May 032019
 

‘The Best Ever’ series counts down our favorite covers of great artists.

joni mitchell covers

Joni Mitchell is 75 and won’t be with us forever. She suffered an aneurysm in 2015, and she’s coping with the little-understood Morgellons disease. She has difficulty walking, and has not spoken publicly in years. But if her place on earth is tenuous, her place in the heavens is secure; millions of people already look up to her every day.

Joni Mitchell’s songs are famous for being intensely personal, a deep expression of her self that people nevertheless relate to. Those who aspire to her voice become near-slavish devotees. There’s a great New Yorker piece about a small show of Joni’s that a drunken Chrissie Hynde gets overly caught up in (“That’s a REAL singer up there!”), and Hynde’s not alone. Mitchell isn’t just a real singer, though. She’s a real songwriter, a real painter, a real guitarist, a real follower of her muse – a real artist, one of the realest of the past hundred years. That authenticity is what continues to bring people into her circle on a daily basis.

In an excellent essay for NPR, Ann Powers wrote: “Like her prime compatriots Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen and her favorite protégé Prince, no one can adequately echo her; even great singers, taking on her songbook, admit they can only hope to achieve proximity.” Indeed, a Joni Mitchell cover is never just a tribute – it’s an assertion, an artist coming forth to pick up a gauntlet she lay down decades ago.

We found 30 covers that show the artists doing an especially good job at matching their talents to Joni’s, creating new works of art that, no matter how novel or innovative they may be, never set out to eradicate the original artist’s signature. May her art continue to open eyes, whether through her own performances or those of others, for centuries to come.

Jan 312019
 

‘The Best Ever’ series counts down our favorite covers of great artists.

best neil young covers

Neil Young released his self-titled debut solo album on January 22, 1969. Well, technically he re-released it that day. It had initially landed without much fanfare the previous November, only for Young to quickly pull it from shelves due to what he deemed a subpar mix. Even in his professional infancy, decades before Pono and the Neil Young Archives, he was a stickler for quality control.

We hope this list would pass muster with him. At 50 songs, it’s our longest to date (tied only with The Rolling Stones) and still barely scratches the surface. We could have quite easily listed the best 50 covers of “Heart of Gold” or “Like a Hurricane” alone. He gets covered about as much as any songwriter alive, and about as well too.

Neil hasn’t slowed down in his own age, and neither has the flow of new covers. Some of the covers below came out near 50 years ago themselves. Others only landed in the last year or two. No doubt another contender will arrive tomorrow. Neil never stops, and, thankfully, neither do covers of his songs. Continue reading »

Apr 122018
 

In Pick Five, great artists pick five cover songs that matter to them.

juliana hatfield covers

Juliana Hatfield is an old hat at making an unlikely song her own. Earlier this year, she made both our Best Cover Songs of January and March roundups. A couple years before that, her version of “Needle in the Hay” was a high point of a Wes Anderson tribute album. A couple years before that, she released a terrific self-titled covers album of her own. I mean, how far back do we want to go here? Hell, she even made our Best Cover Songs of 1996 list! Suffice to say, she knows how to crush a great cover.

That’s why we were so excited to hear about Juliana Hatfield Sings Olivia Newton-John, which comes out tomorrow. It more than lives up to our high expectations. Hatfield takes on hits like “Physical” alongside plenty of deep cuts that prove this is not some gimmick; she’s a genuine fan. Continue reading »

Jun 302017
 

That’s A Cover? explores cover songs that you may have thought were originals.

Come on people now
Smile on your brother
Everybody get together
Try to love one another
Right now

Wow,  that sounds naïve in today’s world, doesn’t it? Watch the news or go on social media and all we see are people screaming at each other, dividing each other and hating each other. Not to mention, why only smile on your brother? What about sisters? And the gender binary should be rejected anyway, right?

In any case, the Youngbloods‘ “Get Together” has become an easy soundtrack shorthand when referring to the optimism of the 1960s (much as Buffalo Springfield‘s “For What It’s Worth” or Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young‘s “Ohio” is used to illustrate the disillusionment and violence of that decade). You just have to hear the opening notes, and you are transported to a world of flower-festooned long hair, tie-dye, fringed vests and pot smoke. Thus, the song’s ubiquity in films, TV and advertising. 

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Mar 142014
 

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!

In the early ’70s, two sets of brothers and their friends, art students at Kent State University, developed a theory. It began as a kind of joke based on a religious pamphlet that alluded to the D-evolution of the unenlightened man. As artists tend to do, they created some performance art and music around this theme for their own amusement. Then the terrible tragedy of the Kent State shootings happened. Four of their classmates were killed by those who were supposed to be protecting them. Suddenly the de-evolution of man and of society in general seemed more than just a joke. The band Devo was born.
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Oct 112012
 

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

Yesterday we took a look at the early years of Neil Young, as represented on the first two sides of Decade (if you missed it, click here to get caught up). Today, it’s sides three and four’s turn; a dozen artists looking at a dozen classics a dozen different ways…
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