Jul 172015
 

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

elvis_nick

Let’s start with a given — the best version of “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding” is a cover. It would be hard to dispute that Elvis Costello’s version is the standard to which all others fall short, including the original. I’ll pause here to allow those readers unaware that Elvis wasn’t the first to record the song to go on the Internet and confirm this. (Don’t feel bad, by the way—we self-proclaimed cover experts don’t know everything, either.) That’s right, the song was written by Nick Lowe and originally recorded by his pub-rock band Brinsley Schwarz and released on the band’s 1974 album The New Favourites of… Brinsley Schwarz. Although Lowe had written the bulk of the songs on the band’s prior five albums, he has claimed that it was the first truly original song that he ever wrote. However, he has admitted to having stolen a lick from Judee Sill’s “Jesus Was a Cross Maker.” (See if you agree.)

Brinsley Schwarz’s version is a Byrds-esque bit of nostalgic folk rock. Lowe wrote it in 1973, when the hippie era of peace and love was being supplanted by harder edges, harder drugs, alcohol and cynicism. As Lowe has said, “this song was supposed to be an old hippie, laughed at by the new thinking, saying to these new smarty-pants types, ‘Look, you think you got it all going on. You can laugh at me, but all I’m saying is ‘What’s so funny about peace, love, and understanding?’” It is, in that version, a perfectly fine song. But it took a fan of the Brinsleys, who would one day rename himself Elvis Costello, to turn the song into something more. Lowe acknowledged that Costello “brought it to the world, so to speak. Because when he recorded it, he gave it that anthemic quality which everyone reacted really well to.”
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Feb 192015
 

The term “emo” was loosely thrown around in the early 2000s to describe any pop punk band with angsty lyrics. With such a mainstream semantic shift, the idea of emo can be off-putting for some. Those who are over the age of 25 or consider themselves connoisseurs of punk, however, know that emo and popular forms of punk really originates from the 1980s hardcore punk scene in Washington D.C. and is more than simple angsty pop punk. Continue reading »

Dec 022014
 

In Defense takes a second look at a much-maligned cover artist or album and asks, “Was it really as bad as all that?”

Defense? I never knew Linda Ronstadt was under attack. OK, not true, I’ve known she tends to get many a sneery put-down from “real” musos, dissing both her voice and her choices of material, citing that “real” artists have way more credibility (and way fewer sales.) Beautiful but soulless, they call her and her voice, short on originality and innovation. A famous early putdown was around her being merely a competent backing singer, the irony being that ability potentially defines far greater technique than the relative ease of a solo performance, as those who have sung with her (Neil Young, Emmylou Harris, and legions more) have been more than happy to testify. I guess it stems down to generalizations around any successful artist, particularly if blessed also with photogenicity and famous boyfriends.
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Nov 152013
 

When Matthew Sweet and Susanna Hoffs recorded their first Under the Covers collaboration, they were surprised that it was released with the subtitle “Vol. 1.” Whatever genius at the Shout! Factory label chose to do that deserves a raise and a promotion, as it led Sweet and Hoffs to record two more volumes. Where Volume 1 consisted of songs based in the ’60s, and Volume 2 was made up of ’70s songs, Volume 3, released this week, is all about the ’80s, the decade when Hoffs came of age as a musician and Sweet wasn’t far behind.
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Nov 042013
 

In Memoriam pays tribute to those who have left this world, and the songs they left us to remember them by.

LouReed

Not much can be said about Lou Reed that hasn’t already been said. When he died on October 27 at age 71, Reed left behind an indisputable legacy of influence that dwarfs some of the biggest names in rock and roll. You can ignore him, hate his music or his voice, dislike his politics or his openness with drugs and sexuality, or downplay his role in rock and roll history — but none of that matters. If you chopped down the tree of influence that grew from the roots of Reed and the Velvet Underground, what would come crashing down would take out most of the house of rock and roll as we know it. The leaf you listen to seems to be all its own, but the branches that hold it up are massive.
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Aug 232013
 

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!

Sunday is Elvis Costello’s birthday, an occasion where we usually feature covers of an artist’s songs. But seeing as the birthday boy is one of the hardest working songwriter/musicians in the music world, it would be a shame to give him a break now. So we’ll look at some of the covers he’s done and get his birthday weekend started tonight, like we all do when a good birthday falls on a Sunday.
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