Sep 172019
 
cover songs 1969

This marks the fourth year I’ve done a big anniversary countdown (after 1996, 1987, and 1978). It also proved to be the most challenging. There were a lot of covers released in 1969. In fact, according to covers-and-samples database WhoSampled, there were more than in any of the other years we’ve done. Their database lists 3,110 covers, which is surely still a small fraction.

The reason for the cover song’s proliferation seems clear to me after going through them all: Popular bands released a lot more music back then. Aretha Franklin released two albums in 1969. So did The Byrds, Elvis Presley, Joe Cocker, Johnny Cash, Johnny Winter, and Nina Simone. Creedence Clearwater Revival and Merle Haggard released three albums apiece. James Brown topped them all with four. To get that kind of output, artists would pad their albums with covers. Every 1969 album by every artist I just mentioned includes at least one cover. Many include several. A few are all covers. It adds up.

Impressively, many of those covers reinterpreted songs that had come out within the previous year. This entire list could easily have been “Hey Jude” covers. “Wichita Lineman” and “Light My Fire” came up constantly too (the latter song slightly older, but it had hit the charts again in 1968). Even songs from 1968’s soundtrack to Hair got covered endlessly in 1969.

Even beyond “Hey Jude,” Beatles covers dominated the year. I’m not going to go back through the entire 3,110 covers and count, but if you told me Beatles covers made up a full half of those, I wouldn’t be shocked. Add Bob Dylan covers to that side of the scale and it’s probably true. Beatles songs got covered in every conceivable genre for every conceivable audience. Jazz and swing and folk and proto-metal Beatles covers everywhere the eye can see. Plenty of people cover the Beatles these days, sure, but trust me: It’s nothing like it was in 1969.

So wheedling all those down to the top 50 proved incredibly difficult. But it means this is maybe the top-to-bottom strongest set thus far, and it killed me to leave some off (that’s why our Patreon supporters will get a set of 69 bonus tracks – so join now).

One note: I left off Woodstock performances. For one, we counted down the 50 best covers performed there last month. But more importantly, most people did not actually hear those covers until the movie and soundtrack came out in 1970. Jimi Hendrix performed his iconic Star-Spangled Banner – pretty much everyone’s top cover of the weekend – to a nearly empty field. Most of the audience had left before he punched in at 9 AM that Monday morning. That said, several of the classic covers performed at Woodstock were released as singles or on albums the same year – including Joe Cocker’s “With a Little Help from My Friends” – and those studio versions make this list.

Now, let the sunshine in with the 50 best covers of 1969.

The countdown begins on page 2…

Aug 202018
 

In Memoriam pays tribute to those who have left this world, and the songs they left us to remember them by.

Aretha Franklin cover

In 1998, the British music magazine Mojo polled 175 singers to determine the greatest singer of all time. Aretha Franklin was the winner, which in and of itself was not wholly unexpected. What was unexpected, the Mojo people told its readers, was the degree to which she ran away with it. According to Aretha’s peers, Frank Sinatra was a very distant second. Everybody knows of her famous demand for R-E-S-P-E-C-T, and in the hours that followed her passing, everyone would learn that she got it, and that she truly deserved it.
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Apr 142017
 

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!

al green

A belated happy birthday to the Reverend Al Green, who turned 71 years old yesterday. The soul giant teamed with producer Willie Mitchell on the Hi Records label to create some of the most memorable singles and albums of the early ’70s, then moved away from secular music into gospel and preaching – his Full Gospel Tabernacle Church in Memphis recently celebrated the 40th anniversary of its founding. His original songs have been covered by people up to and including the president of the United States, but today we’ll look at the holy spirit that he brought to the songs of others.
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