The Spotify video series Music Happens Here is a must-watch for music lovers. Each episode takes the viewer on a hot tub time machine journey to many of the most famous music cities in the world. Seven episodes in, it spans the landscapes and soundscapes of Los Angeles, London, New Orleans, Seattle, Chicago, Nashville, and, most recently, New York. The producers do a terrific job in showcasing the past, present, and future of each individual music scene. The New York episode, in particular, is a diverse affair that features the Hip Hop beats of A$AP Rocky, the dirty boulevard vibe of CBGB’s, and angel flight wearing pulse of 1970s disco at Studio 54, with side trips to The Dakota and The Fillmore East.
That’s A Cover? explores cover songs that you may have thought were originals.
Imagine, if you will, a world without synthpop.
The year is 1982. The airwaves are dominated by slick, highly produced pop-rock: Olivia Newton-John’s “Let’s Get Physical”; Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger”’ Joan Jett’s “I Love Rock ’n Roll.”
Into this guitar-heavy slurry comes an arresting—and catchy!—song about abuse and paranoia: “Tainted Love.” The artist is Soft Cell, an English duo consisting of singer Marc Almond and multi-instrumentalist David Ball. The spare, electronic production resembles nothing else then on the airwaves, and after a brief spell in the lower rungs of the US Billboard Hot 100, it climbs to number 8, in total spending a record-breaking 43 weeks on the chart.
What most of the perplexed American radio audience didn’t then know was that the song was a cover, having first been recorded in 1964 by a then-little-known American artist, Gloria Jones, who would go on to re-record it in 1976, in effect covering herself. And while neither of her versions would make any impact on the charts, the story of this agonized song would enfold a long, strange string of figures from the bowels of rock history.
Once or twice a year, Britain’s great music magazine Mojo will curate a tribute album to accompany an issue. The latest issue features Nick Drake on the cover, for what would have been his 70th birthday this year, and a CD featuring new covers by younger folk and indie admirers.
Many of the songs follow Drake’s quieter templates, like Joan Shelley’s gorgeous “Time Has Told Me.” Others veer further afield, like a version of “River Man” by Field Music that lurches in stops and starts with a hint of krautrock. Or “Fruit Tree” by The Saxophones, which features periodic blasts from their titular instrument.
The subtitle for John Oates’ new solo album Arkansas should have been: No Synthesizer, No Hall – No Problem. The album of acoustic-driven Americana and folk rock is more like a Steve Earle record than anything put out by the dynamic duo of Hall & Oates in the 1980s. And that’s just fine. Oates sounds like he’s having a blast on the collection of originals and folk standards. One of the more intriguing cuts is his cover of “Stack O Lee” commonly known as “Stagger Lee.”
The “Stagger Lee” myth runs deep through the heart of American popular music. The folk tune, sometimes called “Staggolee” or “Stack-a-Lee,” has been around in one form or another since the 1890s. The main thrust of the lyrics is a fight in which “Stagger” Lee Shelton killed Billy Lyons in a bar in St. Louis. By one count, more than 400 different renditions of the song have been recorded by blues singers, folkies, pop singers, punk bands and jam bands alike. Rock & Roll Hall of Fame singer Lloyd Price scored a number one hit in early 1959 with his take on the song.
Lykke Li rarely records covers, but when she does, they matter. From her revelatory take on Fleetwood Mac’s “Silver Springs” to her live version of Drake’s “Hold On, We’re Going Home,” she has an unbroken streak of winning reinventions of unlikely songs. And she continues that streak on her latest, a cover of “Time in a Bottle” that sounds more like James Bond than Jim Croce.
The Foo Fighters are no strangers to the strategic placement and eclectic choices of cover songs sprinkled throughout their setlists when they are on the road. And on their current 2018 world tour, they are certainly delivering the cover song goods. With Weezer along as the opening act for the down under leg, at a recent Melbourne show Dave Grohl called frontman Rivers Cuomo to the stage a for rousing rendition of the Kiss anthem “Detroit Rock City.” It was captured on a not-too-bad quality fan video.