The age of Aquarius was dawning in 1969. But the band Alice Cooper watched the sun set on the California shore as a sign that their time out west was over. They relocated to Pontiac, Michigan, a suburb of Detroit, in 1970. There, they shifted their musical and theatrical direction away from the psychedelic experimentation. Instead, they embraced a harder-edged rock mixed with a horror show. The Detroit area had been the boyhood home to frontman Vincent Furnier, and it was here that the band from Phoenix by way of Los Angeles was reborn. They found a more welcoming audience and a scene of similarly raucous bands, whose attitudes were forged in the same foundries as the steel in the Big Three’s automobiles.
During a sludgy performance one night, producer Bob Erzin heard Alice Cooper perform what he thought to be “I’m Gritty.” The title fit the nightclub setting and dirty look of the band. But the song title turned out to be “I’m Eighteen,” which was the breakthrough single for the band.
Now, fifty years later, Furnier—who since 1975 has gone by Alice Cooper—has released a new EP as an homage to the Motor City and the pistons of rock and roll. The Breadcrumbs EP released on Friday, September 13. It packs a punch.
In Defense takes a second look at a much maligned cover artist or album and asks, “Was it really as bad as all that?”
Reasons abound for maligning Pat Boone’s career in popular music. The catalyst for his career was a string of covers of R&B tunes by black artists for whom the legacy of segregation never afforded the same amount of wealth. White artists made substantially more than their counterpart artists of color. Major record labels had larger distribution chains, promotional budgets, and stronger connections to radio and television networks to advantage their artists. By contrast, black musicians on “race records” benefited from none of these privileges. While artists like Little Richard, Big Joe Turner, and Fats Domino have enjoyed staying power and wide acclaim for being architects of rock music, in the early decades of that genre, white covers were commercially more successful. Added to this was the exploitative nature of covers on larger labels that made more money than the originals while paying out no royalties to the black originators. Boone was unapologetic that his career benefited from this exploitation.
It is also noteworthy that Boone’s performance and lyricism of some of rock’s first generation of are a case study in the sanitized tastes of the burgeoning white middle class in the 1950s. His smooth vocal delivery was reminiscent of crooners rather than the raspy, full-throated yowl of Little Richard. And the lyrical changes on “Tutti Frutti” were a nod to teenage infatuation stripped of any of the sexuality in Little Richard’s original.
Despite Boone representing the residuals of white privilege while Jim Crow reigned supreme, there is a note of appreciation to be made for Boone and contemporaries Elvis Presley and Bill Haley in helping to extend the reach of rock music to new audiences at a critical juncture in that genre’s history. Continue reading »
Welcome to the third installment in our Best Cover Songs of Yesteryear countdown, where we act like we were compiling our usual year-end list from a year before we – or the internet – existed. Compared to the first two, this one has significantly less grunge than 1996 and less post-punk than 1987. It’s hard to have post-punk, after all, before you have punk, a new genre starting to hit its peak in 1978. And don’t forget the other big late-’70s sound: disco. Both genres were relatively new, and super divisive among music fans. Lucky for us, both genres were also big on covers.
Disco, in particular, generated some hilariously ill-advised cover songs. We won’t list them all here – this is the Best 1978 covers, not the Most 1978 covers. If you want a taste (and think carefully about whether you really do), this bonkers take on a Yardbirds classic serves as a perfect example of what a good portion of the year’s cover songs looked and sounded like:Continue reading »
That’s the question New York goth-punk singer Shilpa Ray wrote on Bandcamp introducing her new cover of Cooper’s “Is It My Body” – and it’s a good one. He actually tried to make that point himself when he was on Marc Maron’s show a few months back, pointing to a song like “Only Women Bleed” (which Etta James, of all people, has covered). A track like that, he argued, was a far cry from the horrorshow makeup and on-stage guillotine.Continue reading »
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.
Back in the 1970s, Alice Cooper was president of The Lair of the Hollywood Vampires. It was a drinking club of various rock stars that hung out in the loft at the Rainbow Bar and Grill in L.A. Members included Ringo Starr, Keith Moon, Harry Nilsson and Micky Dolenz. (John Lennon was also an honorary member.)
Recently, Cooper brought back the Hollywood Vampire name for a super group that includes Johnny Depp, Joe Perry (Aerosmith), Paul McCartney, Perry Farrell (Jane’s Addiction), Dave Grohl (Nirvana/Foo Fighters), Brian Johnson (AC/DC), Robbie Krieger (The Doors), Slash (G-n-R), Joe Walsh (Eagles), Orianthi and Kip Winger. (And that’s not even all of them.)
The album, which hits stores on Friday, features covers from Led Zeppelin, T. Rex, Small Faces and Badfinger. (Along with a couple of new songs written by Cooper.)