Feb 222019
 

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

When David Bowie moved to Berlin, he took an apartment over an auto parts store. Iggy Pop shared a room with him. There were no chairs – they had decided chairs were unnatural. One night they were sitting on the floor waiting for Starsky and Hutch to start on the Armed Forces Network. The show started with a call signal – beep beep beep, beep beep beep beep, beep beep beep. Bowie picked up a ukulele (“it might have been his son’s,” Pop later remembered) and wrote out the chord progression. “Call it ‘Lust for Life,'” he told Pop. “Write something up.”

Describing their songwriting process, Bowie said, “I often gave him a few anchor images that I wanted him to play off, and he would take them away and start free-associating.” Pop later realized that Bowie’s title came from the Kirk Douglas film about Vincent van Gogh. “In the two albums we made,”said Pop, referring to Lust for Life and The Idiot, “I think Bowie wanted to make the comment that I was an idiot à la Dostoyevsky and insane à la van Gogh. Like, ‘Here I am producing albums for this insane idiot — let’s see what happens!'”

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Feb 152019
 

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

Gordon Lightfoot

Gordon Lightfoot wasn’t happy. He’d learned that Warner Brothers intended to change the name of his album Sit Down Young Stranger, and he flew from Toronto to Los Angeles to ask them why. Stan Cornyn, head of merchandising, responded with his own question: “Gord, did you take algebra?”

“I took it, but I sure as hell never passed it,” Lightfoot confessed.

“Well, Gord, changing the name of the album is the difference between x and 8x.”

“Go ahead and change it,” said Lightfoot. Smart move on both their parts – as If You Could Read My Mind, the album went from 80,000 in sales to 650,000. Credit the now-title track, which peaked at #5 on the Billboard charts forty-eight years ago this month.
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Jan 112019
 

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

star trek

Beyond / The rim of the star-light / My love / Is wand’ring in star-flight / I know / He’ll find in star-clustered reaches / Love, / Strange love a star woman teaches. / I know / His journey ends never / His star trek / Will go on forever. / But tell him / While he wanders his starry sea / Remember, remember me.

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Nov 092018
 

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

The Smiths

If you Google “perfect Smiths song,” you’ll find a lot of different titles – “The Boy with the Thorn in his Side,” “How Soon Is Now,” “I Won’t Share You,” “Half a Person,” and “There Is a Light That Never Goes Out,” just to name the results on the first page. But some opinions are bigger than others, and in lead singer Morrissey’s opinion, the perfect Smiths song – or at least, in his words, “very close indeed” – was “Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want.” Allmusic.com calls it “a minimal yet lush two minutes of almost otherworldly beauty… Almost impenetrably sad, [it’s] a masterpiece both musically and emotionally.”

Starting life as a Johnny Marr instrumental called “The Irish Waltz,” the song became something more once Morrissey sang his lyrics of longing in a voice far gentler and quieter than his usual melodramatic croon. “Please Please Please” turned into a hymn to the art of pining and yearning, the anthem of the unrequited lover, cf. Duckie in Pretty in Pink. And it did so in a minute and fifty seconds, making it the shortest Smiths song ever. Why so short? Morrissey explained:

When we first played it to Rough Trade, they kept asking, “where’s the rest of the song?” But to me, it’s like a very brief punch in the face. Lengthening the song would, to my mind, have simply been explaining the blindingly obvious.

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Oct 122018
 

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

alanis morissette

“You Oughta Know” represented a handful of firsts for Alanis Morissette. It was the first single off her 1995 Jagged Little Pill album and the first release based on her collaboration with Glen Ballard, who shares writing credit and produced the song. While it’s also technically her first public break from the pop-leaning sound she’d previously engaged, that Alanis – like Robin Scherbatsky’s “Robin Sparkles” days, for How I Met Your Mother fans – was really known only to her native Canada.

For most American listeners, “You Oughta Know” was the first time they’d heard Alanis Morissette, period – and a demure introduction it was not. The song also marked, for more than a few JNCO-clad girls in their teens and twenties, the first time that 1990s alternative rock seemed not just open to frustrated female energy but perfectly suited to it. Its combination of smartly conceived jabs and soaring emotion ensured the song would stay lodged in musical memory for a long time to come – and that many other artists would want to give it a try.
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Sep 212018
 

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

Leonard Cohen

Well Marianne it’s come to this time when we are really so old and our bodies are falling apart and I think I will follow you very soon. Know that I am so close behind you that if you stretch out your hand, I think you can reach mine.

And you know that I’ve always loved you for your beauty and your wisdom, but I don’t need to say anything more about that because you know all about that. But now, I just want to wish you a very good journey. Goodbye old friend. Endless love, see you down the road.

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