Arthur Russell is one of those artists I keep promising myself I’ll make some time to listen to. I’ve heard and read lots of good things about him. But the only familiarity with his music I have is through covers of his songs. Joel Gibb’s version of ‘That’s Us/Wild Combination’ off the tribute EP ‘Four Songs By Arthur Russell’ is an absolute stunner of a song.
Arcade Fire got local during their Philadelphia tour stop, covering “Motown Philly” by hometown heroes Boyz II Men. The indie giants kept the track true to its funky R&B roots. From the look of the video the band had a grand old time with this tune, because who doesn’t love a little new jack swing? And if your dream is seeing Win Butler sing Boyz II Men in a giant fake head, then this video is absolutely for you.
I’m not sure there were more great cover songs this year than any other. But there were more good ones.
What I mean by that is, the average quality of the covers we come across in the time we’ve been around has risen, rather dramatically. Whether they’re iTunes homepage singles or some guy emailing us his Bandcamp, more cover songs in 2013 avoid the old pitfalls than ever before. They don’t sound like they were recorded in a cereal box, substitute ear-bleeding volume for actual creativity, or – the worst cover sin of all – try to carbon-copying the original. With the ease of production and distribution available now, artists seemed to record covers only when they felt they had something to add, and do a halfway decent job committing those ideas to 1s and 0s.
In the Spotlight showcases a cross-section of an artist’s cover work. View past installments, then post suggestions for future picks in the comments!
Arcade Fire has a new album out. Reception: a trifle mixed, shall we say. But don’t let that stop you from engaging in a little cover love.
Their songs can be sweeping, epic, with almost a cinematic quality about them. Indeed, “Wake Up” was heavily featured in the trailer for Where the Wild Things Are (which was arguably the best thing about that film). We thought we’d invent some movie and television synopses to go with the covers below, both widely featured on the internets and by some newer unknown artists. Coming soon to a delusional theater in your mind…
Under the Radar shines a light on lesser-known cover artists. If you’re not listening to these folks, you should. Catch up on past installments here.
Sara Lov first made a name for herself with the Devics, an indie dream pop-rock (for openers) L.A. band with a small but highly appreciated catalog. Since they came to a close, she’s released two full albums and is working on a third. She’s a fine songwriter, but has shown a special flair for cover songs; whether the original is too cool for school or the guiltiest of pleasures, she makes it matter without making it unapproachable.
Peter Gabriel has orchestra-fied them. Bruce Springsteen has sang with them. For the past few years, it seems older musicians have been tripping over themselves to pass the torch to Arcade Fire. Now Tears for Fears add them name to that list with a fantastically synth-ed out cover of “Ready to Start.”
Adele dominated the cover song landscape in 2011, but Two-Aught-Twelve saw no similar galvanizing figure. Yes Lana Del Rey got covered a lot, but Leonard Cohen and Arcade Fire also seemed to garner an unexpected landslide of great covers (and speaking of landslides, so did Fleetwood Mac). “Call Me Maybe” was a huge hit that didn’t lead to much in the way of classic covers, and few seem to have even bothered attempting the Korean raps on “Gangnam Style.”
Which means that cover songs in 2012 were more diverse, ambitious, and left-field than ever before. A given YouTube search or Hype Machine browse would be as likely to turn up forgotten hits or underappreciated songwriters as it would the latest Top 40 smash. Find a sampling of all the diversity in Cover Me’s official Best Cover Songs of 2012 countdown. Start with #40-31 on the next page, and check back daily as we’ll be adding more til we hit #1.
Arcade Fire just performed a new song in NYC last week and, from the sound of the shaky live video, it holds promise. The real new Arcade Fire everyone should be buzzing about though is by San Francisco duo Meklit & Quinn. This pair of jazz-educated musicians just released their self-titled debut, covering everyone from MGMT to Patti Smith with grace and delicacy. Their version of Arcade Fire’s “Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)” belongs in the annals of great AF covers.