Nov 072014
 

Cover Classics takes a closer look at all-cover albums of the past, their genesis, and their legacy.

In 1990, the New Musical Express presented The Last Temptation of Elvis, a collection of covers from Elvis Presley movies designed to benefit the Nordoff-Robbins Music Therapy Centre in London. Executive producer and NME journalist Roy Carr landed some big names – Paul McCartney, Bruce Springsteen, and Robert Plant all showed up – and some even bigger tonal shifts. The album careens from rock to a capella to parody to metal and ends up with the King himself performing “King of the Whole Wide World.” “No performance implies any other,” Greil Marcus said about the album in his book Dead Elvis. “There’s no way to predict what anyone will have to say.”
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May 262011
 

Dylan Covers A-Z presents covers of every single Bob Dylan song. View the full series here.

An excerpt from Bob Dylan’s Chronicles: Volume One (Simon & Schuster, 2004):

When I finally did arrive in California, my songs and my reputation had preceded me. I had records out on Columbia and I’d be playing at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium and meeting all the performers who had recorded my songs-artists like The Byrds, who’d recorded “Mr. Tambourine Man,” Sonny and Cher, who’d done “All I Really Want to Do,” The Turtles, who recorded “It Ain’t Me, Babe,” Glen Campbell, who had released “Don’t Think Twice,” and Johnny Rivers, who had recorded “Positively 4th Street.”

Of all the versions of my recorded songs, the Johnny Rivers one was my favorite. It was obvious that we were from the same side of town, had been read the same citations, came from the same musical family and were cut from the same cloth. When I listened to Johnny’s version of “Positively 4th Street,” I liked his version better than mine. I listened to it over and over again. Most of the cover versions of my songs seemed to take them out into left field somewhere, but Rivers’s version had the mandate down-the attitude and melodic sense to complete and surpass even the feeling that I had put into it. It shouldn’t have surprised me, though. He had done the same thing with “Maybellene” and “Memphis,” two Chuck Berry songs. When I heard Johnny sing my song, it was obvious that life had the same external grip on him as it did on me.

Yes, today’s installment boasts a special distinction: It contain Dylan’s favorite cover of his own work. Rivers’ “Positively 4th Street” is indeed spellbinding. We’d venture that if Bob heard some of these other covers, though, he might have to reconsider. The Ghosts of Electricity’s 11-minute “Standing in a Doorway” takes a live jam to the stratosphere. Guy Davis’ “Sweetheart Like You” is so beautiful it redeems all of Dylan’s output in the ’80s (well, almost). If nothing else, John Doe (of X)’s soaring “Pressing On” from the I’m Not There film would surely be a contender.

We’ve also got a few of those “left field” covers he apparently disdains. Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Subterranean Homesick Blues” roars even harder than he ever intended. World Wide Message Tribe’s “Precious Angel” takes the holy message to the club floor. Cheap Trick’s 10-minutes “Please Mrs. Henry” doesn’t sound much like it did with the Band in that Woodstock basement. Check out these and dozens more on the next few pages and see if you agree with Dylan that Rivers tops the lot.

P.S. After you’ve reached your verdict, you might also compare it to the 170 covers we’ve presented in previous installments, linked here:
Part 1: “Absolutely Sweet Marie” – “Everything Is Broken”
Part 2: “Father of Night” – “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues”
Part 3: “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” – “Oxford Town”
Part 4: “Peggy Day” – “Sweetheart Like You”
Part 5: “T.V Talkin’ Song” – “4th Time Around” [Coming Friday]

Continued on Page 2…

Mar 172009
 

The grammar police will be on your back if you use a double negative, there ain’t no doubt. But from my brief days a linguistics major, I learned that “grammatically incorrect” language like this, when used widely enough, takes over. It’s how language evolves. So “whom” Nazis, give it up.

The double negative is a unique “mistake” though, as it seems socioeconomically based, and racially some too. So I can’t tell you whether it will ever become an “acceptable” for of speech. What I do know though, is a lot of great tunes use it, and you’d be missing out if you discounted them based on linguistic snobbishness.

Dolapdere Big Gang – (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction (The Rolling Stones)
Covers of this one vary from the powerful (Otis Redding) to the seizure-inducing (Britney Spears) to the just plain bizarre (Devo). This one’s a little more unusual, but when I snagged it from over at Cover Freak a while back I wasn’t disappointed. A little string quartet appetizer, some salsa congo as the main dish, and a pre-chorus breakdown to cleanse the pallatte, and a horn-flute breakdown to polish things off. Yum. [Buy]

Buddy Guy – Ain’t No Sunshine (Bill Withers)
Lots of covers of this one, but I’ve never heard one that approaches this soulful horn-fueled swing. Guy’s molasses voice shines through here, but duet partner Tracy Chapman is no slouch herself, turning the song into a duet of two lost lovers missing each other. Buddy throws down his signature guitar lines, holding back enough to not overpower the tune but adding pure texture to this powerful slow jam. [Buy]

Santa Esmeralda – Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood (Nina Simone)
Elvis Costello does a decent version, but you can’t beat this ten-minute salsa funk from the Kill Bill soundtrack. Quentin Tarantino has got a hell of an ear for music, and he hit gold tacking on this dance frenzy. A must-hear. [Buy]

