Mar 172020
 

Some covers are more equal than others. Good, Better, Best looks at three covers and decides who takes home the gold, the silver, and the bronze.

jackson browne

Aloha!

1982’s Fast Times at Ridgemont High is, without a doubt, one of the greatest teen movies ever to exist. Both insanely funny and powerfully poignant, it bestowed the world of pop culture with gifts beyond anyone’s wildest dreams. Jeff Spicoli “learnin’ about Cuba and havin’ some food.” Damone’s 5-Point Plan of guaranteed seduction (Point # 3: “Act like wherever you are, that’s the place to be”). Terrifying taskmaster Mr. Hand. The well-deserved tribute to the intoxicating scent of dittos (ask your parents). It’s a movie that has transcended time in unimaginable ways.

It also drove home that when you are a teenager who can’t express your true feelings, rock ‘n’ roll can help you out. The Fast Times soundtrack is as crucial a part of the movie as the unforgettable characters within it. Case in point: Friday night at the shopping mall is packed with as much excited anticipation as New Year’s Eve in Times Square, thanks to the Go-Go’s’ “We Got the Beat” scoring the scene.

Yet as great as that moment is, no song captures the spirit of the film better than its de facto theme tune, Jackson Browne’s sublime “Somebody’s Baby.” Sweet, anxious, and consumed with infatuation, it was the biggest hit of Browne‘s career, hitting the pop Top 10 in the summer of 1982.
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Mar 032020
 

Some covers are more equal than others. Good, Better, Best looks at three covers and decides who takes home the gold, the silver, and the bronze.

Midnight Rider covers

In today’s musical environment, which more often than not comprises manufactured stars singing over-produced, Autotuned, formulaic pop tunes, it’s easy to forget that for many classic artists, fame came neither quickly nor easily. It’s almost a cliché to think about rock and rollers struggling through the most challenging and meager of circumstances, waiting for that elusive big break. For some artists, adversity is destructive; for Macon, Georgia’s Allman Brothers Band, it was formative. The band’s hardships drove them closer together, cementing their commitments to each other and to success. Their persistence paid off. They were awarded multiple gold and platinum albums, inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and ranked #52 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time.

If you’re looking for a signature song that represents the legacy of these elder statesmen of Southern Rock, “Midnight Rider” is, arguably, the best choice. It was a concert mainstay since it was first recorded in 1970 and, according to Secondhand Songs, has been covered nearly twice as many times as “Whipping Post,” and over three times more often than “Ramblin’ Man.”

While many great versions of “Midnight Rider” are out there, many of them sound overly similar to each other. Dozens of solo acoustic covers and numerous country versions exist; far fewer take the song in a different direction. We’ve selected three of those departures here. Three distinct versions, each one adding its own little bit to the legacy of the Allman Brothers Band. Of these three outstanding versions…
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Feb 142020
 

Some covers are more equal than others. Good, Better, Best looks at three covers and decides who takes home the gold, the silver, and the bronze.

What I Like About You covers

Happy Valentine’s Day!

“When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”

In the 1962 John Ford western The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, newspaperman Maxwell Scott finds out that the actual facts about the storied career of senator Ransom Stoddard (played by Jimmy Stewart) weren’t quite as colorful and exciting as tradition had made them. Realizing that reporting the truth would not be in his best interest (because the better story would sell more papers), he tears up his notes and delivers the line above. There’s a bit of that story in the history of The Romantics; we’ll see it in a moment.

The Romantics hail from Detroit, Michigan, and were influenced both by local musicians such as the MC5, Mitch Ryder, and the Stooges, and by the raucous, hard-driving sound of British punk. In both cases, it was the energy and spontaneity of the music they were listening to that captured their imagination. They steered away from the negativity inherent in some of the lyrics and ethos of the time, choosing instead to keep making music as much fun as possible. Shunning the “new wave” label, they chose instead to describe their music as “English pop with an American energy.”

