If you’re a county band named after aliens, you almost have to cover Billy Lee Riley’s “Flying Saucers Rock ‘n’ Roll,” the high point of the extremely niche alien-country genre. And on their new album Back in the Saddle of a Fever Dream, Vermont’s Western Terrestrials do just that. It’s a high-energy version that retains the spirit of the original but injects a side of punk energy, like a cover Jason and the Scorchers might have done.
Even all these years later, “Like a Virgin” remains one of Madonna’s most iconic songs. The lead-off single from the album of the same name, her second, it was her biggest hit to date and sold more copies than any of her songs until “Like a Prayer.” Everyone is familiar with the instantly recognizable synthesized bass line and the chorus that producer Nile Rodgers didn’t think was catchy enough.
Scary Pockets are a funk band who perform covers on YouTube with guest vocalists. For this version they enlisted Kenton Chen, of the a cappella TV competition The Sing Off and Postmodern Jukebox fame.
The band dispenses entirely with the famous bassline, replacing it with a funky bassline that skips a beat. Chen mostly sticks to the original melody in the verses. But the chorus is even less conventional, with both the band and Chen deviating from the original song.
About two minutes in there’s a breakdown and the song turns into an extended funk jam, with the van vamping on the groove and Chen improvising through the song’s famous hook as the song slowly fades out.
This version of “Virgin” is remarkably different. It may take a bit to get into, because of how distinct it is, but the song shortly reveals itself as a pretty great cover.
I do enjoy when covers elevate a song out of it’s original environment and strengthens the power of the song itself. Indeed, this is what the Dresden Dolls (made up of Amanda Palmer and Brian Viglione) have achieved with their cover of “I’m Going to Go Back There Someday,” originally from The Muppet Movie.
Currently residing in New Zealand, Palmer said in a tweet “this song’s about being homesick for something you don’t understand.” The cover doesn’t change much from the original – the slow ballad structure and sense of yearning is retained, but Palmer’s piano sounds more poignant and powerful considering the context in which it is now being sung. This is what good covers should do – take songs from one context, and make them perfectly describe another.
Separated by distance and by quarantine, the Dresden Dolls were meant to be collaborating for an album this year, but managed to record this cover and put it on Bandcamp to raise money for the Boston Resiliency Fund.
Miley Cyrus covered Billie Eilish’s “My Future” kicking off BBC Radio 1’s Live Lounge Month starting this September. The Live Lounge is closed because of the pandemic. So Cyrus created a set full of tiny glowing candles and a backing band. The band all following social distancing precautions and covering their faces with masks. The overall spacious warm stage area and red-carpet recall images of old-time starlets in jazz lounges.
Cyrus’s captivating performance includes her belting out the lyrics from the start, while Eilish sounds like she is holding back something in the first verse. There is a grittiness to the way Cyrus sings. This turns the song from a slow cool, crisp, beautiful ballad, into something reminiscent of a lively pop-tune. The overall feeling is a faster and brighter song.
The original, as well as the cover, begin with only a piano accompaniment. Halfway through, drums, guitar, and the rest of the band jump in changing the direction of the song. The piano in the beginning of the cover is already bright sounding. It blends smoothly when the rest of the instrumental voices kick in, after a stark dramatic pause between the sections.
Overall, the performance is a lot of fun and Cyrus clearly got into the show. She finishes with a flourish after the last line “see you in a couple of years,” adding a spoken line “but probably not” and sticking her tongue out, making the last line a whole lot less ambiguous.
Rather than rocking out at the canceled 2020 Reading and Leeds festival this past weekend, IDLES found a different way to perform, doing three live sets from London’s Abbey Road Studios uploaded to spniismusicposts’ YouTube. They played several new songs from their upcoming album Ultra Mono, as well a few covers, including The Strokes’ “Reptilia.”
Lou Reed’s 1972 hit “Walk on the Wild Side” feels a bit like a risqué movie. Though these days the plot would barely raise a plucked eyebrow, in the waning months of the Nixon administration it explored all kinds of cultural taboos. Reed tells the stories of several crossdressing young lads as they turn tricks, take Valium, and give head.
Suzanne Vega released a cover of “Walk on the Wild Side” on her new album An Evening of New York Songs and Stories. The live album features Vega singing songs about the Big Apple. It seems like an ideal topic for Vega, given that she helped put the Upper West Side eatery “Tom’s Diner” on the map years before the Seinfeld gang made it their locale of choice.
Performing in New York’s Café Carlyle in 2019, Vega gives the song the feel of a spoken word performance. She starts out slow, mainly backed by the guitar then adds in bits of piano and other instruments as the tune progresses. About two-thirds of the way through, guitarist Gerry Leonard throws in a bluesy solo. A solid take on a classic, even if the subject manner is not nearly as edgy as it once was.
Click here to listen to more Lou Reed covers.