Oct 272017

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!

The paths of songwriter Graham Gouldman and all-time greats The Yardbirds are forever linked in rock and roll history, but not inextricably. In 1965, a nineteen-year-old Gouldman had the good fortune to begin his career by penning the iconic Yardbirds hits “For Your Love,” “Heart Full of Soul,” and “Evil Hearted You.” The songs helped establish the now-legendary group as they transitioned from one eventual rock guitar god (Eric Clapton) to another (Jeff Beck), but the hits wouldn’t define Gouldman’s career.

Gouldman, a musician in his own right, neither performed with the band (that we’re aware), nor wrote any further hits for them. However, his career was just getting started. The ‘60s saw him writing additional hits for The Hollies, Herman’s Hermits, and the aforementioned Jeff Beck, along with songs recorded by Cher, Wayne Fontana, and Ohio Express. The ‘70s brought hits with his own band 10cc. Additionally, Joe Cocker, Paul Carrack, Gary Wright, and Kirsty MacColl all recorded Gouldman tracks over the ensuing decades.

Today, the 71-year-old consummate troubadour is still at it; he just finished up his appropriately-named “Heart Full of Songs” tour in the UK before he rolls back out to Europe with 10cc in November. Let’s take a look at some standout covers of songs written by Gouldman from the major eras of a career that’s now spanned over fifty years…

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Dec 162016

Follow all our Best of 2016 coverage (along with previous year-end lists) here.

best cover songs

2016 in music will be most remembered for one thing: death. It seemed like an unprecedented list of major musical figures left us this year: David Bowie, Prince, Merle Haggard, Leonard Cohen. The list, sadly, goes on and on.

Prominent passings affect many aspects of the music world, but the impact is particularly clear in the world of cover songs: When an artist dies, a lot of people cover his or her songs. The world was hardly hurting for Prince covers before April 21, but afterwards, to paraphrase the man himself, we went crazy. Bruce Springsteen alone became a one-man tribute machine, covering Bowie, Prince, The Eagles’ Glenn Frey, and Suicide’s Alan Vega after they died (it’s a shame his tour ended before Cohen passed because he’d do a great “Everybody Knows”). Our list this year features a number of these tribute covers – though both the Cohen covers listed were actually released before his death, proving there’s no need to wait to honor one of the greats.

Our list also features fantastic final covers by the recently departed, brilliant song-interpreters like Sharon Jones and Allen Toussaint. The fact that they died may add extra meaning to these new songs, but they’d make the list regardless. Whether they performed wonderful covers or wrote wonderful songs for others to cover, we miss these artists because they were great. They don’t need any “death bump.”

The year wasn’t all dire though. Our list features many covers by and of artists who are alive in every sense of the word. Kendrick Lamar and Drake represent the new world of hip-hop, Kacey Musgraves and Sturgill Simpson in country, Animal Collective and Joyce Manor in indie rock, and in too many other genres to name. Jason Isbell currently holds a streak here, making his third consecutive appearance this year.

We also have plenty of artists whose names I won’t highlight here, because you probably won’t have heard of them…yet. We’re not in the business of predicting fame – the music industry is far too fickle for that – but some of our past best-cover winners have gone on to big things this year, like Chance the Rapper (2014 winner) and The Weeknd (2012 winner). Hell, Sturgill (#3 in 2014) just got an Album of the Year Grammy nomination!

Those early covers may have helped kick off such success. A revelatory cover song can help a musician attract early attention. When I interviewed Mark Mothersbaugh recently, he said no one understood what Devo was doing until they covered “Satisfaction.” A familiar song done Devo-style finally made the connection for people. “Whip It” and other original hits would not be far behind.

Maybe some of this year’s under-the-radar names will go on to Weeknd-level superstardom. But even if they don’t, all these covers, by household names and Garageband geeks alike, deserve recognition. We’ll miss all the great musicians who left us this year, but it’s gratifying to see so many promising younger artists coming in to fill their shoes.

– Ray Padgett, Editor in Chief
(Illustration by Sarah Parkinson)

PS. Last year in this space, I mentioned I’m writing a book about cover songs. Well, Cover Me (the book, that is) is finished and will be out next year! In addition to the aforementioned Mothersbaugh, I interviewed Roger Daltrey about “Summertime Blues,” David Byrne about “Take Me to the River,” and many more. Follow our Facebook for updates on preorder, etc. Now, on to the countdown…


Aug 272013

George Lewis Jr., better known by his dark pop moniker Twin Shadow, has embarked on a monthly cover series entitled “Under the CVRS.” Through Facebook and Twitter, the band will be taking suggestions of which songs to tackle. The inaugural tune for this series is 10cc’s gauzy pop single “I’m Not In Love.” Continue reading »