I confess to hovering over this one a while, ahead of taking a bullet for the team. Don’t get me wrong, I am a huge fan of Emerson, Lake & Palmer. Or rather, I was, and therein lies the problem.
It was nigh half a century ago that I made my first purchase of an LP record; that was none other than Pictures at an Exhibition, and boy oh boy, was I keen on the energetic bombast. It wasn’t then long before four of my first ten vinyl records were by ELP — I snapped up the eponymous debut and, then, on their release, Tarkus and Trilogy. I lapped up every inky page I could about them, relishing in my membership of an elite. Those Yes acolytes could take a jump, Emmo was king and that was that. And Lake, well, he was in the band, so, clearly, he was the tops too. How could 100,000 spotty boys be wrong? As for John Peel, custodian of the nation’s counter culture tastes: “a waste of electricity”, huh, what did he know? I even went to see them, cramming into the dismal aircraft hangar of Earls Court in London with innumerable facsimiles of myself, enduring the dire acoustics and excessive volume, telling myself, and anyone else in earshot, just how good was this. Continue reading »
Welcome to Cover Me Q&A, where we take your questions about cover songs and answer them to the best of our ability.
Here at Cover Me Q&A, we’ll be taking questions about cover songs and giving as many different answers as we can. This will give us a chance to hold forth on covers we might not otherwise get to talk about, to give Cover Me readers a chance to learn more about individual staffers’ tastes and writing styles, and to provide an opportunity for some back-and-forth, as we’ll be taking requests (learn how to do so at feature’s end).
Follow all our Best of 2016 coverage (along with previous year-end lists) here.
We’ve done a Best Cover Albums list every year since 2009. That list usually ends up being a reasonably even mix of various-artist tributes and single-artist records. But in all those lists, our number-one pick has been, without fail, a single-artist album (for those keeping score at home, we’ve awarded The Lemonheads, Peter Gabriel, Baaba Kulka, Neil Young and Crazyhorse, Xiu Xiu, Andrew Bird, and Bob Dylan – who didn’t turn up to accept our prize either).
This single-artist streak is no coincidence. It is naturally easier for one artist, if he/she/they are good enough, to maintain consistent quality control over 10 or 15 tracks. Whereas even the best mixed-artist tribute records usually have one or two dud tracks. Take the National-curated Day of the Dead, certainly this year’s highest-profile tribute album. Some of these Grateful Dead covers were so good they’ll appear on next week’s Best Cover Songs of 2016 list. Many others were dreck, filler, or superfluous. So we ranked the record – spoiler alert – at #20, sort of an honorable-mention position.
Even various-artist tributes comprised of uniformly good covers typically don’t add up to more than the sum of their parts. For example, we ranked MOJO Magazine’s Blonde on Blonde tribute pretty high this year because we liked just about every one of the Bob Dylan covers on offer. But there’s little common ground between an aggressive electronic “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35” and a tender folk “I Want You.” The record is more a bunch of great cover-song fodder for mixes and playlists than a truly great and unified album.
I sound like I’m being critical, but again, these are among the best cover albums of the year. This is usually the most a various-artist tribute album can aspire to: more good covers, few bad ones.
But this year, for the first time in our eight years making these lists, a various-artist tribute album rose so all the way to the top. This album was not only good top to bottom, but it felt like a real album, not just a collection of covers. It ably walked the finest of lines: showcasing diverse approaches to the source material while just remaining cohesive enough to stand together as a complete listen.
I don’t want to give away what that number-one album is just yet. We’ll get there, and there’s already enough of a tendency with year-end lists to skip straight to #1 and ignore the rest. I no doubt have not helped by hyping this magical album that broke our eight-year streak. But every one of the twenty albums we picked offers something worth hearing.
We’ve got jazz-sax forays through prog-rock and twee-pop covers of vintage punk tunes. There’s a ’60s New York icon honoring her then-competitors in the British Invasion, and a band from that same British Invasion honoring their American inspirations. There are tributes to great musicians who died this year, and tributes to long-dead musicians who there’s no news hook for honoring now, just great songs.
This list itself is as “various artists” as it can get, a whole array of genres and styles with one common thread: musicians honoring their inspirations and influences. Let’s dig in.
Full Albums features covers of every track off a classic album. Got an idea for a future pick? Leave a note in the comments!
XTC is a difficult band to wrap your head around. Known initially, if at all, for quirky, jerky syncopated new wave songs, they slowly began to change into a band known for lush, intelligent pop songs heavily influenced by the Beatles’ psychedelic period. And, like the Beatles, XTC stopped performing live at what was, to that point, the height of their popularity. Having seen them in action just about a year before they quit touring in 1982, I can attest to the fact that they were an excellent live band. XTC has a devoted and creative fanbase, with exhaustive fan sites and a remarkable number of fan-generated tribute releases, which we will delve into in great detail below. Continue reading »
Five Good Covers presents five cross-genre reinterpretations of an oft-covered song.
King Crimson’s debut album, In the Court of the Crimson King, is iconic. The cover, a painting of a screaming creature (reportedly the only painting ever by computer programmer Barry Godber, who passed away shortly after the album’s release at the age of 24), is instantly recognizable and unforgettable. Although it was not the first prog-rock album, In the Court raised the bar and in many ways created the road map for the successes and excesses of the style. Nearly 44 years after the album’s release, it was discussed on, of all places, a New York Mets broadcast, and not because Mets fans so often have the same look on their faces.
Crimson leader Robert Fripp has described the first song on the record, “21st Century Schizoid Man,” as the first heavy metal song. That’s a claim that’s far from settled, but the crunching riff and distorted vocals and music displayed here would in fact become mandatory in the metal songs that followed in its wake. (Still, it is amusing to think of vocalist Greg Lake as a heavy metal godfather.) But the song also has a jazzy middle section, some virtuoso guitar soloing, and a free-time ending. Lyrically, the song is typical Peter Sinfield, filled with bizarre and obscure allusions and dystopian imagery which many have related to the Vietnam War. Fripp, at least once, dedicated “21st Century Schizoid Man” to Spiro Agnew.
The song has often been covered, more often than not in a metal style. As we will see, other covers pick up on the various styles included in the original. But not always. Continue reading »