Jul 102019
 

In the Spotlight showcases a cross-section of an artist’s cover work. View past installments, then post suggestions for future picks in the comments!

Earlier this year, a young rapper named Lil Nas X found himself in an odd position. With rhymes about horses, tractors, cowboys, and Wrangler jeans, his song “Old Town Road” was blazing up the country charts. Then, suddenly, it was dropped from the list. Officials at Billboard claimed it was because the tune was not country enough. Some cried foul, some cried racism. Billy Ray Cyrus called it something else.

The country singer, who shook up Nashville himself with his 1992 hit “Achy Breaky Heart,” labelled Lil Nas X a true country outlaw. Cyrus took to Twitter, saying: “When I got thrown off the charts, Waylon Jennings said to me ‘Take this as a compliment’ means you’re doing something great! Only Outlaws are outlawed. Welcome to the club.”

With Lil Nax X’s blessing, Cyrus went into the studio to record some of the lyrics and an additional verse. Just like that, “Old Town Road (Remix)” was born. This time, they did not need the country charts. The song shot up to the top spot on Billboard’s Hot 100, where it has stayed for 13 weeks as of July 1. At age 57, Cyrus earned the first number one pop single of his career. But more importantly, the man known to many as Miley Cyrus’ dad has suddenly been blessed with cultural street cred. On June 23, the two performed the song at the BET Awards with the whole crowd singing and dancing along. It’s a type of cachet that has been eluding Cyrus since the “Achy Breaky” backlash of the early ‘90s.

I can’t help but feel somewhat vindicated by all this. You see, I have been a Billy Ray defender for decades. Yes, I know “Achy Breaky Heart” is corny and was overplayed to nth degree. But once you get beyond his many attempts to replicate his “Achy Breaky” success with equally cheesy sequels, he has many great songs that have held up well in the ensuing decades. Plus, Cyrus can really sing. His voice enables him to take on many subgenres of country, rock, pop, and now rap with equal ease.

As with any country singer, Cyrus has recorded a number of cover songs over the years, including two feminist anthems. Here’s a quick primer for those who dare to embrace Cyrus’ well-worn mullet.

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Jun 212019
 

In the Spotlight showcases a cross-section of an artist’s cover work. View past installments, then post suggestions for future picks in the comments!

kt tunstalls best cover songs

Tunstall’s debut album, Eye to the Telescope, contains crowd favorites such as “Suddenly I See,”  which graces the iconic opening scene of the film The Devil Wears Prada. However, Tunstall’s breakout hit came in 2004, with “Black Horse and the Cherry Tree.” (Woo hoo!) This song is emblematic of Tunstall’s overall style of guitar playing and vocal tone and features the popular Bo Diddley beat. Continue reading »

Apr 262019
 

In the Spotlight showcases a cross-section of an artist’s cover work. View past installments, then post suggestions for future picks in the comments!

Mandy Patinkin

You know Mandy Patinkin best for playing the part of Inigo Montoya in The Princess Bride, or you may know him best as a regular on Showtime’s Homeland. If you fall in either of those camps, you may not know that Patinkin is a living legend in the musical theater world. He created the role of Georges Seurat in Sunday in the Park with George, and he won a Best Actor Tony for his performance as Che in Evita. He’s performed on Broadway over the course of five decades. And, as you can imagine, he knows his way around a cover song.

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Apr 122019
 

In the Spotlight showcases a cross-section of an artist’s cover work. View past installments, then post suggestions for future picks in the comments!

Scott Walker

When Scott Walker passed away last month, the pieces written in tribute to his work mentioned the splash he made with the Walker Brothers, the Jacques Brel influence in his first few solo records, and his move into avant-garde music. One era of his was rarely mentioned – the early ’70s, which Walker described as his “wilderness years.” Adrift with little to say, dealing with drug and alcohol issues, pressured by his label to put out product, Walker lapsed into a series of albums that focused on covers of pop songs. The albums sold poorly, the critics were unkind, and Walker was content for them to stay out of print when the CD era arrived.

Here’s the thing – when you have a voice and a talent like Walker’s, you can’t help but lift the songs you sing to a better place. Many’s the person who said they would listen to Scott Walker singing the phone book, and songs from the likes of Burt Bacharach, Gordon Lightfoot, and Bill Withers are already several steps past 202-727-9099.
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Mar 262019
 

In the Spotlight showcases a cross-section of an artist’s cover work. View past installments, then post suggestions for future picks in the comments!

the zombies cover songs

Few Americans born after the decade might know it, but the British Invasion of the mid-1960s was a watershed. If it was sparked by a single musical appearance—the Beatles’ epochal performance on The Ed Sullivan Show on the evening of February 9, 1964—it was much more than a mere moment of mass hysteria. Long before there was an internet to shrink the globe down to seeming pocket size, and years before the term “underground” would become a marketing angle, the British Invasion was an atomic thunderclap, linking the youth cultures of the US and the UK and stoking what would become a global furnace of musical and cultural ferment.

The Beatles may have initiated the British Invasion, but they were far from the only game in town. The Zombies may have been one of the least-known bands of the British Invasion, but in their afterlife they would grow to become one of the best-loved.

This year, at long last, the Zombies will be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Though their latter-day fame largely rests upon their final LP, Odessey and Oracle, long before its release they learned their trade the old-fashioned way: By covering other artists’ songs.
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Mar 252019
 

In the Spotlight showcases a cross-section of an artist’s cover work. View past installments, then post suggestions for future picks in the comments!

def leppard covers

It seems like just yesterday. I was listening to the radio, when a song by a previously unheard-of band from Britain – who apparently didn’t know how to spell their own name – came on and my eleven-year-old mind was blown! And while this may sound like a scenario during the height of Beatlemania, this was 1983. This was Def Leppard!

Before I continue, I am not stating that Def Leppard is the Beatles of my generation. However, their album Pyromania was my first purchase, which changed the way I listened to music forever. I am ecstatic that they will be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this year.  I spent some time during my winter break re-listening to all of Def Leppard’s covers. And even though it was difficult, I was able pick my personal Top Five.
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