Sep 282018
 

‘The Best Ever’ series counts down our favorite covers of great artists.

I’ve been watching early episodes of Saturday Night Live recently. On the fifth episode ever – back when it bore the shorter title Saturday Night – the host was comedian Robert Klein. Two musical guests joined him: Loudon Wainwright III and ABBA.

Wainwright’s performance plays it straight, just him and his guitar on stage. With ABBA, though, the show undermines the Swedish quartet from the start. They have to perform “S.O.S.” on a sinking Titanic set, competing for screen time with Klein and some SNL writers pretending to drown in vintage dining-lounge attire. Even when the camera lands on ABBA, it waves and swoops to indicate they’re going down with the ship too.

The second performance, “Waterloo,” does them even dirtier. Before the first verse even ends, these words pop up on the screen: “Right now ABBA is lip-syncing. It’s not their fault. The tracks didn’t arrive from Sweden.” The band appears to have no idea they are being thus undermined, even as the audience titters. I’ve watched the entire first season now, and haven’t seen any other musical performer treated this way. (The individual videos sadly aren’t anywhere embeddable, but the full episode is on Hulu).

This SNL appearance neatly embodies the ABBA dichotomy. On the one hand, they were such huge stars that the show simply had to book them. On the other, they seemed so irredeemably uncool that the show felt obliged to mock them so it didn’t lose its cultural cachet. And forty-plus years on from that performance, we treat them the same way. We’ll sing and dance along to their songs – particularly after a drink or two – but only the most ardent poptimist would put ABBA anywhere but the “guilty pleasure” category.

True, the productions may be dated, and the outfits ridiculous, but at their core the songs are rock-solid. Songwriters Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus, sometimes aided by band manager Stig Anderson, penned songs that still rise above the cheese-tacular performances. And there’s no better evidence than in the thousands of genre-spanning covers. Everyone from Richard Thompson to Portishead has covered these songs – and not with a wink and a nudge either, but honestly finding timeless lyrics and melodies beneath ABBA’s very of-its-time presentation.

Cher did it too, releasing her ABBA tribute album today to piggyback on the second Mamma Mia! movie’s success (commercial success, that is, as the reviews were not kind – a true ABBA divide, there). So in honor of that, we decided to pick out the best ABBA covers ever. No, none of Cher’s make the list. But thirty other artists do. Continue reading »

Aug 132018
 
cher gimme gimme gimme cover

Having been working for a mind-boggling six decades, Cher is set to release an album of ABBA covers called Dancing Queen in September. The ear-worm classics “Dancing Queen,” “Waterloo,” and “Fernando” are all present and accounted for, along with some deeper cuts like “One of Us” and “Chiquitita.” It’s a quick and canny follow-up to her appearance in the sequel Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again. In the movie, Cher appears as the mother of Donna, the matriarch played by Meryl Streep where she sings “Fernando” to Andy Garcia and pops up again with the entire ensemble on “Super Trouper.” Continue reading »

May 212018
 
metallica kirk covers

Watching the Swedish band Europe’s epic 1986 video for “The Final Countdown” is like going through a checklist of all the cliches of ‘80s hair metal. Perfectly styled hair (check); pretty-faced lead singer (check); massive double bass drum kit (check); revealing leather pants (hell yeah); pyrotechnics (check); guitarists swaying back and forth in perfect unison (check); young girls reaching out for the band (check), etc., etc. etc. Now for those of you old enough to actually remember the ‘80s, you’ll recall that Metallica was supposed to be the antidote for all of these excesses. Fist-pumping, kick-ass metal written to piss off your parents and teachers and give the proverbial middle finger to authority. God, it was beautiful.

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Dec 042017
 
2017 cover songs

Our official list of the Best Cover Songs of 2017 comes next week. But first, we’re continuing the tradition we started last year by rounding up some of the songs it most killed us to cut in a grab-bag post. No ranking, no writing, just a bunch of knockout covers. Continue reading »

Jun 122017
 
lower dens abba

Last year, 33 1/3 – the music book series that dissects classic albums – hosted a tribute to three of those albums at Brooklyn’s Northside Festival: Liz Phair’s Exile in Guyville (covered by Frankie Cosmos), Serge Gainsbourg’s Histoire de Melody Nelson (covered by Ava Luna), and Black Sabbath’s Master of Reality (covered by Deradoorian). And this past weekend, they repeated the trick, with three new bands covering three new albums.

Lower Dens headlined the event, covering ABBA Gold: Greatest Hits (not quite the same as covering a full album, but since ABBA were basically a singles band we’ll let it slide). This sort of cheesy pop is right in the band’s wheelhouse, as heard a few years back in their cover of Hall & Oates’ “Maneater.” For the ABBA set, they performed the tracks as karaoke-plus-live-drumming, with singer Jana Hunter belting in a way she doesn’t often get to in Lower Dens. The karaoke format would be a little disappointing to fans who might want to see more Lower Dens-esq rearrangements of these hits, but her pipes do the songs justice. This “S.O.S.” cover follows Portishead’s last year, our #1 cover of 2016. Continue reading »

Feb 162017
 

Welcome to Cover Me Q&A, where we take your questions about cover songs and answer them to the best of our ability.

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Seuras Og is 59 and ought to know better. Tipped toward journalism by his careers teacher, he instead opted for a career in Family Medicine. He lives in Lichfield, England. His Gaelic mother would be proud to see his nom de plume, a direct translation. Less proud that he is still talking about pop music in his 60th year. This is his 3rd year of writing his essays for Cover Me. He particularly enjoys drafting whole album covers like Legend or Hunky Dory.
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