They played their first gig as a band on Valentine’s Day 1977, and here’s where much of the rock press has decided to “print the legend.” The legend is that the band took its name from the holiday spirit surrounding that first gig. When asked, though, the band will tell you that the real inspiration for the name came from a Creem magazine about another artist they admired: Bryan Ferry. Ferry was describing Roxy Music’s current project, and used the term “romantic” a number of times, which clicked with them, and the name was forged. So there’s the truth, not quite as catchy as the legend.
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Feb 032020
 

Some covers are more equal than others. Good, Better, Best looks at three covers and decides who takes home the gold, the silver, and the bronze.

come on let's go covers

A long, long time ago — well, sixty-one years ago, anyway – the direction and course of music was altered forever when Charles Hardin Holley, Jiles Perry Richardson, and Richard Steven Valenzuela were killed in a plane crash in Clear Lake, Iowa, in the early morning hours of February 3rd. Better known as Buddy Holly, the Big Bopper, and Ritchie Valens, these early rock and rollers were taken before they reached levels of success that most people projected for them. How significant was this loss? Well, there’s a reason February 3, 1959 is called The Day the Music Died. The music, though, lives on. What really died that day was the opportunity for these artists to influence the direction of the music they loved, going forward.

Perhaps the most acute loss that day was that of Ritchie Valens. At the time of his death, Valens was a mere 17 years of age, had been performing for less than a year, and had only a couple of hits. But he was a true pioneer, and is widely considered the first musician of Mexican descent to achieve crossover success in mainstream popular music. Despite his tragically truncated output, his influence in the field of Latino-based rock can be felt through the years, in Hispanic artist like Selena and Los Lobos; even Jimi Hendrix cited him as an influence.

One of Valens’s best-known songs is the oft-covered “Come On Let’s Go.” The question here is, which of these covers comes out on top? There are many from which to choose, some by bigger names (editor’s note: Paley Brothers & Ramones for me!), but the three selected for inclusion here all have something interesting to offer.
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Jan 012020
 

Some covers are more equal than others. Good, Better, Best looks at three covers and decides who takes home the gold, the silver, and the bronze.

U2 War

Happy 2020 to you!

U2’s “New Year’s Day” was the first international hit song for the band that would go on to become worldwide superstars, both musically and in the realm of socio-political activism. Perhaps a response, at least in part, to the turbulence and unrest of the early 1980s, “New Year’s Day” heralded the beginning of a more focused effort on the part of the band to use their platform to call attention to issues much larger than those typically addressed in popular music of the time. Though it was originally conceived as a love song, the lyrics take on a much deeper, starker meaning when you look at them through the lens of Bono’s inspiration: Solidarity, the labor union/social activism movement that was instrumental in ending Communist rule in Poland. It’s a popular song for bands to cover; secondhandsongs.com lists over 40 versions. From the three selected here…
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Nov 272019
 

Some covers are more equal than others. Good, Better, Best looks at three covers and decides who takes home the gold, the silver, and the bronze.

independent women covers

In honor of the new Charlie’s Angels movie, directed by Elizabeth Banks, we throwback to the original movie and the lead tune from its soundtrack. Before Ariana Grande, Miley Cyrus, and Lana Del Rey told us not to call them angels, Destiny’s Child informed us that if you “try to control me, boy, you get dismissed.” Before Ella Balinska, Naomi Scott, and Kristen Stewart, we had “Lucy Liu, with my girl, Drew, Cameron D and Destiny.”

This song, despite heavy references to the movie in the intro and throughout, rose to fame beyond the soundtrack. Destiny’s Child even released the song as a single off of their Survivor album, home to other bangers like the title track and “Bootylicious.” There is even an “Independent Women Pt. II” on the album, if you aren’t pumped up enough from just one. Part I was number one on Billboard‘s Hot 100 for 11 weeks, putting it among only three percent of top hits lasting for a double digits number of weeks at the pinnacle.

Fifth Harmony did a Destiny’s Child tribute medley including this jam (pre-Camila Cabello’s departure), and KT Tunstall’s version of this song is superb, but here are three more covers that tell us how “angels get down like that.”

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