Aaron Neville – Ain’t No Cure For Love (Leonard Cohen)
I put this one up long ago in a Leonard Cohen album post, but since I removed the link months ago I figure I can throw it back up again. Neville does just fine without his brothers here, turning the over-produced schlock of the original (sorry Lenny) into a soul groove that just won’t quit. [Buy]

Francis and the Lights – Can’t Tell Me Nothing (Kanye West)
I posted one cover of this one a while back, but another has turned up on a recent covers-happy compilation. The comp is supposed to be based on guilty pleasures though, and I don’t think anyone should feel guilty enjoying Kanye West. And if you feel guilty enjoying this cover, then we’ve really got a problem. [Buy]

Hell Blues Choir – I Don’t Need No Doctor (Ray Charles)
Norway’s Hell Blues Choir has released two phenomenal tribute album, one to Tom Waits and one to Ray Charles. Where you’d think choir songs would be uniformly lame, the addition of creative arrangements and a rocking bands keep their sound fresh and exciting for song after song. Grab these discs! [Buy]

Jah Malla – Ain’t No Man Righteous (Bob Dylan)
Dylan’s born-again Christianity inspired him to write a whole flurry of songs in ’79, many of which never made it on record. For this he wrote a gospel track he performed with full backing singers on tour, but here is a reggae take (could you tell from the artist?) that somehow makes perfect sense. [Buy]

Bob Dylan – Oh Babe It Ain’t No Lie (Elizabeth Cotton)
Cotton was a southern black folk musician not discovered until middle age, in the 50’s by folk revivalist Pete Singer. Wikipedia can tell you far more than I can, but it won’t tell you that Bob covered this tune 48 times in the late 90’s featuring his acoustic guitar solo-noodling and earthy background harmonies from Larry Campbell and Charlie Sexton. This recording comes from a soundboard recording in Hamburg. Also scout around for Dylan covering Cotton’s “Shake Sugaree” around the same time. [Buy]

Peter Case – A Working Man Can’t Get Nowhere Today (Merle Haggard)
Couple this with his more famous Working Man’s Blues, and it’s clear old Merle had a thing for the nine-to-five blue collar man. With some folksy instruments and slide guitar Case helps this song bounce along, sounding like Woody Guthrie on happy pills. But in a good way. [Buy]

Lyle Lovett – Ain’t No More Cane (Trad.)
“Lyle Lovett?” I can hear you saying. “Ew.” Now normally I’d be right there with you, but give this one a chance. An Americana-country background gives a sparse but lush field in which his powerful voice can roam free. The woah-woah-woah chorus brings the song back to its prison work song roots and (dare I say it) puts The Band’s version in its place. [Buy]

Nov 262007
 

Leonard Cohen is one of the few artists whose songs have cover versions not only better known than the originals, but actually better to listen to. Cohen’s somewhat tuneless voice may be partly to blame, but a larger issue is the horrific 80’s production on many of his albums. Fabulous songs are buried beneath layers of synthesizers and drum machines (have you heard the original Hallelujah?). No more was this more apparent than on his 1988 album I’m Your Man. Though it’s filled with classic Cohen songs, listening to the original album is a test of endurance. Luckily plenty of artists have made the effort, finding the gems buried beneath mountains of mud. So throw away your copy of the original (sorry Len) and play this mix instead. I’d imagine Cohen would like it better too.

Kid Harpoon – First We Take Manhattan
The original is a slow-burner, always threatening to explode without ever actually doing it. The Kid fixes that, by stripping it back to an acoustic guitar…then rocking it up to 11 at double-time, creating a sound that’s Gogol Bordello meets The Decemberists.

Aaron Neville – Ain’t No Cure For Love
Neville, of The Neville Brothers fame, reins back his normal vibrato to give a soulful reading that’s half Judy Garland, half honky-tonk.

Don Henley – Everybody Knows
You’d never know what a fabulous song this was from Cohen’s version, where he sounds like he’s falling asleep. Henley makes the song’s merits very clear, starting off quiet and building fast to a number that shows what good production can accomplish, with the great lyrics are front and center.

Elton John – I’m Your Man
Keeping it rocking is Elton’s take on the title track, with plenty of female backing vocals, crunchy guitar and horns. Screw Rocket Man, this sounds like Elton back in his Crocodile Rock days.

Patricia O’Callaghan – Take This Waltz
A would-be opera singer, O’Callaghan channels the winding streets of Paris with piano and accordion backing her multiple-octave soprano. This approach would be over-the-top on many Cohen songs, but works well for this one. The Disney-esq flute solo at the end is a little much though.

Monsieur Camembert – Jazz Police
I wasn’t sure if I’d find a cover of this one, but youtube came through with this Sydney 10-piece doing some rocking jazz-funk, only taking the party down for a strange echoey chorus. Off their double album of live Cohen covers Famous Blue Cheese that I’m on the lookout for, check out three more Cohen tracks at their myspace page..

The Pixies – I Can’t Forget
Even when tackling unlikely source material, The Pixies can’t help sounding like themselves, with weird guitar effects and off-kilter harmonies.

Robert Forster – Tower of Song
Tackling an oft-covered Cohen number, the Go-Betweens frontman gives it a mid-tempo pop gloss that’s miles better than the cover by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, culled from an hour-long jam on the song, that gives you nothing but a migraine.

—Quick bit of cross-blog promotion: Any Tom Waits fans out there, I’m compiling a set of unreleased live covers of his songs, the first three sets of which are available here and here.—