Sep 182015

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.

When all the bien-pensant trendsetters diss the Eagles (and they do, they do), “Boys of Summer,” written post-Eagles 1.0 and pre-hell freezing over by Don Henley, their best singer and their best writer, is the song that leads my opening statement for the defense. I remember the first time I heard it; I’d long before grown weary of the old band, but this song astonished and delighted. The combination of sound and lyric served to kick me into a mythical time remembered, irrespective of impossibility, brown skins shining in what little sun made it into my drab surroundings, lifting me into celebration, looking back, yes, always looking back. (I recall actual Deadheads kicking up over the perceived lyrical put-down, but to me, hell, it was a reminder and a kick-start.)

It’s a difficult song to do well, as the original hits all the bases available. Second Hand Songs tells me at least twenty-three have tried, with YouTube adding several more risible attempts to the list. One was even a successful hit in Eurodisco land, as some may remember. Wanna hear that one again? Tough, it ain’t here tonight. But here are three others, in ascending order of quality.
Continue reading »

Feb 072011

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

Here’s one of those situations where the cover is actually more widely-known than the original. The song was originally recorded by Gloria Jones in 1964. Unlike the later covers of the song  that have been chart-climbers (like Soft Cell’s), Jones’ version nearly fell into complete obscurity until a British DJ, Richard Searling, stumbled upon her CD My Bad Boy’s Comin’ Home almost ten years later. The song garnered enough underground success on the UK Northern Soul scene (the ’60s mod-twist on American soul music) to prompt Jones to re-record the single in 1976, but the tainted track once again got no love from the charts. Continue reading »

Apr 112010

Each week Shuffle Sundays features a cover chosen at random. The songs will usually be good, occasionally be bad, always be interesting. All downloads will only be available for one week, so get them while you can.

My junior year of college I spent a term at the University of Edinburgh.  One weekend the exchange group traveled to the small island of Iona off the Western coast.  Populated more by sheep than people, it boasts an old abbey, a remnant of its role as the de facto headquarters of Celtic Christianity in the sixth and seventh centuries.

After a three-day weekend of drinking wine on the beach and poking around the grassy hills, we began the five-hour drive back east.  Due to overly ambitious planning we stopped at various towns and castles along the way, most of which we were too tired to fully appreciate.  However, one stop proved too beautiful for grumbling: Loch Lomond.

Loch Lomond is one of those idyllic places we Americans assume don’t exist anymore.  If locals are making tourist bucks around the loch, we saw no sign.  Our van just pulled off to the side of a small road and there it was, flat and deserted, the cloudy sky perfectly reflected in the still surface. 

Before that day, I’d always thought of the song “Loch Lomond” as a pretty but corny tribute to a land of forest sprites or something.  Once you see the loch though, you understand why it makes old-guard Scots tear up.  I couldn’t give you a dictionary definition of a bonnie bank, but I know exactly what one looks like.

Dartmouth Aires – Loch Lomond (Trad.)  [Buy]

What do you think? Sound off in the comments section below.

Nov 162009

Shuffle Sundays is a weekly feature in which we feature a cover chosen at random by my iTunes shuffle. The songs will usually be good, occasionally be bad, always be interesting. All downloads will only be available for one week, so get them while you can. After you listen, discuss this week’s tune in the comments.

It’s official: iTunes hates me.

Let me explain.

As you can see above, Shuffle Sundays is a weekly feature where I let iTunes’ shuffle feature pick a random cover from my library of 10,000+. When two of the first four posts contained Christian rock covers (I really don’t have that many) I went along with it. When iTunes chose a Christmas song in late October, I figured the Pogues are good for every season. But this choice tempted me to redo the selection entirely.

“Hanover Winter Song” is a traditional tune from my alma mater, Dartmouth College. When it popped up I groaned, thinking that any reader who didn’t go there would have no interest this song. Sung by a Dartmouth a cappella group, no less. Yeesh.

Still, I decided bending my self-imposed rules of true randomness defeated the whole purpose. And when I listened to the song a few times, I realized it was more appropriate than I’d thought. Though the tune takes Hanover, NH as its inspiration, there’s otherwise nothing Dartmouth-specific about it. It could just as easily be “Boston Winter Song,” “Saskatoon Winter Song,” or a song about anywhere else people know their way around an ice pick.

Plus it’s got a great old-timey melody. Written in 1898, by Class of 1885 members Richard Hovey (words) and Frederic Field Bullard (music), commissioned by one Edwin Osgood Grover for the first edition of a Dartmouth Lyrics songbook. Four years earlier the poet Hovey had penned “Men of Dartmouth,” later to become the school’s alma mater (changed slightly upon co-education), so he was a good bet for a wintry ode. Hovey roped in composer friend Bullard into writing the melody and since then just about every Dartmouth a cappella or glee club singer has become very familiar with the tune.

This version comes from the school’s oldest a cappella group, the Dartmouth Aires. Founded in 1944 as the Injunaires (a fact they wisely try to keep under wraps), they’ve already won “Best All-Male Collegiate Album” from the Contemporary A Cappella Recording Award twice this decade. Here they are with the “Hanover [or other cold area] Winter Song.”

Dartmouth Aires – Hanover Winter Song (Hovey/Bullard) [Buy]

What do you think? Discuss this song in the comments section below.


 Posted by at 9:05 pm  No Responses »
Jul 112008

-This post’s a few days late cause I realized I accidentally posted it at my other blog Monday. Whoops!-

As the weather’s heating up, it seemed about time for a seasonal post.

