Cover Classics takes a closer look at all-cover albums of the past, their genesis, and their legacy.

The Beach Boys have one of the most interesting fan bases in the history of rock music. Not only are they one of the most popular bands, they also have one of the biggest cult followings, and with few exceptions, each side has little patience for what the other side adores. For every fan who cranks up “Surfin’ USA” on their car radio, there’s another fan sitting in a darkened den, studying the nuances of “H.E.L.P. Is On The Way,” Brian Wilson’s paean to vegetarianism. They do have one thing in common, though – they both think Brian Wilson is some kind of genius.
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Had he lived, tomorrow would have been Buddy Holly’s 75th birthday, and today marks the release date of the second full-length Buddy Holly tribute of the past ten weeks. Due to the proximity of the release dates, the two collections are destined to be linked together and compared. On the surface, similarities abound: both Rave On Buddy Holly (review here) and Listen To Me: Buddy Holly feature big name stars and a bevy of classic rockers. Rave On boasts Paul McCartney, Nick Lowe, Patti Smith and Lou Reed while Listen To Me offers Stevie Nicks, Brian Wilson, Jackson Browne and Ringo Starr. The differences lie in the roster of contemporary contributors. Where Rave On is stocked with indie cred, Listen To Me relies on a list of chart-topping pop stars.

Less innovative than its slightly older cousin, Listen To Me: Buddy Holly has a few oddities that tend to tarnish an otherwise pretty solid compilation. First on the list of disappointments is Linda Ronstadt’s 1976 Hasten Down The Wind version of “That’ll Be The Day.” Really? Does a 35 year-old song get a pass on an otherwise “new” collection simply because the legendary Peter Asher produced both projects? Did they think we wouldn’t notice? Continue reading »

Last year Brian Wilson released the four-star album Brian Wilson Reimagines Gershwin (read our review). Perhaps buoyed by that success, he has just announced his next album: a tribute to the songs of Disney movies. With anyone else, we might be inclined to roll our eyes, but if there is anyone who can deliver definitive performances of these oft-covered songs, it’s Wilson. Continue reading »

We know, we know, another Buddy Holly cover. This year so far has seen 13 posts and counting on Buddy covers. We haven’t seen an artist get this much cover love since someone realized Lady Gaga sounded good on acoustic guitar. Still, this latest cover is worth another post. Brian Wilson covers “Listen to Me,” the title track of the latest tribute album, and it’s a perfect slice of beach pop. Continue reading »

Full Albums features covers of every track off a classic album. Got an idea for a future pick? Leave a note in the comments!

Imagine hitting your creative and artistic peak at the tender young age of 23 and then having your personal and professional life completely fall apart, with a descent into drug abuse and mental illness. Brian Wilson‘s life followed such a trajectory after the release of his masterpiece, the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds. Written with almost no contribution from the rest of the band, Wilson recorded the album’s instrumental tracks while the boys were on tour in Asia without him. Continue reading »

They Say It’s Your Birthday celebrates an artist’s special day with other people singing his or her songs. Let others do the work for a while. Happy birthday!

What is it about artistic geniuses that make them so fragile, so seemingly unable to operate in the real world? Vincent Van Gogh, Sylvia Plath and Alexander McQueen all perished by their own hand. J.D. Salinger became a notorious recluse after the success of The Catcher in the Rye. Brian Wilson, the musical genius behind The Beach Boys, sunk almost as low as these, spending the first half of the ’70s mostly in bed doing drugs and then a number of years under the spell of a “therapist” who controlled his every move. Continue reading »

Maybe Weezer’s recent classic-album tour stirred something up, or maybe the man currently churning out eye-rollers like “Where’s My Sex?” and “Can’t Stop Partying” (or, for that matter, “Unbreak My Heart”) still needs emotional release after all. Whatever the reason, frontman Rivers Cuomo put aside the lolz this past weekend for a seemingly impromptu YouTube cover of the Beach Boys’ “God Only Knows.” It’s a pretty by-the-books piano rendition, but provides evidence that Cuomo can still deliver heartfelt honesty when he wants to. Continue reading »

Brian Wilson first heard “Rhapsody in Blue” at age two. In his telling, he thought it was “the most beautiful thing in the world” and asked his mom to play it over and over again.

Fast-forward 66 years. Fast-forward through “Surfin’ USA,” “I Get Around,” and Pet Sounds. Fast-forward through decades of seclusion and a twenty-first century comeback (fueled by 2004’s long-awaited Smile). A lot has changed over the decades. Wilson’s love of “Rhapsody in Blue” hasn’t.

Brian Wilson Reimagines Gershwin builds on that early appreciation with an unabashedly loving tribute to a giant of American song. A few years ago George Gershwin’s estate approached Wilson with an irresistible offer: complete some of Gershwin’s unfinished melodies. Wilson whittled 114 snippets down to just two, to which he added lyrics and arrangements. In “The Like in I Love You,” muted trumpet gently introduces in a rich orchestral production that sounds as carefree as any of the early Beach Boys hits. “Nothing But Love” hits a little harder, crunchy guitar (a rarely-seen instrument on this album) ushering in a herky-jerky pep rally. Continue reading »

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