Apr 062018
 

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

blondie hanging on the telephone

If you’re a fan of power pop – roughly speaking, the place where early rock n’ roll, ‘60s bubblegum, and the British Invasion converge – then Blondie probably ranks high on your list of faves. Refracting modern rock through multiple lenses – ’50s pop, ’60s girl groups and ’70s punk, to name a few – the band sucked you in with clever, poppy melodies while maintaining a distance sharpened by dark, ironic humor.

If it doesn’t quite represent their commercial peak, the band’s 1978 album Parallel Lines is without much doubt their finest work, crashing out of the gate with “Hanging on the Telephone,” a near-perfect snapshot of illicit romance and sexual frustration, come and gone in 2 minutes 17 seconds. Continue reading »

Apr 062018
 

Ethan Gold Bedroom ClosetWhen Ethan Gold began recording cover songs in his bedroom closet, they were more than his tributes to artists that mattered to him – they were therapy. Gold had sustained a head injury in a warehouse accident that left him unable to speak, let alone do the complex sound engineering his work required. He had also just been forced to leave the condemned residence that inspired his previous album, Songs from a Toxic Apartment. So these covers, one-take performances filmed for YouTube, were Gold’s road to recovery. Now they’ve been compiled and released as a digital-only album, Live Undead Bedroom Closet Covers, and it’s a pleasure to see that his recovery is complete.
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Apr 052018
 

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

laura branigan gloria cover

I played a tiny part in unleashing Laura Branigan’s “Gloria” on the world in 1982. Fresh out of college, I landed a paid summer job working in the Atlantic Records promotions department. I spent the summer doing things like going to record stores and hanging up posters. It was a fascinating and fun summer, but it also confirmed that I didn’t want to spend my career trying to figure out what kind of music teenagers would buy. Mostly because it seemed like the senior execs were unhappy, divorced men who smoked and drank too much. Instead, I ended up in law school while another guy my age there became a very major record executive.

Like any good former college radio program director at that time, I had strong opinions about what was “good” music, and what “sucked.” And clearly, disco/dance music sucked. That summer, a number of albums I liked were being promoted to some degree by my department, including Adrian Belew’s Lone Rhino, Genesis’ Three Sides Live, Steve Winwood’s Talking Back To The Night, Jon Anderson’s Animation, and CSN’s Daylight Again. But there were offices filled with men and women promoting these rock releases, and only one guy, Rafael, promoting the dance music. As a result, I ended up working with him a lot, despite my lack of knowledge about – and general contempt for – dance music. I even tried to convince Rafael to remix one of Adrian Belew’s songs for the dance floor, which he briefly considered before thinking better of it. Continue reading »

Apr 042018
 
paul thorn love train

By any measure, Don’t Let The Devil Ride, the new release by Paul Thorn, is a great album and should stand up for inclusion in many of the requisite year-end best-of lists. With guest appearances from The Blind Boys of Alabama, The Preservation Hall Jazz Horns, The McCrary Sisters, and Bonnie Bishop there really is some next level Gospel mojo going on here. Throw in the recording, knob turning, and board magic happening in places like Sam Phillips’ recording studio in Memphis, FAME studios in Muscle Shoals,  and the Preservation  Hall in New Orleans, and you have a true musical tour-de-force.

Thorn goes deep and way back in time on the album covering somewhat obscure Gospel and Blues songs including the Willie Davis Song “He’s a Battle Ax” accompanied by an old-school banjo and New Orleans horns, “You Got To Move,” a Fred McDowell tune, and “The Half Has Never Been Told,” a song that goes back to at least 1926. Continue reading »

Apr 032018
 
temptations stay with me

As the only surviving member of the Temptations’ original lineup, Otis Williams has done his part to keep the group alive long past its expiration date. The latest incarnation of the famed vocal group recently released a cover of Sam Smith’s “Stay With Me” as the first single from their forthcoming album All The Time.

Just to be clear, this ain’t the Temptations of “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg” or “My Girl” fame, since the group is going for a more contemporary vibe. Listening to Smith’s original alongside the Temptations’ cover is a bit like hearing Hall & Oates “She’s Gone” next to the Tavares’ version. Or comparing Mott the Hoople’s cut of “All the Young Dudes” to David Bowie’s own take. At first listen, it’s difficult to tell the two tracks apart. Yet, once you start breaking the songs down, there are enough subtle differences that make the cover stand on its own.

The vocals in the opening verses of each track are the most similar. The Temptations give it a slightly different feel by adding in syncopated percussion, unlike the straight time from the original. As they sing the chorus, the group interjects a bit of call and response, which one expects from the Temptations. With each subsequent verse/chorus, they include heavier drums, different voices alternating between lead and backing vocals and a fiery blues-guitar accompaniment. Like Smith’s original, the cover is also infused with gospel, but the quintet adds more bass to the vocals throughout.

The track is not destined to land on any greatest-hits compilations. However, if the Temptations add it to their setlist, kids whose grandparents drag them to the shows will appreciate the effort.

Click here to listen to more Sam Smith covers.

Apr 022018
 

Five Good Covers presents five cross-genre reinterpretations of an oft-covered song.

The hype and controversy brought on by the release of “God Save The Queen” had barely subsided before the Sex Pistols followed up with their third single. “Pretty Vacant” was released just over a month later, on July 1st of 1977. Both songs rode the UK Top 40 charts simultaneously throughout that month with “Pretty Vacant” ultimately peaking at #6 during an eight-week run. In a half step towards “establishment” legitimacy, the band was invited to perform the song – via a promotional video – for its first and only appearance on the popular BBC television show Top of the Pops. Even this track – and, of course, this appearance – garnered controversy when the special emphasis John Lydon (a.k.a. Johnny Rotten) was placing on the second syllable of the word “vacant” become obvious.

Glen Matlock, an original founding member of the band later replaced by Sid Vicious, cited ABBA’s “SOS” and Small Faces “Wham Bam Thank You Mam” as inspirations for the iconic opening guitar riff and arrangement. The song was lauded by NME magazine as its 1977 “Single of the Year.” It would chart in the UK three more times: in 1992 on its 15th anniversary, a live version from the re-formed group in 1996, and most recently on its 30th anniversary in 2007. According to our research, it’s spawned more cover versions than any other Sex Pistols song outside of “Anarchy In The U.K.”

As you’ll see, the covers here represent an embarrassment of riches. So stick with us as we pogo through five standouts and then call your attention to another more-than-a-baker’s dozen!

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