In 1975, months before the Rolling Thunder Revue began, Bob Dylan joined Neil Young for a huge benefit concert in San Francisco. As if that wasn’t enough, three-fifths of The Band joined them too: Levon Helm, Rick Danko, and Garth Hudson. The spontaneous supergroup performed ramshackle versions of a few Neil Young songs (“Lookin’ for a Love,” “Helpless,” “Are You Ready for the Country?”), a few Dylan songs (Bob’s first-ever live “I Want You” and a weirdly retitled “Knockin’ on Dragon’s Door”), and a few covers. The final song they performed was one of those covers, a raggedy but charming version of country standby “Will the Circle Be Unbroken,” popularized in the 1930s by The Carter Family. Here’s a stream:
‘The Best Ever’ series counts down our favorite covers of great artists.
The first big film to to emerge in the post-Bohemian Rhapsody biopic boom is Rocketman. Compared to the Queen movie, critics like Rocketman better (somewhat), fact-checkers call it more accurate (somewhat), and LGBT advocates praise it for more honestly addressing the star’s sexuality (somewhat). Also – and hopefully this is unrelated – it has fared worse at the box office. Again, somewhat worse; it’s done fine, but does not seem to be the smash Bohemian Rhapsody was.
Unlike Queen, though, Elton John didn’t really need a mega-blockbuster to return to the public eye. He never left (after all, it’s hard to look away from clothes that sparkly). The farewell tour he launched last year will take him through 2020, and 2018 also saw two tribute albums featuring megawatt performers: from Lady Gaga to Ed Sheeran on the pop one, Miranda Lambert to Willie Nelson on the country one. For Elton, the Rocketman biopic is just the latest tribute in a career full of them.
And nowhere has tribute been paid more often than in the world of cover songs. From his second, self-titled album onward (no one covers songs off his 1969 debut), Elton’s songs have been covered constantly. Hell, Three Dog Night released their cover of that second album’s “Your Song” a month before John’s original even came out. Though artists inevitably gravitate towards the huge hits, John’s songbook boasts a long tail, with even some relative deep cuts generating classic covers. So this month we count down the thirty best Elton John covers ever.
Best so far, at least. At the rate he earns tributes, it won’t be long before the next batch lands.
Ashley O [Miley Cyrus] – Right Where I Belong (Nine Inch Nails cover)
The second-most-bonkers cover of the month (just wait ’til we get to “Spicy”) comes from – who else – Miley Cyrus. On a new episode of Black Mirror, she covers/parodies angsty Nine Inch Nails songs as the most insipid of pop jams. Trent Reznor, for one, says he is very much on board (given the lyric changes, these covers required his legal approval). Miley’s songs in character as Ashley O are outrageous and borderline offensive, which is kind of the point. “On a Roll” (FKA “Head Like a Hole”) has gotten most of the attention, but “Right Where I Belong” is more listenable. Marginally.
Cover Classics takes a closer look at all-cover albums of the past, their genesis, and their legacy.
I’ve chucked a couple of these into the odd “best covers” choices since we have been doing those, meeting with not a little interest, if likewise not a lot, but sufficient enough interest to feel it worth digging a tad deeper into the repertoire of Jim “The King” Brown, Belfast’s singing postman. With a name like his, clearly there was little option other than to pursue a career as an Elvis Presley tribute act, and his days as postman were short-lived. Caught performing in a local pub by Bap Kennedy, brother of Brian, both notable in the local music scene, he was given both a shove and the opportunity, Kennedy producing.
Now, Elvis impersonators are two a penny in any country you choose to tread, so Jim, whose voice is as close to his source as any I am familiar with, needed a trick to be a step ahead, and the one he chose was a doozy. He picked out songs that Elvis should have covered, and, further to that, songs by or featuring artists similarly deceased. You know the idea, the concept of the celestial band “up there,” featuring the best of the dead, playing together and having a blast. (Sorry, that’s not best of the Dead, capital D, but I am sure Jerry would be a shoo-in for any such band, if not the myriad keyboards men in his old band.)
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!
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.
Before Woodstock made them legends. Before the drugs took control. Before the rivalries, the breakups and the reunions. Before the memoirs, the biographies, the documentaries, and yet another breakup. Heck, before Neil Young joined the party. Before all that, there was simply Crosby, Stills & Nash.
Fifty years ago, in May 1969, the supergroup comprised of David Crosby, Stephen Stills, and Graham Nash released their self-titled debut album. It catapulted the three singers, all of whom had enjoyed success in other bands, into superstardom. As band biographer Peter Doggett put it, “They cut a debut album that caught the mood of the times.” In retrospect, the record could have been called Greatest Hits: Volume 1. The album contains numerous classics, including “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes,” “Helplessly Hoping,” “Marrakesh Express,” “Wooden Ships” and “Long Time Gone.”
Surprisingly, given this record and CSN’s place in rock history, the songs haven’t been covered that much. Secondhandsongs.com lists only 77 known covers of all the tracks on the album. By comparison, there are 208 covers of the tracks from Déjà Vu (that includes 86 versions of “Woodstock,” which was written by Joni Mitchell). Stills’ solo track “Love the One You’re With” has inspired 69 covers. These numbers do not provide a complete picture, as the site usually does not include music on YouTube or SoundCloud. But they give you an idea of just how few artists have decided to tackle these songs.
Still, we found some great covers by such luminaries as Stan Getz, Miles Davis, Richie Havens, and Trey Anastasio. There are also countless home recordings by guys and gals with acoustic guitars and one of best harmonizing bar bands you’ve never heard of. Let’s “set a course and go”…