Under the Radar shines a light on lesser-known cover artists. If you’re not listening to these folks, you should. Catch up on past installments here.
London’s Tom Rosenthal writes songs with titles like “Toby Carr’s Difficult Relationship With Tuna” and “Watching You Watching YouTube in the Dark.” His piano playing is less playing than painting, capturing various shades and hues with his arrangements. Here at Cover Me, we’re glad to do our part in turning his designation as “Britain’s Best Unknown Songwriter” into a thing of the past. We just choose to do it by featuring his work on other people’s songwriting. Continue reading »
Follow all our Best of 2016 coverage (along with previous year-end lists) here.
2016 in music will be most remembered for one thing: death. It seemed like an unprecedented list of major musical figures left us this year: David Bowie, Prince, Merle Haggard, Leonard Cohen. The list, sadly, goes on and on.
Prominent passings affect many aspects of the music world, but the impact is particularly clear in the world of cover songs: When an artist dies, a lot of people cover his or her songs. The world was hardly hurting for Prince covers before April 21, but afterwards, to paraphrase the man himself, we went crazy. Bruce Springsteen alone became a one-man tribute machine, covering Bowie, Prince, The Eagles’ Glenn Frey, and Suicide’s Alan Vega after they died (it’s a shame his tour ended before Cohen passed because he’d do a great “Everybody Knows”). Our list this year features a number of these tribute covers – though both the Cohen covers listed were actually released before his death, proving there’s no need to wait to honor one of the greats.
Our list also features fantastic final covers by the recently departed, brilliant song-interpreters like Sharon Jones and Allen Toussaint. The fact that they died may add extra meaning to these new songs, but they’d make the list regardless. Whether they performed wonderful covers or wrote wonderful songs for others to cover, we miss these artists because they were great. They don’t need any “death bump.”
The year wasn’t all dire though. Our list features many covers by and of artists who are alive in every sense of the word. Kendrick Lamar and Drake represent the new world of hip-hop, Kacey Musgraves and Sturgill Simpson in country, Animal Collective and Joyce Manor in indie rock, and in too many other genres to name. Jason Isbell currently holds a streak here, making his third consecutive appearance this year.
We also have plenty of artists whose names I won’t highlight here, because you probably won’t have heard of them…yet. We’re not in the business of predicting fame – the music industry is far too fickle for that – but some of our past best-cover winners have gone on to big things this year, like Chance the Rapper (2014 winner) and The Weeknd (2012 winner). Hell, Sturgill (#3 in 2014) just got an Album of the Year Grammy nomination!
Those early covers may have helped kick off such success. A revelatory cover song can help a musician attract early attention. When I interviewed Mark Mothersbaugh recently, he said no one understood what Devo was doing until they covered “Satisfaction.” A familiar song done Devo-style finally made the connection for people. “Whip It” and other original hits would not be far behind.
Maybe some of this year’s under-the-radar names will go on to Weeknd-level superstardom. But even if they don’t, all these covers, by household names and Garageband geeks alike, deserve recognition. We’ll miss all the great musicians who left us this year, but it’s gratifying to see so many promising younger artists coming in to fill their shoes.
– Ray Padgett, Editor in Chief
(Illustration by Sarah Parkinson)
PS. Last year in this space, I mentioned I’m writing a book about cover songs. Well, Cover Me (the book, that is) is finished and will be out next year! In addition to the aforementioned Mothersbaugh, I interviewed Roger Daltrey about “Summertime Blues,” David Byrne about “Take Me to the River,” and many more. Follow our Facebook for updates on preorder, etc. Now, on to the countdown…
The A.V. Club’s Undercover series has been producing great covers for many years now with the same premise: a list of songs chosen by the staff and fans, slowly whittled down by the bands coming in to cover them. It has resulted in incredible combinations (GWAR’s version of “Carry on My Wayward Son” being the most startling) and plenty of entertainment. One of the most creative renditions of a tough cover, Chumbawamba’s “Tubthumping,” came from the stalwart experimental rockers They Might Be Giants. The Johns (singers Linnell and Flansburgh) returned to the A.V. Club recently to cover Destiny’s Child‘s “Bills, Bills, Bills.”Continue reading »
Follow all our Best of 2014 coverage (along with previous year-end lists) here.
A few months ago, I read an interesting interview with an artist named Nouela. You probably haven’t heard of her, but you may have heard her music. She’s become a specialist in a weird but growing niche: covers recorded for movie and television trailers. Whether doing a piano “Sound of Silence” to promote a new HBO show or a brooding “Black Hole Sun” to promote Liam Neeson punching people, she’s found a quickly-growing way of getting her covers out there.
It struck me as part of a growing trend we’ve seen. More and more great covers seem to come from unexpected places. Sure, you’ve got still your standby sources, your b-sides, tribute albums, and radio shows. But new avenues for covers have increasingly crept in. This year saw a Sam Smith cover that is only available to hear under Grey’s Anatomy dialog (thankfully he’s recorded a few live versions too) and a whole covers album recorded to plug a Canadian TV show. Brands have fully embraced covers too, most recently My Morning Jacket’s “This Land Is Your Land” recorded for North Face ads, or Charli XCX and Bleachers trading covers for Kia.
We don’t care where they originated when we make our year-end lists, though, and we would up with some of everything. In our top five alone, we’ve got a live radio session, a deluxe-edition bonus track, and a cover hiding in plain sight on one of the most acclaimed country records of the year. You have to keep an eye on more places than ever to spot the best covers these days. Wherever they come from, we’re glad to have ’em.
Click on over to page two to begin our countdown, and thanks for reading.
We have heard takes on several of Beyonce‘s singles, but it’s been a while since a band has taken on a song from where Queen Bey started: Destiny’s Child. French dream-folk band Nazca takes on the powerful anthem “Survivor” and turns it into something completely their own.Continue reading »
Every Wednesday, our resident Gleek Eric Garneau gives his take on last night’s Glee covers.
In “Hold on to Sixteen,” New Directions and their rival glee club the TroubleTones compete in the Sectionals competition. Meanwhile, Quinn (Dianna Agron) plots to get Shelby (Idina Menzel) fired and an old friend returns to McKinley High.
Just last week I was thinking about how, in the future, we’ll be able to look back and pinpoint lackluster Glee episodes with an alarming degree of certainty based solely on the presence of Sam Evans (Chord Overstreet), a character who appeared only in season two, which seems generally agreed-upon as the worst of Glee‘s output to date. It should be no surprise, then, that when Sam returns to the show this week he brings with him a very season two-styled episode that feels the need to rush through a whirlwind of plot points without really doing justice to any of them. Even though “Hold on to Sixteen” is one of those special “competition” episodes that brings plots to their culmination by design, everything about it feels so hurried that nothing really has a chance to land – it’s 20 minutes of plot, then 20 minutes of performances, then a tacked-on happy ending. Honestly, I did not enjoy it.Continue reading »