Mar 142014

In the Spotlight showcases a cross-section of an artist’s cover work. View past installments, then post suggestions for future picks in the comments!

In the early ’70s, two sets of brothers and their friends, art students at Kent State University, developed a theory. It began as a kind of joke based on a religious pamphlet that alluded to the D-evolution of the unenlightened man. As artists tend to do, they created some performance art and music around this theme for their own amusement. Then the terrible tragedy of the Kent State shootings happened. Four of their classmates were killed by those who were supposed to be protecting them. Suddenly the de-evolution of man and of society in general seemed more than just a joke. The band Devo was born.
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Welcome to Cover Me Q&A, where we take your questions about cover songs and answer them to the best of our ability.

Here at Cover Me Q&A, we’ll be taking questions about cover songs and giving as many different answers as we can. This will give us a chance to hold forth on covers we might not otherwise get to talk about, to give Cover Me readers a chance to learn more about individual staffers’ tastes and writing styles, and to provide an opportunity for some back-and-forth, as we’ll be taking requests (learn how to do so at feature’s end).

Today’s question: What’s a song you hated until you heard it covered?

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The second season of IFC’s sketch series Portlandia premiered earlier this month. For all the comedic acclaim stars Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein receive, they garner equal acclaim for their musicianship. We recently covered the duo playing “Push It” on their Portlandia tour, and now they have covered Devo’s “Beautiful World” during a Rolling Stone interview that turned into an informal session. Continue reading »

Dec 162011

When people look back in 2011 in music a decade from now, one name will come to mind: Adele. In our little world of cover songs, she dominated. Everyone covered Adele this year. It’s not just that we saw more covers of “Rolling in the Deep” than any other song; they beat out second place (probably “Pumped Up Kicks”) by like a factor of five! We generally try to look for larger cover trends in these annual wrap-ups, but it’s hard to remember anything else from this year except the year-long onslaught of Adele covers hitting our mailbox.

There’s only one “Rolling in the Deep” cover in this year’s list though. The rest are all over the place. Some of the artists listed built their covers with lush soundscapes, thick beats, and intricate string work. Others just took guitars or pianos and bowled us over with the emotion in their voices. There may not be much of an overarching “Year in Covers” narrative, but that means there’s a cover or two for everyone. From feel-good takes on rap songs to kill-yourself versions of pop songs, this year’s list features flips, flops, and genre switcheroos of all sorts. A good cover should be informed by the source material but stand on its own, and we’ll be unrolling the 50 finest examples of songs doing just that all week. Start with #50-41 on the next page and check back daily as we count down to the best cover of 2011.

You probably know Fred Armisen best from Saturday Night Live and Portlandia, but he was in fact a musician long before he was a famous comedian. He started out playing drums in Chicago band Trenchmouth and still occasionally displays his chops. He most recently did so at the monthly Heart of Darkness comedy/variety show in Brooklyn, jamming on a Devo cover with costumed band the Forgiveness. Continue reading »

When most people think of Devo, they think of crazy plastic hats, elaborate costumes, and, occasionally, Swiffer Wet Jets. Freelance Whales tackle one of Devo’s other singles, “Girl U Want,” and whip it into something completely different. Going for a more true-to-the-lyrics tone, Freelance Whales takes the original poppy and upbeat synth and turns it into a ballad, slowing down the synth and adding finger-picking banjo. Unrequited love never sounded so good. Continue reading »

Oct 142010

Live Collection brings together every live cover we can find from an artist. And we find a lot.

It was almost 17 years ago now that frontman Jay Farrar split ways with his alt-country group Uncle Tupelo due to differences with bassist Jeff Tweedy, leaving Tweedy and the rest of the band in the dust. Since that time, Farrar’s career has skyrocketed, and Tweedy and the boys haven’t done anything.

Wait. I’m wrong. They formed a band called Wilco, which continues to prosper as one of the most important and influential bands in indie music.

To conclude that Wilco’s longevity is due to some sort of a constant and timeless sound would be dead wrong, however, as our latest Live Collection shows. The covers below, which include romps through the works of David Bowie, Sheryl Crow, the Ramones, and even a few half-hearted attempts at tracks by one of Farrar’s subsequent projects, Son Volt, show just how much Wilco has changed through the years. The Wilco who covers “Organ Blues” in 2000 sounds little like the one who does Tom Petty’s “Listen to Her Heart” in 1995. Sure, their 2002 cover of The Stooges’ “TV Eye” anticipates the pulsating pianos and dissonant guitars that would not truly define their albums until years later, but as a general rule, you can follow the arc of the band’s sound through the years pretty closely via the covers below. Continue reading »

Song of the Day posts one cool cover every morning. Catch up on past installments here.

Devo did some bizarre covers back in the day. The most famous is their schizoid take on the Rolling Stones‘ “Satisfaction,” but they’ve warped everyone from Allen Toussaint (“Working in the Coalmine”) to Nine Inch Nails (“Head Like a Hole”) to fit their strange vision.

Vying for the weirdest has to be this cover of the traditional folk song “Worried Man,” or “Worried Man Blues.” Tying into their de-evolution metanarrative, the video features the band as glowing nuclear plant workers transporting poorly-sealed radioactive barrels. A creepy giant baby (“Booji Boy”) pops up with a sermon about the perils of modernization. A sleazy record producer fights over tampons with his new-wave daughter. All to a bizarre soundtrack that only Mark Mothersbaugh and co. could create. Continue reading »

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