Feb 272018

elise legrow playing chessChess Records, considered by many ears to be the redheaded step-child to the Motown and Stax labels and immortalized in the movie Cadillac Records, was the preeminent blues record label of the 1950s and ’60s. At the forefront of the birth of Rock and Roll with the release of “Rocket 88” by Ike Turner and His Delta Cats, the label was the musical den of inequity for Muddy Waters, Little Walter, Chuck Berry, Etta James and many others. And now, at last, with definitely a particular place to go, Elise LeGrow has released a tribute to the denizens of 2120 South Michigan Avenue: Playing Chess.

Having now spent several listening sessions with this gem, it looks like, to borrow some Olympics imagery, a spot on the “Covers Albums of the Year” medal stand should be reserved for this one. Bronze at least. Certainly not taking the easy approach, LeGrow has meticulously researched and curated every song that she presents. Take the relatively obscure Sugar Pie DeSanto tune “Going Back Where I Belong”; the even more esoteric “Searching for My Love,” a hot 100 hit for Bobby Moore and the Rhythm Aces’ or album-closer “Sincerely,” the last single for The Moonglows. Every song will have you cranking up the way-back machine to search out the original versions. Continue reading »

Feb 252018
Ed Cobb

Every so often, a figure from behind the scenes of popular music garners such renown that he or she becomes a household name: “Colonel” Tom Parker, Quincy Jones, and Carole King (as a hitmaking songwriter before she stepped into the limelight) to name a few.

And then there are all the countless others, the ones who passed through this realm largely unheralded by the record-buying public. One of these was songwriter and producer Ed Cobb, who would have turned 80 today. You may not know his name, but he left his mark on some very disparate—and uniquely compelling—byways of pop music.

Cobb’s musical career began as a member of the Four Preps, a white doo-wop group that scored two Top Five hits in 1958. The Preps’ sound was safe and family-friendly; hardly the stuff of legend. But early on, Cobb gravitated towards songwriting and production, penning soul and R&B numbers rather than the Preps’ squeaky-clean material. One of these was a little number Cobb wrote for Gloria Jones called “Tainted Love.” It didn’t make much of an impact in its first two iterations, but on its third try became a record-breaking smash, hitting #1 in 17 countries. (Of course, close readers of Cover Me will already know this story.)

But there’s more to that song’s journey. When we recently spoke with Fugazi frontman and Dischord Records co-founder Ian MacKaye about Ed Cobb – his other band Minor Threat covered Ed Cobb’s “Sometimes Good Guys Don’t Wear White” – he alerted us to a yet another cover of the song: Continue reading »

Feb 232018

Cover Classics takes a look at great covers albums of the past, their genesis and their legacies.

i'm your fan leonard cohen

Is I’m Your Fan the most influential tribute album ever? That’s not something you can really measure, so let me just say this: Without it, you probably wouldn’t know “Hallelujah.”

So we’ll start there, at the last track, the secret chord. “Hallelujah” became the most clichéd of Cohen covers, but when John Cale picked it for this 1991 tribute album, it was the disc’s most obscure selection. The song had only come out in America the previous year, after Cohen’s label Columbia refused to release 1985 album Various Positions stateside. Explaining his decision, Columbia president Walter Yetnikoff issued the famous quote: “Leonard, we know you’re great, but we don’t know if you’re any good.” Continue reading »

Feb 162018

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.

jade bird covers

On the 25-track David Bowie tribute album Howard Stern’s show released this week, many of the names were familiar: Billy Corgan, Dawes, Peter Frampton, etc. One that didn’t ring a bell was Jade Bird. But her version of Bowie’s Hunky Dory deep cut “Quicksand” was a surprising highlight. I wondered how I was so late to discover her.

Turns out, I wasn’t. Despite running in such heady company, Jade Bird (her real name) has only released one EP so far. But things are moving fast for her, and by the time she releases her debut record, she might not be so under the radar any longer.

She was just nominated for the BBC Sound of 2018 which, if you’re not in the UK, might not mean much. But it’s as good a measure as any of who might blow up in the next year. Winners in the past decade include the then-little-known Sam Smith, HAIM, and, oh, Adele. Hell, the losers include The Weeknd, King Krule, and Savages (and that was just in one year!). Continue reading »

Feb 092018

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

tainted love covers

Imagine, if you will, a world without synthpop.

The year is 1982. The airwaves are dominated by slick, highly produced pop-rock: Olivia Newton-John’s “Let’s Get Physical”; Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger”’ Joan Jett’s “I Love Rock ’n Roll.”

Into this guitar-heavy slurry comes an arresting—and catchy!—song about abuse and paranoia: “Tainted Love.” The artist is Soft Cell, an English duo consisting of singer Marc Almond and multi-instrumentalist David Ball. The spare, electronic production resembles nothing else then on the airwaves, and after a brief spell in the lower rungs of the US Billboard Hot 100, it climbs to number 8, in total spending a record-breaking 43 weeks on the chart.

What most of the perplexed American radio audience didn’t then know was that the song was a cover, having first been recorded in 1964 by a then-little-known American artist, Gloria Jones, who would go on to re-record it in 1976, in effect covering herself. And while neither of her versions would make any impact on the charts, the story of this agonized song would enfold a long, strange string of figures from the bowels of rock history. Continue reading »

Jan 232018

review dr demento covered in punkLet’s be blunt: No one needs novelty songs.

Loosely defined as “a satirical or comedic parody of popular music,” most people instinctively leave the room – or the house – at the first whiff.

Or do they? What, then, explains the enduring popularity of Dr. Demento, querulous-voiced prankster and legitimate, if puzzling, cultural icon? A rock ’n roll writer, label A&R man, and sometime roadie, he began broadcasting a rock and oldies show at Pasadena station KPPC in 1970. He quickly found that the novelty songs he slipped in – notably Nervous Norvus’ “Transfusion,” a truly demented tale about reckless driving, and a precursor to the Cramps’ psychobilly – were what his listeners really wanted to hear.

Now 76, Dr. Demento – a.k.a. Barret Eugene Hansen – ceased terrestrial radio broadcast in 2010, though his program persists online. And now we’re treated to Dr. Demento Covered in Punk, by some counts his 15th official album release. If you’re already hooked on the good doctor’s offbeat charms, you’re likely not in need of encouragement to purchase this collection of supposedly “punk” covers (more on that later) interspersed with the Doctor’s commentary. But can we rightfully recommend this 2+ hour compilation to the rest of the record-buying public? The answer, surprisingly, is: “Yes!” Sort of.

Continue reading »