Oct 092019
 

That’s A Cover? explores cover songs that you may have thought were originals.

waylon willie

It was forty years ago that Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings won a Grammy for Best Country Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal for their “Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to be Cowboys.” The year before, Nelson and Jennings had released the song on their debut collaboration Waylon and Willie. The song topped the country charts for four weeks in the spring of 1978, and its crossover appeal garnered it a #42 spot on the Billboard Hot 100. This was at the height of the outlaw country movement. That insurgent blend of country, rock, and pop redefined the genre and made it more palatable for those outside of Nashville who had a curiosity about honky tonks.

Of course, there is a much longer arc that connects country and rock and roll. That arc extends through Bob Dylan’s Nashville Skyline, Gram Parsons’ influence on The Rolling Stones, and the songcraft of Townes Van Zandt. But near the beginning of that arc was Sun Records in Memphis, Tennessee. It was there that a blend of country and rock music known as “rockabilly” came into being, with Sam Phillips as its enthusiastic producer and promoter. The rockabilly of the 1950s is where the story of “Mammas” starts.
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Aug 232019
 

That’s A Cover? explores cover songs that you may have thought were originals.

Sinatra Strangers

At the peak moment of the 1967 Summer of Love, Jimi Hendrix’s performance at the Monterey Pop Festival electrified the audience and punctuated his triumphant return to the United States. At the conclusion of his show, he wowed audiences with a cover of The Troggs’ “Wild Thing,” drenched in feedback and baptized in fire. During the guitar solo, Hendrix played the melody to “Strangers in the Night.” (Learn more about that magic night here.)

The song was in the popular consciousness. It had been a #1 Billboard hit for Frank Sinatra for seven weeks in the summer of 1966. And it remained on the charts for 20 weeks. It also was remarkable for being Sinatra’s first and only #1 hit in the era of rock music, his first in a decade. On top of which, it knocked down The Beatles’ “Paperback Writer.” The song earned Sinatra two Grammys in 1967, for Best Male Pop Vocal and Record of the Year, as well as winning Best Arrangement Accompanying a Vocalist or Instrumentalists.

However, Sinatra was not the originator. His crooning gave a platform for the English lyrics written by Charles Singleton and Eddie Snyder. But the melody belonged to German composer and orchestra leader Bert Kaempfert.
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Aug 022019
 

That’s A Cover? explores cover songs that you may have thought were originals.

Edwin Starr War Temptations

Most know “War,” the anti-Vietnam protest song, by its distinctive and aggressive opening. After a drum roll, Edwin Starr launches into soulful protest: “War, huh, yeah / What is it good for / Absolutely nothing.” Hearing his hurt and anger, you can understand why the song resonated with the anti-war sentiment of the times. Throughout, Starr mixes singing with screaming, matching the tone of the wailing electric guitar and the occasional sassy saxophone lick. Starr’s powerful voice can stand up to the at times cacophonous instrumental accompaniment. The lyrics are not subtle, and Starr emphasizes each line without apology: “Induction then destruction / Who wants to die?”

The song was a massive success; it was even inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. Its message remains potent, its obvious political statement inspiring near-continual controversy nearly half a century after its release. For example, after the September 11th attacks, Clear Channel Communications put “War” on a list of songs to be avoided for radio. However, it is thanks to the political nature of the lyrics that Edwin Starr got the chance to record the song in the first place. 

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Jul 092019
 

That’s A Cover? explores cover songs that you may have thought were originals.

Ice Cream Man

Summer is upon us. The sweltering heat of July has arrived, and we yearn for a reprieve. And many neighborhoods still get visits from an ice cream truck to deliver treats for the kids, and the kids at heart. Thus, it is no surprise that Van Halen’s “Ice Cream Man” makes regular and routine airplay on classic rock stations at this time of the year.

Nearly all rock music fans—and most casual listeners—know that Van Halen’s debut album features the cover of The Kinks’ “You Really Got Me” after the explosive statement that is Eddie’s “Eruption.” However, that is not the only cover. “Ice Cream Man” is the other cover song on the album, one that reinterprets the blues for a post-punk and Sunset Strip style of heavy metal.
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Mar 012019
 

That’s A Cover? explores cover songs that you may have thought were originals.

The term “groupie” was just starting to get a toehold in the American vernacular in the late ’60s. Groupies were written about in lengthy articles in Rolling Stone and Time magazines. They were the subject of a 1969 book (Groupie) and a 1970 documentary (Groupies). They were, in the words of Hall of Fame groupie Pamela Des Barres, the Mary Magdalenes to any and all Jesuses in the rock bands that came through town. And Rita Coolidge thought they would make an ideal subject for a song.

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Oct 192018
 

That’s A Cover? explores cover songs that you may have thought were originals.

Stop Your Sobbing

Funny things, songs. Some don’t even get heard, never leaving their creators’ rooms (or their heads); others seem to spread like a special kind of virus, played at parties and bedrooms and bus stops and supermarkets everywhere until they’re inescapable, a global pandemic without cure. (Yes, “Despacito,” I’m talkin’ to you.)

Regardless of their popularity or lack thereof, all songs are an attempt to crystallize a feeling and then share it with the world. And every once in a while, having completed a sort of emotional circuit, a song returns to its owner, carrying back far more than it left with.

Here’s the story of one which did just that.
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