Apr 072020
 

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!

Pharrell

We got to hear new takes on songs that Pharrell Williams contributed background vocals to, featured in, or starred in yesterday, but now it is time to go behind the scenes.

The power producer duo of The Neptunes have tallied many awards from Billboard R&B/Hip-Hop Awards for Best Producer of the Year in 2004 to Best Producer of the Decade in 2009 and twenty-four top 10 hits between the late ’90s and the ’00s. They have also been nominated for the upcoming 2020 spot in the Songwriters Hall of Fame.

As consumers of their hits, we often don’t know who is behind the sound. I’m the first to admit that I had no idea any of these songs involved Pharrell Williams before I started looking into Williams’ production credits, and for every song featured on this list, there are many more equally popular hits that we don’t touch on. How many songs that conjure up a memory for you would not be the same without the talented Neptunes?

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Apr 062020
 

They Say It’s Your Birthday celebrates an artist’s special day with covers of his or her songs. Let someone else do the work for a while. Happy birthday!

Pharrell

Yesterday, as he was serenaded with a “Happy Birthday” song, Pharrell Williams turned 47 and clapped along, feeling like a room without a roof (or so I imagine).

Williams wears many hats (both literally and figuratively); he’s a songwriter, a record producer, a singer, a rapper, and even a fashion designer. His longest-running collaboration is with Chad Hugo, whom he met in middle school. The two were even childhood friends with Timbaland. (That will become relevant in other posts coming to Cover Me later this week.) Hugo and Williams formed the production team The Neptunes in 1994 and are still working together today. The duo were signed after a high-school talent show: the American dream! Continue reading »

Apr 042020
 

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

On the morning of  October 17, 1961, a skinny, scruffy-haired teen was standing on platform 2 of Dartford station, waiting for a train into London. He was holding a guitar case. Slightly further down the platform stood another, less scruffy teen. He clasped two vinyl records under his arms, held at just the right angle that the titles were visible. The scruffy-haired teen tilted his head to get a better look, his eyes widening as he read the large print emblazoned across the record covers. Chuck Berry Rockin’ At the Hops and – could it be? Yes! – The Best of Muddy Waters. Trying to act naturally, the scruffy teen took a step closer to to the young man with the records. Then another step. And another. Before long they were right next to each other. The scruffy teen cleared his throat. “Hello,” he said. “My name’s Keith.”

So there you have it: Muddy Waters was partially responsible for the first meeting of Keith Richards and Mick Jagger since primary school. It would not be his last contribution to their history. A few months later, Brian Jones was on the phone attempting to secure a booking for the newly formed group. The promoter asked for the band’s name. They didn’t have one. Jones’ eyes darted around the room and fell upon that  same fateful album, The Best of Muddy Waters – specifically, side one track 5: “Rollin’ Stone.” The Rolling Stones were now christened. Continue reading »

Apr 032020
 

That’s A Cover? explores cover songs that you may have thought were originals.

Joan Jett

At the time of this writing, the world is dealing with COVID-19, a viral pandemic that has brought about sweeping changes to how we live, work, play, and even interact with each other. Contracting the virus can be fatal and, sadly, it has proven to be so for Alan Merrill, bassist and lead singer for London-based band The Arrows. Merrill (born Alan Sachs), the writer of the Arrows’ best-known, most successful song, “I Love Rock ‘n Roll,” passed away from the effects of COVID-19 on March 29, 2020. In his honor, Cover Me will look at this garage-rock classic elevated to anthem status by the legendary Joan Jett.
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Apr 032020
 

Under the Radar shines a light on lesser-known cover artists. If you’re not listening to these folks, you should. Catch up on past installments here.

Joe Pernice

If Joe Pernice flies below the radar, it’s seemingly with a bit of pride, or blithe indifference. Consider the title of his live concert DVD: “Nobody’s Watching/Nobody’s Listening.” That didn’t come from a branding consultant.

He’s released 17 recordings over the years, but all under different monikers. The Scud Mountain Boys, Pernice Brothers, Chappaquiddick Skyline, Roger Lion, and The New Mendicants, to name a few. He’s even recorded and performed as Joe Pernice on occasion. A restless artist unconcerned with continuity, he’ll disband a band only to reform it decades later. He’s been known to ditch a completed album at the final mixing phase. And now and then Pernice falls into radio silence: during those stretches he is writing poetry, fiction, and (to pay bills) tv cop show scripts. However an artist gets on the radar in the music biz, this is not the recommended flight path.

Nothing changes the fact that Pernice is a top-notch singer and composer. When it comes to covers, his choices are inspired. They appear quirky at first, or even jokey in some cases. But then you listen, getting drawn in by Pernice’s plaintive voice. You then get stirred, you find new admiration for a song that you had condescended to or shrugged off. The song needed the Pernice treatment to get through.

See for yourself. Here’s a half-dozen choice covers from a quarter-century worth of Joe Pernice output. Add them to a playlist and name it “Somebody’s Watching/Somebody’s Listening.” Continue reading »

Apr 022020
 

SteveReidell_Dukejenn champion the blue album
2020 marks the 40th Anniversary of Genesis’s true breakthrough album, 1980’s Duke. It was their first album to hit #1 in the UK as well as their highest charting album in the U.S.to that point. It also featured their first top 20 single in the states, infectious unrequited love opus “Misunderstanding”. But enough of the facts, I’m about to say something controversial so all of you prog rock purists might want to look away for a second. Here goes…

I think Genesis got better once Peter Gabriel quit the band.

Significantly better.

Once detached from the confines of Gabriel’s cryptic conceptual costumed creations, the melodic impulses of the remaining band members, Mike Rutherford, Tony Banks, Phil Collins and Steve Hackett (he until 1977) were finally able to run unencumbered and free. This of course meant they could fulfill their destiny as the the glorious pop-prog hybrid behemoth gods they were always meant to be.

From the very first release after Gabriel’s departure, 1976’s A Trick of the Tail, the sonic shift was in full effect, its songs possessing both a brevity and succinctness that had only ever been hinted at on previous albums. The lyrics became more relatable, the emotions were no longer obscured by arcane imagery. Most significantly, there was a hearty head nod to pop. Over the years there’s been a bit of a disagreement between the purists who prefer the Gabriel-helmed version of the band and the pop fans who love PHIL, as to which version of the G-Men is better (in broad strokes, it sometimes breaks down as older fans vs. newer fans and, yes, men vs. women). As a member of the latter demographic, I can say that my personal disagreements with other Genesis-loving nerds have consistently, predictably unfolded in this fashion (all in good humor, though, I swear). I think the stretch of studio albums sans Gabriel, released from 1976-1983, represent Genesis at their absolute creative peak. And I just want to offer up one last factoid: Duke, one of the poppiest, most personal, never-met-a-radio-it-didn’t-like albums they ever made, is keyboardist Tony Banks’s absolute favorite Genesis album.

And so with that, meet Steve Reidell.
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