Country supergroup The Highwomen are wielding some killer harmonies and fierce lyrics as they tour in support of their upcoming self titled album due out September 6th. For the soundtrack for the movie The Kitchen, a high stakes drama about an all female gangster organization, the quartet performed a powerful rendition of Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain”. They’ve since covered it a couple times live: at a recent visit to Howard Stern’s SiriusXM show and again sitting in a circle backstage at Jimmy Fallon’s show a few days ago – with Fallon himself. Both live versions also feature an uncredited Jason Isbell on guitar.
Cover Classics takes a closer look at all-cover albums of the past, their genesis, and their legacy.
Did you hear “Born in the U.S.A.” at your Fourth of July BBQ? Maybe a diehard Springsteen fan even played the full album. It certainly packs a punch; seven of the album’s twelve songs became top-10 hit singles. Taking patriotism to a whole new level, this album was even the first commercial CD made in the United States.
Marking the 30th anniversary of the Born in the U.S.A. album, Dead Man’s Town was released in 2014 with the premise that the original album was so good that, as Luther Dickinson of North Mississippi Allstars states, “any of those songs could be played with acoustic guitar alone and still be great.”
Rolling Stone described the album as “reimagining Born in the U.S.A.… with a reduced approach more influenced by that of the acoustic Nebraska.” This cover album certainly would have followed Nebraska more congruously than the original Born in the U.S.A., which marked a departure from Springsteen’s earlier work yet brought him his greatest commercial success.
Dead Man’s Town captures the melancholy aspects of the Fourth of July, a holiday that marks the inflection point of the summer. Summer love is bending towards goodbye. Back to school advertisements abound. If you are looking for a soundtrack to summer’s end or a new take on your favorite Springsteen classics, this is the album for you. Here is a taste of what this album has to offer.
Two things strike me as I scan through our list this year. This first is that many of the highest-ranking covers are tributes to recently-deceased icons. No surprise there, I suppose. But none actually pay tribute to artists that died in 2018. They honor those we’ve been honoring for two or three years now – your Pettys, your Princes, your Bowies. Hundreds of covers of each of these legends appeared in the first days after their deaths, but many of the best posthumous covers took longer to emerge.
Good covers take time. That principle – the cover-song equivalent of the slow food movement, perhaps – holds true throughout the list. Sure, a few here appear to have arisen from sudden moments of brilliance, flash-arranged for some concert or radio promo session. But many more reveal months or even years of painstaking work to nail every element. Making someone else’s song one’s own isn’t easy. These 50 covers took the time to get it right.
– Ray Padgett, Editor-in-Chief
Start the countdown on the next page…
AJ Lambert – Lush Life (Frank Sinatra cover)
Frank Sinatra’s granddaughter covers Frank Sinatra. You think you know where this story ends: fawning nepotism. But despite familial loyalty, A.J. Lambert isn’t afraid to twist “Lush Life,” adding a Lynchian undercurrent of menace. More of an overcurrent in the crawling, nose-bleeding video.
Amy Shark – Teenage Dirtbag (Wheatus cover)
Every month, one or two of these selections invariably hail from Spotify’s terrific new cover-sessions series. My only gripe is that they came with no information, the sort a band would write in the YouTube description or press release announcing a new cover, or say on stage before performing one live. That’s now solved with Spotify’s new “Under Cover” podcast, in which the artists performing the covers talk about them. We learn that Amy Shark tried to make “Teenage Dirtbag” a Pixies song, and that she considered the song her anthem when she was young. She says: “The first time I heard ‘Teenage Dirtbag,’ I was in high school. I was crazy obsessed with it to the point where it was in my head every day all day. I would sing it in all day in school. Even teachers would say, ‘Amy, please listen to something else.'”
‘The Best Ever’ series counts down our favorite covers of great artists.
Today is Madonna’s birthday, when the Material Girl herself turns – well, one isn’t supposed to talk of such things, so let’s just say it’s a nice round number. Round enough for us to devote this month’s Best Covers countdown to her many hits and, in a few cases, underexposed deep cuts.
A very few cases, to be honest. More than anyone we’ve done these lists about before, Madonna remains best known as a singles artist (even Beyoncé now gets thought of as an album artist). As a result, it’s the singles a cover artist tends to focus on – f’rinstance, the song “Like a Prayer” has been covered more than every other track on the album Like a Prayer combined. The repeated dipping into the same dozen or so songs sets the bar pretty high. You can’t just tweak a tune here and adjust it there. To stand out amidst the million other “La Isla Bonita” covers, an artist needs to attempt something radical.
Many have taken up the challenge. Not one cover on our list would you confuse with Madonna’s version for a second. These artists translate her dance-pop smashes into garage-punk, gypsy-jazz, reggae-soul, and a few genres that no amount of hyphenates will do justice (just wait ’til you reach that Sonic Youth side project).
So get into the groove below. And, if you have any favorite covers we missed, express yourself in the comments!
At the end of every year, we work for weeks curating our annual Best of the Year list (here’s last year’s). We’re monitoring what comes out all year though, so this month I thought: why wait? Here’s a more impulsive and spontaneous list, some songs we’ve written about already and others we didn’t get to. Just some great covers that stood out as the month comes to a close.