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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Oct 232019
 

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.

Roadhouse Blues covers

For a song that began its life as a B-side and never charted higher than halfway up Billboard’s Hot 100 chart, the Doors’ “Roadhouse Blues” has made a significant impact on popular culture since its debut in 1970. It’s been covered more than 35 times, by artists ranging from Bon Jovi to Lana Del Rey to Frankie Goes to Hollywood. Speaking of Hollywood, the song was featured prominently in the Winona Ryder movie Girl, Interrupted and the Patrick Swayze movie Road House, and it even inspired the title for Season 2, Episode 1 of the Netflix series The Punisher.

Contrast that with the A-side, “You Make Me Real,” which isn’t even listed on secondhandsongs.com. While similar in feel, but with more of a honky-tonk sound and brighter vibe, the A-side has garnered no movie, way fewer covers, and no series episode titles. That’s because “Roadhouse Blues” is quintessential Doors: more congruent with Jim Morrison’s dark and brooding persona, hinting at danger with a pretty stern admonition to “keep your eyes on the road, your hands upon the wheel” right out of the gate, and the implicit promise that what lies beyond the danger will be well worth the risk.

With that sort of appeal, it’s no wonder that “Roadhouse Blues” eclipsed its flipside and became the more popular choice to cover. Many covers are faithful to the original, often bordering on straight-up re-creations. Other artists manage to find the means to adapt the song to their own styles. Of these versions…
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Oct 162019
 

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.

Electric Light Orchestra

The 1977 hit “Mr. Blue Sky” was ELO’s fourth movement in the “Concerto for a Rainy Day” on its 1978 double album Out of the Blue. It enjoyed a #6 position in the UK, a #8 position in the Dutch charts, and peaked at #35 on the Billboard Hot 100.

The song is the most upbeat of the “Concerto.” That’s a fitting and welcome change in a suite that is about the gloom of a soggy day. It’s often been seen as a “Beatlesesque” pop song, with flashes of musical hall revelry. That is an apt description, given that Jeff Lynne was determined at the outset of ELO to bridge pop songs a lá The Beatles with more high-cultured orchestral arrangements.

If we are to look at the numerous covers that Second Hand Songs has compiled, most artists tap into the upbeat nature of the tune. Even Weezer couldn’t resist, featuring the song on their Teal album. Some covers border on bubblegum. Other have it stuck to the bottom of their shoe.

But today I write this review of covers while the sky is overcast, and the humidity is thick. And now that it is autumn, I wondered if there were any covers that cut against the grain and featured a more somber or dark take on “Mr. Blue Sky.” And indeed there are. So, here is my list of the Good, the Better, and the Best.

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Oct 072019
 

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.

500 miles proclaimers covers

If all you know about Craig and Charlie Reid, collectively known as the Proclaimers, is that they’re Scottish twin brothers who sang that “dada-da-da” song from Benny and Joon, you’re missing out on a substantial, fairly diverse, discography. They regularly play to large crowds in Europe, their music has been featured on at least five other movie soundtracks, and their songs have inspired a jukebox musical that was itself made into a film. While full-on commercial success has been a tad elusive here in the US, their best-known tune here, “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles),” has garnered quite a bit of of love, manifested in over forty cover versions known to man (or at least to SecondHandSongs).

I’m all for artists taking a cover and making it their own, but in selecting covers for this article, I chose versions that were true to the energy and exuberance of the original. Versions that recast this song as a ballad or a torch song just didn’t do it for me. Of the versions I selected…
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Oct 012019
 

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.

covers of funkytown

Lipps Inc. may be considered a one-hit wonder, but this big hit is pretty epic. It was even enough to get the band inducted into the (Minnesota) Music Hall of Fame. I just rewatched the original music video, and it is a lot to take in (a deep dive into the weird history of the video can be found here for the curious). The two dancers’ outfits would make great (albeit obscure) Halloween costumes, though.

The band’s musicians rotated frequently, but Cynthia Johnson’s vocals provided consistency. In 1976, before joining the band, she was crowned Miss Black Minnesota USA. After Lipps Inc. dismantled, she went on to a solo career, including being part of the award-winning gospel group Sounds of Blackness. She is also an accomplished saxophonist and host of a 2013 documentary of American cities called, what else, “Funkytown.” Johnson herself is clearly not a one-hit wonder.

Now let’s see how others reinterpret this dance party classic.

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