Jul 272020
 

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.

Dolly Parton – the fourth of twelve children, a philanthropist, actor, and musician with 50+ studio albums to date – has been releasing and writing music since she was ten. On October 15th, 1973, she released the single, “Jolene,” from her upcoming album of the same name. It became her second number-one single as a solo artist on the country charts, and upon its UK release in 1976, it was a top-ten hit in the UK Singles Charts. Continue reading »

Jul 212020
 

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.

Cruel Summer covers

Since Bananarama first released “Cruel Summer” in June 1983, the sunny season has become substantially crueller, certainly if the raft of recent covers of the song are considered. The post-punk British girl group originated a song to stand alongside such classics as “Sealed with a Kiss” and “The Boys of Summer” when they sang of loneliness, separation, and heartache in relation to the vacation period, but they did so in a way that incorporated a strong element of, well, fun. Good, bouncy, innocent fun. Current artists seem unable to approach it in quite the same manner.

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Jun 202020
 

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.

It’s the longest day of the year, so we have time to explore one of the longest songs we’ve ever celebrated in the long history of this website. Pink Floyd’s “Echoes” clocks in at 23:31. It occupies all of side two of their 1971 album Meddle, and it occupies the minds of the many Floyd fans who consider it the band’s peak achievement.

Thanks to several decades of live recordings, a kind of connoisseurship has developed around the song in its different iterations. Devotees weigh the pros and cons of the early-to-mid-70s concert recordings that feature “Echoes,” and compare/contrast those with the shows from the band’s post-Roger Waters period, and how they all stack up against the original studio version.
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Jun 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.

son house and friends

The biography of delta blues musician Son House reads like an old blues song, composed of familiar fabrics borrowed from others, a patchwork quilt of “bluesman” tropes. See if you’ve seen these patterns before:

  • He made his first recordings in 1930, quickly and under shabby conditions. They didn’t sell.
  • He became a street preacher, and rejected the blues as “the devil’s music.”
  • He served time in Mississippi’s Parchment Farm penitentiary (on charges related to a shootout in a juke joint).
  • He migrated north along the Mississippi to escape farm labor and to find an industrial job (working in an East St. Louis steel plant for a time).
  • Field recordings of his songs were captured by Alan Lomax in 1941 and ‘42, becoming part of the Library of Congress folk song collection. (Congress stopped funding folk song collection in 1942, not that this stopped Lomax.) Thereafter House became a railroad porter and quit music.
  • He was rediscovered by young white audiences in the early ’60s and lured back into a music career.
  • He played the Newport Folk Festival in ‘64, gigged around Europe and North America, and wrote new songs and issued new recordings until ill health sidelined him once again.

Although those early Son House recordings didn’t sell, they influenced younger players like Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters, as did Son House himself, on a personal level. Howlin’ Wolf was yet another House protege of importance.

The Son House song we turn to today, “Death Letter,” doesn’t stem from his early days, but from his rediscovery period, specifically the 1965 sessions for Columbia. As often is true with folk music, the song’s actual history is a little murky. A couple of its verses appear on the 1930 song “My Black Mama, Part II.” The Lomax recordings from the ’40s also include snatches of the lyrics, but not the song itself. Then there’s the fact that Son House never established the definitive version; he performed the song extensively after his rediscovery, but rarely played the same set of verses.

Any artist who covers the song in his wake is left to draw from their favorite verses–or repeat the ones they know from the recording they happen to know. And of course they are free to bend the music itself to suit their mood. The three artists presented here don’t just change things up, they each make something distinctive from the commonplace blues progression that forms the song’s backbone.
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May 202020
 

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.

At Last I Am Free

What’s the first thing that comes to mind when someone mentions Chic? The pretty much guaranteed #1 answer is of course “Le Freak,” the 1978 stone cold classic anthem that has come to epitomize disco in its every manifestation; from the overall sound, to the sartorial style, to the era it happened in as a whole. There’s a good chance that the track following that on your mental turntable would be Chic’s other absolutely killer floor filler, the gorgeously soul stirring “I Want Your Love.” As it happens, both songs featured on Chic’s sophomore album C’est Chic, a ridiculously prescient piece of art that quickly established bandleaders Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards as indisputable musical masterminds as well as genius seers of production.

But underneath the pounding glamour and virtuosic Edwards bass-playing, Chic had a secret talent. While they could expertly turn out seminal late-night party anthems like nobody’s business, they were also capable of crafting the most incredible, evocative, lonely, 2 AM in the city ballads. Case in point: “At Last I Am Free,” from the aforementioned C’est Chic.
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May 112020
 

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.

It is a rare Beatles song that just doesn’t get much love. Or that almost anyone can cover and claim to have improved on the original. But these things are true of George Harrison’s “Blue Jay Way,” from Magical Mystery Tour. The song has its defenders, but it gets a shrug from most listeners. Luckily, though, for each underdog song like this, there are plenty of cover versions that pull out of the original song way more possibilities than its naysayers could ever imagine. We have three “Blue Jay Way” covers here to demonstrate how this works.
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