Jul 162019
 

In Defense takes a second look at a much maligned cover artist or album and asks, “Was it really as bad as all that?”

Pat Boone

Reasons abound for maligning Pat Boone’s career in popular music. The catalyst for his career was a string of covers of R&B tunes by black artists for whom the legacy of segregation never afforded the same amount of wealth. White artists made substantially more than their counterpart artists of color. Major record labels had larger distribution chains, promotional budgets, and stronger connections to radio and television networks to advantage their artists. By contrast, black musicians on “race records” benefited from none of these privileges. While artists like Little Richard, Big Joe Turner, and Fats Domino have enjoyed staying power and wide acclaim for being architects of rock music, in the early decades of that genre, white covers were commercially more successful. Added to this was the exploitative nature of covers on larger labels that made more money than the originals while paying out no royalties to the black originators. Boone was unapologetic that his career benefited from this exploitation.

It is also noteworthy that Boone’s performance and lyricism of some of rock’s first generation of are a case study in the sanitized tastes of the burgeoning white middle class in the 1950s. His smooth vocal delivery was reminiscent of crooners rather than the raspy, full-throated yowl of Little Richard. And the lyrical changes on “Tutti Frutti” were a nod to teenage infatuation stripped of any of the sexuality in Little Richard’s original.

Despite Boone representing the residuals of white privilege while Jim Crow reigned supreme, there is a note of appreciation to be made for Boone and contemporaries Elvis Presley and Bill Haley in helping to extend the reach of rock music to new audiences at a critical juncture in that genre’s history.
Continue reading »

Jun 182019
 

In Defense takes a second look at a much maligned cover artist or album and asks, “Was it really as bad as all that?”

across the universe soundtrack

Moviemakers can’t get enough of the Beatles. At the end of the month, Yesterday debuts, with a tantalizing premise: What if no one but you remembers the Beatles? You can claim their songs as your own and piggyback your way towards stardom. 

Over a decade ago, Julie Taymor, perhaps best known as the director who brought The Lion King to Broadway, took a swing at another Beatles-related movie, bringing us Across the Universe. This movie takes place in the ’60s and follows characters with original names like JoJo, Jude, Lucy, Max, Prudence, and Sadie through the Vietnam War and plenty of drug trips.

Despite the fact that Sir Paul McCartney himself said he enjoyed the film, a fun fact revealed by Taymor to Oprah during an interview, critics have middling feelings. Peter Travers of Rolling Stone gave it 2.5/4 stars. Stephen Holden of the New York Times admits:

Somewhere around its midpoint, ‘Across the Universe’ captured my heart, and I realized that falling in love with a movie is like falling in love with another person. Imperfections, however glaring, become endearing quirks once you’ve tumbled.

Rotten Tomatoes’ Critics Consensus summarizes the overall sentiment best:

Psychedelic musical numbers can’t mask Across the Universe’s clichéd love story and thinly written characters.

All that being said, these are critiques of the movie, not the music, and I’m here to defend the soundtrack as an enjoyable cover album. Throughout, I’ll set the scene in context of the movie because the motivation behind the evoked emotion is crucial to the success of these covers. These covers all have very different tones than the original. They don’t try to be the Beatles. The performers just try to express their feelings and tell their own stories through the words and tunes of the legends.

Continue reading »

Oct 062017
 

In Defense takes a second look at a much maligned cover artist or album and asks, “Was it really as bad as all that?”

punk goes pop covers

It’s clear that many people despise the erroneously titled Punk Goes cover compilation series. Much has been said and written about how awful they are. Yet, just like the emo and pop-punk genres generally, they are wildly popular with teenagers despite not getting any critical respect. Since the series began in 2000, there have been 17 volumes and over two hundred songs released in the series. In the U.S. the cover series has sold one million albums, nine million tracks, and it streams in the hundreds of millions. But most people out of high school seem to hate them.

Well, I’m here to defend some of these as great cover songs. I’m an insider, you could say – I was the Fearless Records salesperson behind nearly all of these albums. During my 13 years at the California independent label, I was the head of sales and also served as general manager. I didn’t contribute to the Punk Goes compilations as a curator or A&R. My role was to make sure the albums and tracks had the best positioning at major retailers like Target, Best Buy, iTunes, Amazon, etc. Continue reading »

Jul 312015
 

In Defense takes a second look at a much maligned cover artist or album and asks, “Was it really as bad as all that?”

babyheadphones

When it comes to parenting, there are really only two rules you need to follow:

1) Mammas, don’t let your babies grow up to be cowboys.

2) Mammas, don’t let your babies grow up to listen to bad music.

I’m sure there’s something else in there about head injuries and not touching the stove, but I don’t have kids so that’s not really my area of expertise.
Continue reading »

Jul 302015
 

In Defense takes a second look at a much maligned cover artist or album and asks, “Was it really as bad as all that?”

JJ-001-Web

It is easy to understand how someone could find a pre-school appropriate cover of “Big Pimpin” musically lacking. By stripping all lyrical content from hip-hop and infusing a heavy dose of xylophone, artistic value becomes shaky. While this style of cover might fit well in a high school talent show, superficially they offer little more than a tight chuckle and warrant slightly more than a participatory prize.

So, why are these covers being defended?
Continue reading »

Dec 022014
 

In Defense takes a second look at a much-maligned cover artist or album and asks, “Was it really as bad as all that?”

Defense? I never knew Linda Ronstadt was under attack. OK, not true, I’ve known she tends to get many a sneery put-down from “real” musos, dissing both her voice and her choices of material, citing that “real” artists have way more credibility (and way fewer sales.) Beautiful but soulless, they call her and her voice, short on originality and innovation. A famous early putdown was around her being merely a competent backing singer, the irony being that ability potentially defines far greater technique than the relative ease of a solo performance, as those who have sung with her (Neil Young, Emmylou Harris, and legions more) have been more than happy to testify. I guess it stems down to generalizations around any successful artist, particularly if blessed also with photogenicity and famous boyfriends.
Continue reading »