Sep 282018
 

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

I’ve been watching early episodes of Saturday Night Live recently. On the fifth episode ever – back when it bore the shorter title Saturday Night – the host was comedian Robert Klein. Two musical guests joined him: Loudon Wainwright III and ABBA.

Wainwright’s performance plays it straight, just him and his guitar on stage. With ABBA, though, the show undermines the Swedish quartet from the start. They have to perform “S.O.S.” on a sinking Titanic set, competing for screen time with Klein and some SNL writers pretending to drown in vintage dining-lounge attire. Even when the camera lands on ABBA, it waves and swoops to indicate they’re going down with the ship too.

The second performance, “Waterloo,” does them even dirtier. Before the first verse even ends, these words pop up on the screen: “Right now ABBA is lip-syncing. It’s not their fault. The tracks didn’t arrive from Sweden.” The band appears to have no idea they are being thus undermined, even as the audience titters. I’ve watched the entire first season now, and haven’t seen any other musical performer treated this way. (The individual videos sadly aren’t anywhere embeddable, but the full episode is on Hulu).

This SNL appearance neatly embodies the ABBA dichotomy. On the one hand, they were such huge stars that the show simply had to book them. On the other, they seemed so irredeemably uncool that the show felt obliged to mock them so it didn’t lose its cultural cachet. And forty-plus years on from that performance, we treat them the same way. We’ll sing and dance along to their songs – particularly after a drink or two – but only the most ardent poptimist would put ABBA anywhere but the “guilty pleasure” category.

True, the productions may be dated, and the outfits ridiculous, but at their core the songs are rock-solid. Songwriters Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus, sometimes aided by band manager Stig Anderson, penned songs that still rise above the cheese-tacular performances. And there’s no better evidence than in the thousands of genre-spanning covers. Everyone from Richard Thompson to Portishead has covered these songs – and not with a wink and a nudge either, but honestly finding timeless lyrics and melodies beneath ABBA’s very of-its-time presentation.

Cher did it too, releasing her ABBA tribute album today to piggyback on the second Mamma Mia! movie’s success (commercial success, that is, as the reviews were not kind – a true ABBA divide, there). So in honor of that, we decided to pick out the best ABBA covers ever. No, none of Cher’s make the list. But thirty other artists do. Continue reading »

Apr 082016
 

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

Bowie

I felt I had to let some time pass and perspective broaden before posting this. The temptation had been to rush it out whilst reactions were still raw, the media awash with memories of an icon, but I stalled, maybe waiting for his death to all have been a big mistake, a stunt even. But it wasn’t, nor were the steady stream of deaths that have followed in his wake, 2016 seeming an end of the line for so many of my musical heroes.

I was a mere decade behind Bowie in age; he had been a constant in my life from ’69 and he still is, not necessarily at the forefront but always capable of wrenching away the limelight from whichsoever johnny-come-latelys were making my day. Not an uber fan; indeed, swathes of his prodigious output meant nothing to me at the time, only catching up well late in the game – I didn’t “get” the Berlin Trilogy until five years after the fact, and Diamond Dogs/Young Americans took four times longer. (Never did get Tin Machine, but hey, who did?) But even as recently as last summer, a driving holiday in Cornwall was nourished by Bowie, a playlist culled from the 102 tracks of his on my iPod. Paltry by some standards, yes, but several hours of enjoyment by me. With much in-car singing.

I remember the time when suddenly everybody first got Bowie, the days of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, early ’70s, but my dalliance had begun earlier. I recall hearing “Changes,” or should I say, “Ch-ch-ch-changes,” on the radio at home, sounding all awkwardness and angst, immediately marking my card. Inevitably when Ziggy came along, all those of my age and place on the autism spectrum disorder “preferred” Hunky Dory. And I did too, swiftly selling my copy of Ziggy as it was “too commercial.” Hey, give me a break – I was 15, and today, aeons later, I regret that. But I still prefer Hunky Dory, even the dodgy tracks everyone skips.
Continue reading »

Jul 262010
 

Cover Commissions is a monthly series in which a featured artist covers a reader-selected song for this blog. Any artists interested in participating, contact us.

What’s left to say about The Peptides? A couple weeks ago we introduced these Canadians to you in a popular Under the Radar feature. Frontman Claude Marquis told us about their covers of “Don’t Fear the Reaper,” “Fallen Leaves,” “Silver Dagger,” and “Jealous Guy.” A pretty wide spectrum there, from traditional folk to pop-punk, but they haven’t done any disco. Until now. In the Cover Commissions tradition, they will cover one of ten disco hits, as determined by you, the reader.

Before we get there though, let’s present a little more background. The band has two covers we held back from the previous feature. One is a harmony-happy version of Peter Schilling’s “Major Tom (Coming Home),” the sequel he wrote to David Bowie’s “Space Oddity.” The other is a mandolin-and-strings “Mary’s Prayer,” the sole hit by British band Danny Wilson (which included no one name Danny or Wilson). Both come accompanied by typically vintage videos from old films. Can you name them? Continue reading »