2020 isn’t over yet, and we’re already longing for those bygone days of 2019 when “Old Town Road” mania swept the globe. Since its chart run last year, Lil Nas X and Billy Ray Cyrus’ smash country-rap hybrid has inspired multiple covers from across the musical universe. The latest to throw on a metaphorical pair of Wranglers and take his horse to the “Old Town Road” is jazz musician Sam Gendel. It might not be the best cover of the track, but it certainly is one of the oddest.
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!
Earlier this year, a young rapper named Lil Nas X found himself in an odd position. With rhymes about horses, tractors, cowboys, and Wrangler jeans, his song “Old Town Road” was blazing up the country charts. Then, suddenly, it was dropped from the list. Officials at Billboard claimed it was because the tune was not country enough. Some cried foul, some cried racism. Billy Ray Cyrus called it something else.
The country singer, who shook up Nashville himself with his 1992 hit “Achy Breaky Heart,” labelled Lil Nas X a true country outlaw. Cyrus took to Twitter, saying: “When I got thrown off the charts, Waylon Jennings said to me ‘Take this as a compliment’ means you’re doing something great! Only Outlaws are outlawed. Welcome to the club.”
With Lil Nax X’s blessing, Cyrus went into the studio to record some of the lyrics and an additional verse. Just like that, “Old Town Road (Remix)” was born. This time, they did not need the country charts. The song shot up to the top spot on Billboard’s Hot 100, where it has stayed for 13 weeks as of July 1. At age 57, Cyrus earned the first number one pop single of his career. But more importantly, the man known to many as Miley Cyrus’ dad has suddenly been blessed with cultural street cred. On June 23, the two performed the song at the BET Awards with the whole crowd singing and dancing along. It’s a type of cachet that has been eluding Cyrus since the “Achy Breaky” backlash of the early ‘90s.
I can’t help but feel somewhat vindicated by all this. You see, I have been a Billy Ray defender for decades. Yes, I know “Achy Breaky Heart” is corny and was overplayed to nth degree. But once you get beyond his many attempts to replicate his “Achy Breaky” success with equally cheesy sequels, he has many great songs that have held up well in the ensuing decades. Plus, Cyrus can really sing. His voice enables him to take on many subgenres of country, rock, pop, and now rap with equal ease.
As with any country singer, Cyrus has recorded a number of cover songs over the years, including two feminist anthems. Here’s a quick primer for those who dare to embrace Cyrus’ well-worn mullet.
Aerosmith’s Joe Perry is no stranger to covers. During his 47-year run as lead guitarist for “America’s Greatest Rock and Roll Band,” Perry and his Aerosmith mates have taken on dozens. Not surprisingly, most, like the band itself, are rooted in R&B with a few Beatles tracks thrown in for good measure. Their long list of covers can be seen here.
For the most part, Joe’s been consistent with a similar formula both as leader of The Joe Perry Project (during two separate stints) and as a solo artist. But as we’ll see, up to and including his latest album, Sweetzerland Manifesto – released last week – one could argue that his personal choices have been a bit more adventurous…Continue reading »