Jul 152016

Some covers are more equal than others. Good, Better, Best looks at three covers and decides who takes home the gold, the silver, and the bronze.

Because I decided to fight for what was rightfully and legally mine, a full album that I recorded was never released. I’m not being paid, nor have I ever been paid, as an artist for “Sea of Love.” I never received justice and to this day have not received justice. – Phil Phillips

The author of “Sea of Love,” John Phillip Batiste (he Anglicized it for the benefit of non-French-speaking DJs), got more pain than joy from his big hit. Written to woo a girl he didn’t wind up with, co-credited to a record store owner who Phillips claims had no hand in writing it, the original “Sea of Love” went to number one in 1959, but only earned its author $6800. His album was permanently shelved after the label got in a dispute with the record store owner, and Phillips was unable to get out from under his five-year contract; by 1964, Beatlemania had hit and Phillips’ time in the spotlight was over.

“Sea of Love,” on the other hand, was just beginning to shine.
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Apr 032015

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

Indeed, who knows, it being all of 45 years since this song first graced any an ear. For many, their first encounter with “Who Knows Where the Time Goes?” happened thanks to the Judy Collins version; many others were introduced via the Fairport Convention version, which of course included Sandy Denny as lead vocalist. But she actually first recorded the song with her earlier group, the Strawbs. (I’m choosing to ignore the lyrical shift from morning sky to evening sky to purple sky.) Folk will vie with each other as to which is the true “original”, and Sandy is no longer, these thirty-odd years, able to adjudicate. I dare say there is even an as-yet-discovered demo knocking around, Sandy solo, but so much of her vault has been plundered that maybe I’m wrong. (And, of course, I am! And it is definitely purple!)
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Aug 132012

Last month in Amsterdam, Eddie Vedder’s solo tour continued with tracks from Ukulele Songs, Pearl Jam deep cuts, and a handful of a covers, including songs by Bruce Springsteen and two cool cats: Cat Stevens and, the most newsworthy of the bunch, Cat Power. Continue reading »

Dec 072010

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!

The most unique individual to emerge from the Los Angeles suburb of Pomona – which also produced such “luminaries” as Jessica Alba and Mark McGwire – Tom Waits is 61 years old today. His music seems to have lived three lifetimes though. He started out singing twisted jazz/beat ballads soaked in booze, progressed to bizarre German musical theater in the ’80s and early ’90s and invented almost a genre of his own in his most recent work. Even at his strangest, though, he always has made the song of paramount importance. Continue reading »

The White Stripes

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Jan 282009

Don’t know why I didn’t do this earlier. The White Stripes have been one of my favorite bands ever since I saw a video of them performing “Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground” on MTV surrounded by inanely dancing candy cane “fans”(here it is). Since then I’ve seen them live four times, and hope they reunited this year for another go round. While we wait though, many others are keeping their tunes alive.

The Dynamics – Seven Nation Army
Turns out there’s a cover or two for this song – who knew? Hell, everyone from the Flaming Lips to Duran Duran has tried it on for size. None match the bossa-nova funk of this slow-groove though. [Buy]

Aluminium – Why Can’t You Be Nicer to Me?
Richard Russell, founder of XL Records, and Joey Talbot, British composer, came together in 2005 to record one of the greatest tribute albums I’ve ever heard, an all avant-garde orchestral series of mostly-obscure Stripes tunes. The String Quartet Tribute this ain’t. They touch all albums from their first to their most recent at the time, even taking on b-sides and soundtrack contributions along the way. Click this link and get this album now. [Buy]

Long Goners – Ball & Biscuit
Jack White’s blues-rock barnstormer brings it all back home with some indie slide-folk. Lead singer Bernadette Seacrest has clearly learned much from the Stripes, having the presence of mind not to change the genders in the song as is so common (see Joss Stone’s horrendous “Fell in Love with a Boy”). Would the Stripes’ “Jolene” have made sense with “please don’t take my…woman”? This one’s from a hit-or-miss tribute disc called Indie Translations of the White Stripes. [Buy]

Chris Thile – Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground
This ex-Nickel Creek man brings his mandolin bluegrass and yelping falsetto to this fiddle and harmony-filled ditty. With such a rockin’ woodsy sound, a tune about leaves and dirt makes perfect sense. [Buy]

Nikka Costa – The Denial Twist
It was their third single from 2005’s Get Behind Me Satan and, many would argue, the most enduring (“My Doorbell” eventually got irritating). Costa’s version sounds similar to the swamp guitar original until the horns blast away all memory of the White siblings (read: exes) and Nikka’s wail forces its way to the front of the sound. [Buy]

