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!

The rock and roll bands that slammed on the brakes and took the turnoff at country music are numerous. Gram Parsons got high with Keith Richards and “Dead Flowers” was born. The number of times Elvis Costello has cheated on rock and roll with country’s graces is too numerous to count. Jack White turned the knobs for Loretta Lynn. And so on.

The postpunk and indiepop bands that have segued into a Ryman act are no less numerous. X gave birth to the Knitters. The New Pornographers cut loose chanteuse Neko Case. And the Archers of Loaf’s Eric Bachmann disbanded all notions of his indie rock band and spread out into numerous directions, including the roots rock band Crooked Fingers.
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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!

Forgive me, Father for I have sinned.

It has been….a really long time since my last confession. My sins are multitudinous (lust, blasphemy, coveting my neighbor’s ass… but in my defense, it’s a really nice ass), but the most egregious of all is idolatry.

See, ever since I could sway to music, Madonna has been my idol. The long-established Queen of my Universe and a musician I just can’t quit despite her numerous attempts to break my heart (that horrible faux English accent, sleeping with Vanilla Ice, sleeping with Vanilla Ice and then documenting it in her Sex book…).

I didn’t grow up Catholic, so I couldn’t seek solace in the open arms of Holy Mother Church. Instead, I sought solace from a leonine-eyed beauty who often incited the ire of the Catholic Church.

Madonna taught me lessons that have carried me through adolescence and well into adulthood.
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Five Good Covers presents five cross-genre reinterpretations of an oft-covered song.

Interpreting song lyrics can be a dicey endeavor. Many songwriters seem to aspire to something poetic, obscure or obtuse. While it may not be hard to deduce the meaning of lyrics like, say, “I wanna rock and roll all nite, and party every day,” so many songs defy easy understanding, either because the lyrics are vague, or hard to hear, or even utter gibberish. R.E.M.’s early songs were filled with random words that made little obvious sense, and yet along with the music, they somehow created a mood. In 2008, Michael Stipe participated in a Q&A with fans, and he said about his early songs:

those songs were mostly written to be sung live. The pa systems were so crap that no one could ever really hear the singer anyway, including the singer. We just never intended to make records, and then suddenly we were making records and the songs were in my head like that, so we just blurred the vocal and turned it way down. The songs that do have words don’t really make any or much sense, it was about creating a feeling and emotion in the room in the moment. As it turns out the records turned out pretty great too, just inscrutable. I had to learn pretty fast how to write a good or great lyric after that. Please don’t analyze them, there’s nothing but feeling there. Sing along and make it up, that’s what I still do.
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The Story Behind digs deep into how an iconic cover song came to be.

Before there was a song called “Gloria,” there was a poem called “Oath.” And the transition from one to the other might never have happened without forty bucks and one loud bass note.
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Five Good Covers presents five cross-genre reinterpretations of an oft-covered song.

George Harrison was still struggling to get his voice heard when the Beatles recorded “It’s All Too Much.” They did so during the week that Sgt. Pepper was released (an album with only one of George’s songs); originally planned to appear on Magical Mystery Tour, it was delayed for the Yellow Submarine soundtrack, which came out more than half a year after the movie premiered. For a song that seemed determined to be an afterthought, “It’s All Too Much” has gone on to become best known as being perhaps the most underrated Beatles song. East meets West while tripping on acid, and hand in hand they sail into the mystic, taking the time to quote a line from the Merseys song “Sorrow” (which would have to wait for an immortalizing full-length cover until David Bowie came along).
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Five Good Covers presents five cross-genre reinterpretations of an oft-covered song.

Before it was a depressing award-winning movie… before it was the name of a one-hit-wonder band… “Boys Don’t Cry” was the title of the Cure’s angstastic second single. The story of a boy with an aching heart who refuses to appear vulnerable under any circumstances has a dry spareness to it, but the guitar has as catchy a hook as you’ll find on the band’s later, lusher work.
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Jul 232014

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

The 27 Club is one of the most enduring legends of rock and roll apocrypha, and although the member list is distinguished, no one’s really clawing to get in. It refers to the peculiarly high number of prominent musicians who died at the age of 27 – blues legend Robert Johnson, Jim Morrison, Big Star’s Chris Bell, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Rolling Stones founding member Brian Jones, and Kurt Cobain, amongst (too) many others.

In 2011, the club expanded its membership yet again with blue-eyed soul ingénue, Amy Winehouse.
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Jul 212014

In high school, a friend and I drove two hours to a blues festival in rural Maine one Saturday. When we got to the gate we found tickets to be well outside of our meager budget, but there was only one artist we’d wanted to see anyway: Johnny Winter. So we found a low fence we could peer over, and sat, and waited. Continue reading »

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