In the Spotlight showcases a cross-section of an artist’s cover work. View past installments, then post suggestions for future picks in the comments!

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Someday you idiots will shut up and listen to him. — Lou Barlow

Elliott Smith was an outlier. He stuck out on his label, Kill Rock Stars, home of Sleater-Kinney and The Raincoats. He stuck out at the Oscars, wearing a white suit while performing “Miss Misery,” a polar bear stranded on a floating iceberg that failed to sink the Academy’s love of all things Titanic. And he stuck out in defiance to America’s ignorance of his music by continuing to do things his own way, against the advice of those who supposedly had his best interests in mind. Unfortunately, he sometimes didn’t have his own, either.
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Five Good Covers presents five cross-genre reinterpretations of an oft-covered song.

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When Bruce Springsteen was touring behind his 2005 album Devils and Dust, he closed his shows with a cover of the song “Dream Baby Dream” by the protopunk band Suicide. Most fans of the Boss were unfamiliar with it, and didn’t know how to take the moody mantra, sung over the drone of a pump organ and an offstage synth – “Glory Days” it ain’t. It turned out Bruce had been a fan of Suicide’s since meeting them in a studio in the ’70s, and had claimed in one interview that “You know, if Elvis came back from the dead I think he would sound like Alan Vega.” As for Vega, once he’d heard Springsteen’s interpretation, he said, “Now I can die…. He interpreted my song, he did it his way, and such a great way that I’m going to have to sing it that way, or not sing it at all anymore…. On my death bed, that’s the last thing I’m going to listen to. I’ll play it at my funeral.” So it’s safe to say he liked it.
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Full Albums features covers of every track off a classic album. Got an idea for a future pick? Leave a note in the comments!

Maybe it is too facile to say that Van Morrison’s second solo album, Astral Weeks, is respected, while its follow up, Moondance, is loved. We looked at Astral Weeks about a year ago, so there’s no reason to repeat that here, but it’s clear that Morrison took a very different approach with the two albums, both of which have entered the rock pantheon as classics (for example, both albums were inducted in the Grammy Hall of Fame and Astral Weeks is 19 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Albums of all time; Moondance was ranked 66.) But while the older album is revered as a work of art, you actually heard (and still hear) songs from Moondance on the radio. Astral Weeks failed to chart, and no singles from the album were released, but Moondance reached 29 on the Billboard Pop Album chart, and had three singles released.

Astral Weeks is considered to be a unified song cycle or a concept album, filled with stream of consciousness lyrics. The musicians that were recruited mostly had jazz backgrounds, and Morrison encouraged them to improvise after hearing Morrison play the songs on an acoustic guitar. Despite critical acclaim, it received little commercial airplay and limited support from the label, Warner Bros.

After recording Astral Weeks, Morrison and his wife moved into a mountaintop house near Woodstock, in upstate New York. He began to write the songs for Moondance and recruited local musicians for the recording sessions. Although, like with his previous album, there were no formal written charts, Morrison focused this time on shorter, more upbeat and optimistic songs with accessible song structures, in part influenced by another group of Woodstock area residents, The Band. It also was greeted with great reviews, but garnered significantly more radio airplay and immediate sales than its predecessor. And, I would argue, few albums have a stronger first side (when that mattered) than Moondance (“And It Stoned Me”/”Moondance”/”Crazy Love”/”Caravan”/”Into The Mystic”), and side 2 isn’t shabby, either.
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Five Good Covers presents five cross-genre reinterpretations of an oft-covered song.

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Written by Supertramp’s Roger Hodgson (with an assist on the second chorus’s vocal harmony by Rick Davies), “The Logical Song” not only has more words of three or more syllables (twenty-seven!) than some bands have in their entire discography; it also has a warning about using schooling as a brickbat that resonates even more post-No Child Left Behind. Plus which, that saxophone break would send any contemporaries whimpering their way back to Baker Street. It was the band’s biggest hit off their biggest album, Breakfast in America; that unforgettable cover model, Kate Murtagh, is 94 and still going, much like “The Logical Song” itself.
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Cover Classics takes a closer look at all-cover albums of the past, their genesis, and their legacy.

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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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They Say It’s Your Birthday celebrates an artist’s special day with other people singing his or her songs. Let others do the work for a while. Happy birthday!

Willie Nelson, 82 years old today, has always been an awkward cuss. Still relentlessly on the road and putting out record after record, somehow it would seem a cop-out to “let others do the work for a while,” as is the norm for these pieces (and besides, been there done that), so this is more a celebration of the myriad and varied covers he has performed over the decades. The germ for this idea came as the staff pow-wow took place around our best country covers of non-country songs Q&A, with Mr. Nelson featuring twice.

His career in music has lasted, so far, a staggering 59 years, his first recording being 1956’s “Lumberjack.” Since then, he has passed through many incarnations, from clean cut C&W performer, consummate Nashville standards songwriter, self-imposed banishment and his counter-intuitively hippie redneck years (copyright me), banding up with and as like-minded (the) Outlaws, before settling into iconic status as a national treasure, lauded by presidents and paupers alike. Somehow his skirmishes with the I.R.S. and his enduring support for marijuana has but strengthened his appeal, even within the staunchly conservative country demographic. And, of course, all of us longhairs just love him. Don’t we?
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They Say It’s Your Birthday celebrates an artist’s special day with other people singing his or her songs. Let others do the work for a while. Happy birthday!

Björn Ulvaeus may not be a household name, but the same cannot be said of ABBA, the band he cofounded with his songwriting partner Benny Andersson. This is a band whose greatest-hits album Gold went to number one in England on five different occasions over a span of sixteen years. A band who numbered Bono, Kurt Cobain, and Vladimir Putin among their biggest fans. A band whose breaking-up songs rivaled Rumours for intraband romantic schadenfreude.

Ulvaes built on this legacy after ABBA dissolved. He cowrote the music for the stage show Chess, the origin of “One Night in Bangkok.” The ABBA-based stage show Mamma Mia! has grossed over two billion worldwide; the movie, over $600 million. Speaking of money money money, today he is a key figure in turning Sweden into a cash-free society. He had an umlaut in his name thirty years before Motörhead did. Not even his distressing resemblance to Kato Kaelin could put an end to his coolness.
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Welcome to Cover Me Q&A, where we take your questions about cover songs and answer them to the best of our ability.

Here at Cover Me Q&A, we’ll be taking questions about cover songs and giving as many different answers as we can. This will give us a chance to hold forth on covers we might not otherwise get to talk about, to give Cover Me readers a chance to learn more about individual staffers’ tastes and writing styles, and to provide an opportunity for some back-and-forth, as we’ll be taking requests (learn how to do so at feature’s end).

Today’s question: What’s a favorite country & western cover of a non-country & western song?
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