The New York No Stars – The Big Three Killed My Baby
An appropriate song for this day and age, no doubt, as the big three are going down themselves. The original’s a classic Jack screecher, taken down here for some lounge-jazz that proves that the song does indeed have a melody. From yet another tribute album. [Buy]

Jack Johnson – My Doorbell
Johnson got a lot of blog attention for his twee cover of “We Are Going to Be Friends” on the Curious George soundtrack. It was bland and boring, sure, but not really objectionable; frankly, I would say the same is true for the original. A better tune, Johnson puts his laid-back pleasantness to, you know, chill use on this poppy confection, recorded for a radio show. [Buy]

Bree Sharp – We Are Going to be Friends
Like I said above, not a huge fan of this song. Many others are, however, and I can’t help remember with fondness its use in the opening of Napoleon Dynamite (video, in case you forgot). [Buy]

The Pistol Whippin’ Party Penguins – Hotel Yorba
It’s a live one, from the never-ending source of wonder that is archive.org. Sounds like a folk-bluegrass jam session, with lots of group singing and a fiddle solo! So, basically just like the original. [Buy]

Chan Marshall – I Want to Be the Boy
You probably know this little lady as Cat Power, and she’s been on a bit of a covers kick lately. She takes a break from her beloved vintage soul at a live show in ’03, interspersing it with typically self-effacing remarks about no one singing along. Only problem here: she does change the gender. And stops it early, which is a shame. Grr… [Buy]

The Everly Brothers

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May 122008

ANNOUNCEMENT: You may have noticed the new “Donate” button off to your right. I hate to ask for hand-outs, but my old free server cut off my access, so I have to use a paid one. It’s cheap, but I’m poor, so just a few bucks will go a long way! This is the last time I’ll advertise it though, promise. On the plus side, all links should last for much longer than they used to. They are all up to date.

With that out of the way, it’s been a tradition at this blog to have the first post each month be covers of a full album…but we’re going to push it back a week for an extra-special contribution to this month’s album. Don’t want to give away what it is, but here’s a clue: horse waits.

This week’s post, however, is no last-minute substitution. It’s a look at a group huge in its time, but obscured in history by bigger vocal groups like Simon and Garfunkel: The Everly Brothers. Sure, Paul Simon’s a hell of a songwriter, but in my book you can’t beat the harmonies of Don and Phil. They may hate each other, but I saw them perform a couple years ago, and they still got it.

The Ditty Bops – Bye Bye Love
A cutesy, folksy cover that keeps the original’s basic feel, but sounds a little more organic. If Don and Phil had been a couple of granola girls in Birkenstocks, they’d have sounded like this.

Bob Dylan – Take a Message to Mary
“What is this shit?” So opened Greil Marcus’ famous review of this album, Dylan’s 1970 Self Portrait. Mostly covers or crappy live versions of older hits, I can see why people were pissed. It sounds a lot better with the passage of time though, country bumpkin songs like this being trite but fun. Bet you didn’t know Bob’s voice ever sounded this good.

A-Ha – Crying in the Rain
It’s no “Take On Me,” but A-Ha still managed to pull of a minor hit with this harmony-filled builder. The 80’s production is atmospheric without being obnoxious and makes me think maybe there’s more to this band than the one big hit.

Pearl Jam with Beck – Sleepless Nights
A live one from ‘02, I cannot believe Eddie Vedder’s voice gets this melodic. It blends perfectly with Beck’s on a straight-forward acoustic cover that bring the pain to the fore.

Cat Power – Dream
An outtake from her indie hit The Greatest, she jazzes up the tune and rhythm so that it takes you a few bars to realize it’s the same song.

Elliott Murphy & Ernie Brooks – Cathy’s Clown
Regular readers of this blog will know that Murphy is one of my favorite cover artists, and his duet version of this one hints at why. The vocals on the verge of breaking down makes a sad song sound even sadder.

John Kincade – Till I Kissed You
Now we’re talking, an Everly cover with some balls. Fuzz guitar and thumping drums clash beautifully with the sugar-sweet lyrics.

Zoey Deschanel and Samantha Shelton – Walk Right Back
Thanks to Jamie over at Fong Songs for this one, it’s a little clap-along a cappella version, bouncy in a barbershop quartet sort of way.

Robert Plant and Alison Krauss – Stick With Me Baby
The guys seem to like the Everlys, tackling two of their songs on their debut album Raising Sand. One became the single (see the surprisingly good video here), but that one rocks a little harder than the rest of the album. This is representative of everything this pair has to offer, beautifully understated harmonies, wavering guitars and laid-back swampy production. If Plant keeps churning out songs like this, I couldn’t care less about a Zeppelin reunion.

Rosie Thomas – Let It Be Me
If this song doesn’t get it you, either the original or this cover, you’ve got a heart of stone.