Jul 082020
 

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

A Change Is Gonna Come covers

Given that a change of sorts has come {and more is due), what better time to revisit “A Change Is Gonna Come,” one of the greatest songs of hope and aspiration ever. Let’s remind ourselves of its durability through the decades, and listen as it (hopefully) fires up expectations of a better and braver new world.
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Apr 242020
 

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

I Shall Be Released covers

In accepting his Nobel Prize for Literature, Bob Dylan spoke of how a single song, “Cottonfields” by Leadbelly, changed his life and transported him into a world he had never known. He likened that transformation to a sudden illumination after a long walk in darkness.

At the time of this writing, the world is in the midst of COVID-19, a viral pandemic that has both literally and figuratively changed the way we live our lives, transporting us into a world we’ve never known. Our transformation, however, has been the opposite of Dylan’s: we’ve been plunged from light into darkness. The severity of the illness and its extreme communicability has led to the imposition and enforcement of mandated quarantine and physical distancing. Common themes expressed through news reports, social media, and even entertainment is confinement and isolation, even to the degree of people feeling imprisoned in their homes. How appropriate is it, then, to turn to our Nobel Laureate for hope?

Written by Bob Dylan in 1967, “I Shall Be Released” made its first official appearance on record courtesy of The Band’s seminal debut LP, Music from Big Pink. The version Dylan recorded with these same musicians made an initial appearance on The Bootleg Series Volumes 1–3 some 24 years later. (Alternate Dylan versions exist as well.) With its themes of pending physical, emotional and spiritual freedom, the song speaks equally well literally, as a narrative for a long-term inmate in an actual prison, and metaphorically, for those of us in the “lonely crowd,” imprisoned figuratively by circumstance. May we all find some degree of comfort in Dylan’s words as we listen to them in five different interpretations, and begin to believe in our hearts that, any day now, any day now, we shall be released.
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Mar 022018
 

Cover Classics takes a look at great covers albums of the past, their genesis and their legacies.

tower of song songs of leonard cohen

Last week, I wrote about the hugely influential 1991 tribute album I’m Your Fan: The Songs of Leonard Cohen. How influential? Without it, the world – and Jeff Buckley – might never have heard “Hallelujah.”

The 1995 tribute album Tower of Song is not remotely influential. None of its covers have become classics, nor did they introduce any Cohen deep cuts to the popular cannon. Where I’m Your Fan picked the hippest artists of the time, the Tower of Song curators seem to have gone out of their way to pick the least hip. Billy Joel. Elton John. Don freakin’ Henley. Continue reading »

Jan 122018
 

Cover Classics takes a look at great covers albums of the past, their genesis and their legacies.

doc pomus tribute album

“Why now,” you ask. “Why focus on this album in 2018, more than 20 years since it was made and getting on 30 since the recipient of the tribute died? And who he anyway? He didn’t have any hits.”

Well, that’s where you are wrong. Doc Pomus wrote many of the 1950s songs we now see as standards – standards across many genres, encompassing blues through rock (and roll), with a hefty side influence into country and soul. Few people won’t have at least a whistling memory of at least one of these songs, probably more, in versions played by artists as diverse as ZZ Top, Engelbert Humperdinck and the Searchers. Continue reading »

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”

Continued on Page 2…