Billy Stewart – Summertime (George Gershwin)
Stewart’s version of this classic – wikipedia says there are more than 2,600 known covers – is always in the running as one of my favorite covers ever. If you haven’t heard it yet, this version trumps other excellent renditions by everyone from Janis Joplin to Angelique Kidjo. And even if you had, check out this mp3 – it features introductory notes from Bob Dylan!

TEA – Summer in the City (The Lovin’ Spoonful)
A lost treasure from the psychedelic era, this ’75 single adds some funk guitar to horn swagger that keeps the original’s attitude but updates the sound (though by doing so, it ironically sounds even more dated).

Bruce Springsteen – Summertime Blues (Eddie Cochran)
Bruce and the E Street Band just played this one for the first time in 27 years. It used to be a concert staple though, so here’s an older version, from Cleveland ’78.

Wakey! Wakey! – California Girls (The Beach Boys)
No band has encapsulated summer more than Brian Wilson and co. Wakey’s little toy piano version plunks along almost enough to compensate for the missing harmonies.

The Ramones – Surf City (Jan & Dean)
Off their covers album Acid Eaters, this shows the late-period Ramones having a bit of fun, punking out this Beach Boys-wannabe classic with tongues firmly in cheek.

Dartmouth Aires – The Boys of Summer (Don Henley)
A Capella. You either love it or hate.

Steve Wynn Quintet – Summer Wine (Nancy Sinatra / Lee Hazelwood)
I can’t claim to be familiar with the original, but this haunting cover combines some Johnny Cash outlaw bounce with Emmylou Harris sass.

PYT – Summer of ’69 (Bryan Adams)
When I hear the original, I think about the 80’s more than the 60’s, and all the obnoxiousness of the overblown rawk sound. Stripping it back to some indie-electro is an interesting touch that, whether you think it works or not, makes you hear the song anew.

Little Richard – Dancing in the Street (Martha Reeve and the Vandellas)
It sounds like a regular studio jam session, with Richard shouting out instructions to the musicians and screeching over his backing singers. Almost as fun as that Jagger/Bowie 80’s-tastic video.

Ray Pasnen – Margaritaville (Jimmy Buffet)
I hate this song with a burning passion, and finding a cover without some ear-bleeding-inducing steel drums was damn near impossible. This one is interesting though, an acoustic guitar version where he sings it to the tune of Hendrix’s “Little Wing.”

For the Birds

 Posted by at 8:35 pm  No Responses »
Dec 092007

Birds might seem a pretty lame topic for a post, but it turns out there are quite a few good songs about our fine feathered friends. And a lot of band ones too. First person to request Freebird, I swear to god…

The Ramones – Surfin’ Bird (The Trashmen)
The Trashmen’s lone claim to fame could be argued as the first punk-rock song. So, an obvious choice for the Ramones to make even more punk (by singing it out of tune). Crank up the distortion, try even harder to break the drum kit, and sing the same nonsencical lyrics…nice.

Uncle Earl – Canary In a Coalmine (The Police)
Sometimes a group just picks the perfect song to cover. The Police version sounds like the awkward reinterpretation after hearing this bluegrass folk version. Sting clearly wrote for the wrong genre with this one, with maybe his best lyrics ever: “You say you want to spend the winter in Firenze / You’re so afraid to catch a dose of influenza.” This recording is live from earlier this year, but hopefully they’ll release a studio version too.

Patti Smith – When Doves Cry (Prince)
Recorded for her 2002 hits compilation Land, one of the master of the cover keeps just enough of the tune and dance-rock while whining out the over-the-top angry-lover lyrics over some nice fuzz guitar.

Chubby Carrier & the Bayou Swamp Band – Rockin’ Robin (Bobby Day)
Everyone knows Michael Jackson’s hit single, his second solo song ever, but here the lame flute is gone in favor of accordion, and lots of it! And as everyone knows, nothing goes better with squeezebox than saxophone (what??) so there’s a wailed out solo as icing on the cake. Thanks to Cover Freak for this discovery.

Duncan Sheik – Songbird (Fleetwood Mac)
Sheik takes Christine McVie’s classic off Rumours and sings it over a thick bed of strings without, impressively enough, sounding lame. Sounds like a track from a 40’s Cary Grant musical.

Bruce Springsteen – Pretty Flamingo (Manfred Mann)
Given that Manfred Mann had about half their hits with Bruce songs, it was mighty kind of the Boss to reply the covering favor. And, of course, he makes it epic, throwing in rambling anecdotes about the pool hall and never-ending sing-a-longs. Never officially recorded it as far as I know, but this version is from the legendary Hammersmith shows of ’75.

Willie Nelson – Bird on a Wire (Leonard Cohen)
Nelson’s country twang can be quite grating, but it offsets the beautiful melody and arrangement here perfectly, keeping it down to Earth with some emotive singing and, hooray, more accordion.

Dartmouth Aires – The Cuckoo (Taj Mahal/Trad.)
A very poppy update of the classic folk ballad, I can’t exactly figure out the origins of this great arrangement. They give Taj credit, but it sure doesn’t sound much like his version to my ears. Anyone know more?

Element 101 – I’m Like a Bird (Nelly Furtado)
This may be one of my least favorite songs ever. Without Nelly’s nasal vibrato, it’s somewhat better here. Somewhat. If you like punk covers of pop songs though, check it out.

Jars of Clay – I’ll Fly Away (Albert E Brumley)
The gospel staple gets a slightly updated take, with help from other Christian rocker. Still plenty of soaring vocals, inspirational message, and all that.