“Watch out, you may get what you’re after,” David Byrne sang in 1983’s Talking Heads classic “Burning Down the House.” Byrne is not shy to collaborate with artists he admires across a vast array of genres and levels of fame, including St. Vincent, Selena (RIP), Fatboy Slim, Caetano Veloso, and more. It seems Choir! Choir! Choir!, a Canadian choir that went viral for their rendition of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” in 2016 – and a large crowd of fans – got what they were after last Saturday in New York when the choir performed with David Byrne.
As we’ve noted already, 2017 marks Cover Me’s tenth birthday. We’ll have some more celebratory posts leading up to the actual date this fall, but I’m thrilled to announce one thing that’s on deck for October: the release of my first book, Cover Me: The Stories Behind the Greatest Cover Songs of All Time!
Ever since I started this site, friends and readers have suggested that I should write a book about cover songs (surprisingly, a comprehensive book doesn’t really exist). For years, I resisted. “That’s like saying ‘I’m going to write a book about original songs’,” I’d snarkily reply – i.e., that’s a stupid idea. Cover songs seemed too broad a category. There’s no grand unifying theory of cover songs to fit tidily between two book covers; it’s too big and messy and wonderful a tent for that.
After years of saying no, I finally came up with the solution. I wouldn’t write a book about cover songs – instead, I would write a book about twenty specific cover songs, and through those twenty covers, a broader narrative would emerge.
The story of covers as traced in Cover Me involves artistic triumphs and music-industry shenanigans. It touches on trends in record-making, music videos, and the internet’s impact on music (did you know the first viral song was a cover?). There are beautiful moments of unlikely artists coming together, and some uglier instances of exploitation and racism. Every major change in the music industry since the advent of rock and roll finds some expression in the world of cover songs.
Full Albums features covers of every track off a classic album. Got an idea for a future pick? Leave a note in the comments!
There are certain things that you always remember. Meeting the love of your life. Seeing your children for the first time. And, of course, the first time you heard Talking Heads’ Remain in Light. Maybe that isn’t a statement of general applicability, but it is true for me.
In October of 1980, I was a college junior and assistant program director of WPRB-FM. It was my responsibility to swing by the post office every day to pick up the station’s mail, including the packages of records. This meant that I got to see the new releases before anyone else. By that time, I had become a pretty big Talking Heads fan (and rued my error in having skipped their show on campus back in my freshman year). We fans knew that the band was moving in new directions after the previous year’s Fear of Music, which had begun integrating more complex rhythms, dance beats and world influences into their sound, and the music press was buzzing with anticipation about what they were going to do next. So, on that cool October morning, when I ripped open the box from WEA as I walked toward the station, I was thrilled to see Remain in Light. After scurrying down into our basement office, I quickly threw the record on the turntable, and was immediately blown away.
Sometimes a cover comes out of nowhere, from an unexpected band or artist who gives the song a unique twist. In many cases, it just does not work. And in many cases it does – really well. Enter The Lumineers, who recently performed a cover of the Talking Heads song “This Must Be The Place (Naïve Melody)” on Jimmy Fallon. Taking on the Talking Head’s characteristic new wave sound, The Lumineers transform the 80’s song into a sweet sounding tune fit for today’s folk rock fans. Using their now-ubiquitous “ho hey” singing style, The Lumineers give David Byrne’s staccato vocals a new twist, particularly on the “hi yo” that David Byrne sings throughout the song.
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!
Like any self-respecting rock musician these days, David Byrne has a musical currently running in New York, Here Lies Love, a disco extravaganza about Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos, and today he will celebrate his 61st birthday basking in its excellent reviews and an extended run. Although Byrne will always be known for his work with Talking Heads, he has also released solo albums of wildly varied styles, written books, created visual art projects, directed films and written music for movies, television, ballet and opera (winning an Oscar for his work on The Last Emperor). He has collaborated with artists as diverse as Brian Eno, Fatboy Slim, St. Vincent, Twyla Tharp, Phillip Glass, Robert Wilson, Selena, and Thievery Corporation. Not to mention running a record label and an Internet radio station. Also, he has designed bicycle racks.
Back Track looks back at an old cover that deserves a new spotlight.
It seems fitting that, attempting a cover, one would bring together as many disparate elements as possible for a song that David Byrne has referred to as “a love song made up almost completely of non sequiturs.” That, however, is precisely what Brooklyn-based Sewing Machines did with Talking Heads‘ “This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody),” and to great effect.