song has inspired a variety of cross-genre covers well worth sharing…

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Sep 082017
 

Full Albums features covers of every track off a classic album. Got an idea for a future pick? Leave a note in the comments!

yardbirds

The Yardbirds are back! Sort of. The quintessential R&B-influenced British Invasion band has made a few recent headlines, and any headline from a group that can boast Rock & Roll Hall of Famers Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, and Jimmy Page as alums is probably worth checking out.

Last month, the music press was buzzing when Page announced a November 5th release for Yardbirds ’68. The legendary Led Zeppelin guitarist is producing the newly unearthed compilation of live and studio recordings along with outtakes. Rolling Stone has more about it here. Additionally, in early August still-active founding member Jim McCarty and the bands’ current line-up announced a new Yardbirds studio album to be underwritten by a PledgeMusic campaign. The album promises to be “a totally new recording of original songs with a couple of carefully selected covers.” Fans can find out more and get involved here.

We’ll celebrate all this good news with several Yardbirds-related features leading up to the release of Page’s ’68 in November. Today, we’ll pay our respects with a recap of The Yardbirds’ Greatest Hits. The first of countless compilations, this one passed a significant 50th anniversary milestone in March. Arguments abound among aficionados as to which Greatest Hits / Best Of / Retrospective is their “best,” but only one can claim to be their highest charting US album; Greatest Hits peaked at #28 on the Billboard chart in 1967 and arguably gave the band a second wind at the time. The album is no longer commercially available in its original LP configuration and packaging, but nowadays it can be put together with just a few taps on the screen/keys.

Included on Greatest Hits are all six of their singles up to 1967, plus three B-sides and a live track. Five tracks were written by at least one member of the band. Bo Diddley, Howlin’ Wolf, and Mose Allison are credited with one R&B cover each. Finally, two were written by Graham Gouldman, about whom we’ll have more to say in the near future.

So… let’s get ready, steady, go!

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Sep 052017
 

Some covers are more equal than others. Good, Better, Best looks at three covers and decides who takes home the gold, the silver, and the bronze.

 
A newly elected, telegenic-but-polarizing, anti-establishment Republican president. A charged political climate on both sides of the Atlantic. A backlash from progressives in the music and entertainment community. Sound familiar? Yes, folks, we’ve seen this before!

As Ronald Reagan stepped on to the world stage in 1981, Martyn Ware, Ian Craig Marsh, and Glenn Gregory were readying their eventual UK gold-selling debut album Penthouse and Pavement. Keyboardists Ware and Marsh, recently split co-founders of the Human League, joined with fellow Sheffield native and vocalist Gregory to form a new synth-pop outfit named for a fictional band from the novel A Clockwork Orange. Their first single, the frenetic “(We Don’t Need This) Fascist Groove Thang,” became a Top 30 US dance club hit in 1981, but not before being banned by the BBC in the UK over concerns of libel, in particular for the line “Reagan’s president-elect/Fascist god in motion.”

The classic track features Gregory’s velvety vocals over high beats-per-minute electronic percussion, combined with funky guitar, “slap” bass, sax, and synth effects. The still-active band’s website tells us that the song became NME’s record of the week while happening to mention, albeit as comic denunciations, the words “fascist,” “Hitler,” and “racist.”

Time has inspired a handful of musically evolved cover versions. The more recent attempts, if not (ironically) from Germany, do include some updated political sentiments. As it stands…

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Sep 012017
 

Shelby Lynne and Allison Moorer have released a new record, Not Dark Yet. It has been out a week or two, and I’m surprised this hasn’t yet had much shout here, unless the sole original song discounts the inclusion of this consummate otherwise all-covers showpiece. Neither of the two sisters (for they are) are strangers to a cover, each producing an example within their already expansive repertoires, Shelby with her exquisite reimagining of Dusty Springfield on 2009’s “Just a Little Lovin’,” and Allison with her “Mockingbird” the year before.

Intriguingly, this is their first studio joint performance, although they have appeared together on stage. There is talk of a previous falling out, but if so, it looks as if they have found each other and then some, their voices melding as only kin can. Some commentators have name-checked the Everly Brothers. That is no hyperbole. But this is so much more than a meeting of two voices, the choice of material helping Not Dark Yet rise above the play-it-by-numbers country feast they could have produced in their sleep, not that that couldn’t or wouldn’t have been good. By picking songs by Nick Cave and Kurt Cobain, amongst others, as well as choosing a latter-day Dylan song (the title track), Lynne and Moorer show their chops to be way beyond Nashville. OK, so we have some Townes and some Merle, even the Louvin Brothers, but also, in the opener, a track from the Killers. There is also a track by current golden boy Jason Isbell. It all works, as does the sole self-penned track, by Shelby, outlining their already-well-told childhood domestic chaos.

If that were not enough, the production and arrangements are top notch, thanks to Teddy (son of Richard) Thompson taking the producer’s chair (and not a few background vocals besides). The band for the sessions is a slew of some of the normal culprits for quality product in this vein, Benmont Tech (the Heartbreakers) on swirling keyboards, Doug Pettibone (Lucinda Williams go-to guitarist), and Michael Jerome and Taras Prodaniuk, from Teddy’s dad’s band. The sound is magnificent, complementing the vocals, aiding and abetting this essential release.

Not Dark Yet song listing:
1. My List (The Killers cover)
2. Every Time You Leave (The Louvin Brothers cover)
3. Not Dark Yet (Bob Dylan cover)
4. I’m Looking For Blue Eyes (Jessi Colter cover)
5. Lungs (Townes Van Zandt cover)
6. The Color of a Cloudy Day (Jason Isbell cover)
7. Silver Wings (Merle Haggard cover)
8. Into My Arms (Nick Cave cover)
9. Lithium (Nirvana cover) 5
10. Is It Too Much (Shelby Lynne original)

You can purchase Not Dark Yet on Amazon.

Aug 272017
 

Some covers are more equal than others. Good, Better, Best looks at three covers and decides who takes home the gold, the silver, and the bronze.

Today we conclude our look at six decades of “(There’s) Always Something There to Remind Me,” the timeless Burt Bacharach and Hal David classic. Click here to read about the ’60s, here for the ’70s, here for the ’80s, here for the ’90s, and here for the ’00s. Then keep reading for the big finish…

Part VI: The ’10s

Two and a half years shy of the end, we’re about to surpass the total number of “(There’s) Always Something There to Remind Me” covers produced in any decade, including the ‘60s! Like MTV before it, YouTube is helping to drive this output. To be clear, we’re also not considering every bad amateur effort out there. There’s some carryover of the jazz-influenced versions from the ’00s, but the real story up to now is the sophistication and maturity that’s developed. In general, it’s as if the song, to no one’s surprise, is aging like an exceptional cabernet. So far this decade…

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