Jul 212013

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!

Cat Stevens, now known as Yusuf Islam, was born Steven Georgiou 65 years ago today. His popularity exploded in the early-mid 1970s, and then, for all intents and purposes, he vanished from the music world for decades. Some of his disappearance can be attributed to changing musical tastes, but the main reason for the long disruption in his musical career was his conversion to Islam. Unlike his contemporary Richard Thompson, who converted to Islam a few years earlier, Stevens’ conversion not only led him to stop performing, but also embroiled him in controversy; his comments about the fatwa issued against Salman Rushdie in 1989 caused a typical media overreaction, with calls for (and actual) destruction of Cat Stevens albums and the removal of a very good cover of “Peace Train” from later pressings of a 10,000 Maniacs album.

In the 1990s, Islam began a slow return to performing, initially focusing on Islamic music and issues; more recently, he has returned to secular music, often with charitable purposes. His appearances included performing at Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert’s satirical pre-election “Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear,” where he sang “Peace Train,” while Ozzy Osbourne sang “Crazy Train.”
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Dec 232010

Over the past few weeks, artists have been unleashing a blizzard of Christmas covers. From live tapings to unexpected albums, these holiday presents came in all shapes and sizes. We kept up as best we could (see ‘em all here), but so many came in we couldn’t possibly post them all. So instead, we collected our favorite Christmas covers from this year in a special mixtape.

This 60-minute tape, which you can download or stream below, mixes the classics with the obscure. It includes refreshingly original covers of famous hymns and unexpected runs through buried nuggets. It finds indie up-and-comers mingling with longtime favorites. Continue reading »

Dec 202010

Christmas is a festival of light and joy. As such, those into darkness and sorrow often feel excluded. Party-planners may find themselves asking, “How do I get my congenitally unmerry guest into the holiday spirit?”

We reply: add the following five Christmas carols to your playlist, and even the grinch laid out on the couch will stand up and sing – or at least sit up and nod before collapsing into a ball of self-pity. Continue reading »

Dec 102010

The concept of the “fan club” has faded in the age of the Internet. It’s called Twitter, people! However, if you’re an R.E.M. fan, you might want to join theirs. Every year they send out a new holiday single exclusively to club members. Last year saw them singing Lenny Kaye’s “Crazy Like a Fox” and “Santa Baby.” This year keeps the holiday-romance theme going with Darlene Love‘s classic “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home).”

“Christmas” sees Peter Buck, Mike Mills, and the Minus 5’s Scott McCaughey create their best Wall of Sound. They don’t disappoint. Like last year, R.E.M. alum Billy Berry returns on drums. Plus, half the R.E.M. office pitches in on backing vocals (and someone’s playing those sleigh bells). Listen below. Thanks to the good folks at the Murmurs forum for help with the creidts. Continue reading »