Jul 172015
 

Five Good Covers presents five cross-genre reinterpretations of an oft-covered song.

elvis_nick

Let’s start with a given — the best version of “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding” is a cover. It would be hard to dispute that Elvis Costello’s version is the standard to which all others fall short, including the original. I’ll pause here to allow those readers unaware that Elvis wasn’t the first to record the song to go on the Internet and confirm this. (Don’t feel bad, by the way—we self-proclaimed cover experts don’t know everything, either.) That’s right, the song was written by Nick Lowe and originally recorded by his pub-rock band Brinsley Schwarz and released on the band’s 1974 album The New Favourites of… Brinsley Schwarz. Although Lowe had written the bulk of the songs on the band’s prior five albums, he has claimed that it was the first truly original song that he ever wrote. However, he has admitted to having stolen a lick from Judee Sill’s “Jesus Was a Cross Maker.” (See if you agree.)

Brinsley Schwarz’s version is a Byrds-esque bit of nostalgic folk rock. Lowe wrote it in 1973, when the hippie era of peace and love was being supplanted by harder edges, harder drugs, alcohol and cynicism. As Lowe has said, “this song was supposed to be an old hippie, laughed at by the new thinking, saying to these new smarty-pants types, ‘Look, you think you got it all going on. You can laugh at me, but all I’m saying is ‘What’s so funny about peace, love, and understanding?’” It is, in that version, a perfectly fine song. But it took a fan of the Brinsleys, who would one day rename himself Elvis Costello, to turn the song into something more. Lowe acknowledged that Costello “brought it to the world, so to speak. Because when he recorded it, he gave it that anthemic quality which everyone reacted really well to.”
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May 222015
 

Five Good Covers presents five cross-genre reinterpretations of an oft-covered song.

dreambabydream

When Bruce Springsteen was touring behind his 2005 album Devils and Dust, he closed his shows with a cover of the song “Dream Baby Dream” by the protopunk band Suicide. Most fans of the Boss were unfamiliar with it, and didn’t know how to take the moody mantra, sung over the drone of a pump organ and an offstage synth – “Glory Days” it ain’t. It turned out Bruce had been a fan of Suicide’s since meeting them in a studio in the ’70s, and had claimed in one interview that “You know, if Elvis came back from the dead I think he would sound like Alan Vega.” As for Vega, once he’d heard Springsteen’s interpretation, he said, “Now I can die…. He interpreted my song, he did it his way, and such a great way that I’m going to have to sing it that way, or not sing it at all anymore…. On my death bed, that’s the last thing I’m going to listen to. I’ll play it at my funeral.” So it’s safe to say he liked it.
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Dec 182014
 

Follow all our Best of 2014 coverage (along with previous year-end lists) here.

A few months ago, I read an interesting interview with an artist named Nouela. You probably haven’t heard of her, but you may have heard her music. She’s become a specialist in a weird but growing niche: covers recorded for movie and television trailers. Whether doing a piano “Sound of Silence” to promote a new HBO show or a brooding “Black Hole Sun” to promote Liam Neeson punching people, she’s found a quickly-growing way of getting her covers out there.

It struck me as part of a growing trend we’ve seen. More and more great covers seem to come from unexpected places. Sure, you’ve got still your standby sources, your b-sides, tribute albums, and radio shows. But new avenues for covers have increasingly crept in. This year saw a Sam Smith cover that is only available to hear under Grey’s Anatomy dialog (thankfully he’s recorded a few live versions too) and a whole covers album recorded to plug a Canadian TV show. Brands have fully embraced covers too, most recently My Morning Jacket’s “This Land Is Your Land” recorded for North Face ads, or Charli XCX and Bleachers trading covers for Kia.

We don’t care where they originated when we make our year-end lists, though, and we would up with some of everything. In our top five alone, we’ve got a live radio session, a deluxe-edition bonus track, and a cover hiding in plain sight on one of the most acclaimed country records of the year. You have to keep an eye on more places than ever to spot the best covers these days. Wherever they come from, we’re glad to have ’em.

Click on over to page two to begin our countdown, and thanks for reading.

– Ray Padgett, Editor in Chief
(Illustration by Sarah Parkinson)

Nov 142014
 

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.

Dan Bern should not be under anyone’s radar. Not only is he an incredibly prolific songwriter — only a small fraction of the thousand or so that he has acknowledged writing have been officially released — he is also an artist, a poet, a novelist, a children’s book author, and a filmmaker. His stage banter and lyrics are funny enough that he could definitely do standup. He has written songs for movies and television, and is a pioneer in online performing. He tours constantly, and what with all of those songs, he probably never plays the same set twice.
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Oct 222014
 

Welcome to Cover Me Q&A, where we take your questions about cover songs and answer them to the best of our ability.

Here at Cover Me Q&A, we’ll be taking questions about cover songs and giving as many different answers as we can. This will give us a chance to hold forth on covers we might not otherwise get to talk about, to give Cover Me readers a chance to learn more about individual staffers’ tastes and writing styles, and to provide an opportunity for some back-and-forth, as we’ll be taking requests (learn how to do so at feature’s end).

Today’s question, courtesy of staffer Jordan Becker: What’s a cover song you hate, and why?
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Sep 232014
 

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!

When it comes to religion and spirituality, I still haven’t found what I’m looking for. The paint-by-numbers elements of most religious rituals leave me cold. I am not moved by scripture, nor am I frightened by hellfire and brimstone preachers – all fury, self-righteousness, and condemnation, their empty words matched by their outstretched empty palms.

In my darker and much more cynical moments, I wrestle with the notion of a human soul. Does a soul really exist, or is it something that we conjured up to serve as a salve?

And then I remember Bruce Springsteen.
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Aug 182014
 

Kathleen Edwards has covered Bruce Springsteen’s “Human Touch” live a number of times, usually with the assistance of Jenn Grant, a frequent touring companion. The online YouTube versions are okay, but suffer from less than stellar performances or shaky recording. Apparently, that almost perfect performance has been tucked away in the record vaults. Edwards recently decided to share it with her fans via a Facebook post. Continue reading »

Jul 072014
 

Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the U.S.A.” has been misinterpreted many times by casual listeners, politicians and fist-pumping audience members. The rock anthem’s buoyant arrangement, designed for arenas in the 1980s, and the simplicity of the single line chorus, make it easy to overlook the verses that describe the hardships and challenges faced by veterans of the Vietnam War. Continue reading »