My Morning Jacket has turned cover songs and tribute-album appearances into a cottage industry, playing tunes by everyone from Buddy Holly to the Frogtown Hollow Jubilee Jug Band. So it comes as no surprise that frontman Jim James will drop an album of covers on December 8 called Tribute to 2.
James recently released the lead track from the album, a cover of the Beach Boys’ majestic “I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times” from their 1966 magnum opus Pet Sounds. The tune was co-written by Brian Wilson and Tony Asher and sung by Wilson. The moody song, with its dark, introspective lyrics, signalled a stark change for the band from its happy blend of Chuck Berry and doo-wop inspired surf-pop. James channels Wilson’s falsetto in such a way that he almost sounds like a lost Wilson brother.Continue reading »
Follow all our Best of 2015 coverage (along with previous year-end lists) here.
I didn’t realize it until I began laying out our post, but this year’s Best Cover Songs list shares quite a few artists with last year’s. And some that showed up here the year before that. Jack White’s on his fourth appearance. And Jason Isbell and Hot Chip not only both reappear from last year, but have moved up in the rankings.
Though we’re always on the lookout for the new (and to be sure, there are plenty of first-timers here too), the number of repeat honorees illustrates how covering a song is a skill just like any other. The relative few artists who have mastered it can probably deliver worthy covers again and again.
How a great cover happens is something I’ve been thinking a lot about this year as I’ve been writing a series of articles diving deep into the creation of iconic cover songs through history (I posted two of them online, and the rest are being turned into a book). In every case the artist had just the right amount of reverence for the original song: honoring its intention without simply aping it. It’s a fine line, and one even otherwise able musicians can’t always walk. Plenty of iconic people don’t make good cover artists (I’d nominate U2 as an example: some revelatory covers of the band, but not a lot by them). Given the skill involved, perhaps it’s no surprise that someone who can do a good cover once can do it again.
So, to longtime readers, you will see some familiar names below. But you’ll also see a lot of new names, and they’re names you should remember. If the past is any guide, you may well see them again next year, and the year after that.
Click on over to page two to begin our countdown, and thanks for 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!
It’s a good time to be Brian Wilson. Earlier this spring, he released No Pier Pressure, his first album of new material in seven years. He is currently touring with Rodriguez, of Searching for Sugar Man (finally-)fame. Love & Mercy, the biopic featuring Paul Dano and John Cusack as different-era Brians, has been getting rave reviews. He’s not Mike Love. And today is his birthday. Continue reading »
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. Continue reading »
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 »