Sep 172019
 
cover songs 1969

This marks the fourth year I’ve done a big anniversary countdown (after 1996, 1987, and 1978). It also proved to be the most challenging. There were a lot of covers released in 1969. In fact, according to covers-and-samples database WhoSampled, there were more than in any of the other years we’ve done. Their database lists 3,110 covers, which is surely still a small fraction.

The reason for the cover song’s proliferation seems clear to me after going through them all: Popular bands released a lot more music back then. Aretha Franklin released two albums in 1969. So did The Byrds, Elvis Presley, Joe Cocker, Johnny Cash, Johnny Winter, and Nina Simone. Creedence Clearwater Revival and Merle Haggard released three albums apiece. James Brown topped them all with four. To get that kind of output, artists would pad their albums with covers. Every 1969 album by every artist I just mentioned includes at least one cover. Many include several. A few are all covers. It adds up.

Impressively, many of those covers reinterpreted songs that had come out within the previous year. This entire list could easily have been “Hey Jude” covers. “Wichita Lineman” and “Light My Fire” came up constantly too (the latter song slightly older, but it had hit the charts again in 1968). Even songs from 1968’s soundtrack to Hair got covered endlessly in 1969.

Even beyond “Hey Jude,” Beatles covers dominated the year. I’m not going to go back through the entire 3,110 covers and count, but if you told me Beatles covers made up a full half of those, I wouldn’t be shocked. Add Bob Dylan covers to that side of the scale and it’s probably true. Beatles songs got covered in every conceivable genre for every conceivable audience. Jazz and swing and folk and proto-metal Beatles covers everywhere the eye can see. Plenty of people cover the Beatles these days, sure, but trust me: It’s nothing like it was in 1969.

So wheedling all those down to the top 50 proved incredibly difficult. But it means this is maybe the top-to-bottom strongest set thus far, and it killed me to leave some off (that’s why our Patreon supporters will get a set of 69 bonus tracks – so join now).

One note: I left off Woodstock performances. For one, we counted down the 50 best covers performed there last month. But more importantly, most people did not actually hear those covers until the movie and soundtrack came out in 1970. Jimi Hendrix performed his iconic Star-Spangled Banner – pretty much everyone’s top cover of the weekend – to a nearly empty field. Most of the audience had left before he punched in at 9 AM that Monday morning. That said, several of the classic covers performed at Woodstock were released as singles or on albums the same year – including Joe Cocker’s “With a Little Help from My Friends” – and those studio versions make this list.

Now, let the sunshine in with the 50 best covers of 1969.

The countdown begins on page 2…

Aug 202019
 
elvis presley comeback covers

Fifty years ago in the summer of 1969, an event occurred that changed the face of American popular music forever. As swarms of baby boomers were heading to and from Bethel, N.Y., their older siblings – and possibly their parents – made pilgrimages to the desert to see the King. On July 31, Elvis Presley returned to the stage for a month-long series of concerts at the International Hotel in Las Vegas, his first live performances since 1961. Continue reading »

Aug 012019
 
sharon van etten suspicious minds

Elvis Presley’s “Suspicious Minds” has had an impressive roster of covers over the years. Artists as varied as No Doubt, Dwight Yoakman, Martina Mcbride, Pete Yorn, and even U2 have added the song to their albums and live shows. The most popular approach to the song seems to be a country, rockabilly vibe that closely mirrors Presley’s toe-tapping original. Continue reading »

Jun 272019
 

Cover Classics takes a closer look at all-cover albums of the past, their genesis, and their legacy.

Gravelands

I’ve chucked a couple of these into the odd “best covers” choices since we have been doing those, meeting with not a little interest, if likewise not a lot, but sufficient enough interest to feel it worth digging a tad deeper into the repertoire of Jim “The King” Brown, Belfast’s singing postman. With a name like his, clearly there was little option other than to pursue a career as an Elvis Presley tribute act, and his days as postman were short-lived. Caught performing in a local pub by Bap Kennedy, brother of Brian, both notable in the local music scene, he was given both a shove and the opportunity, Kennedy producing.

Now, Elvis impersonators are two a penny in any country you choose to tread, so Jim, whose voice is as close to his source as any I am familiar with, needed a trick to be a step ahead, and the one he chose was a doozy. He picked out songs that Elvis should have covered, and, further to that, songs by or featuring artists similarly deceased. You know the idea, the concept of the celestial band “up there,” featuring the best of the dead, playing together and having a blast. (Sorry, that’s not best of the Dead, capital D, but I am sure Jerry would be a shoo-in for any such band, if not the myriad keyboards men in his old band.)
Continue reading »

Dec 172018
 
best cover songs of 2018

Two things strike me as I scan through our list this year. This first is that many of the highest-ranking covers are tributes to recently-deceased icons. No surprise there, I suppose. But none actually pay tribute to artists that died in 2018. They honor those we’ve been honoring for two or three years now – your Pettys, your Princes, your Bowies. Hundreds of covers of each of these legends appeared in the first days after their deaths, but many of the best posthumous covers took longer to emerge.

Good covers take time. That principle – the cover-song equivalent of the slow food movement, perhaps – holds true throughout the list. Sure, a few here appear to have arisen from sudden moments of brilliance, flash-arranged for some concert or radio promo session. But many more reveal months or even years of painstaking work to nail every element. Making someone else’s song one’s own isn’t easy. These 50 covers took the time to get it right.

– Ray Padgett, Editor-in-Chief

Start the countdown on the next page…

NEXT PAGE →

Oct 232018
 
Dwight Yoakam

You would think Dwight Yoakam is as country as they come – he scored his first number-one single off an album called Buenas Noches from a Lonely Room. And when expressing excitement over his recent bluegrass album, he says (and sounds right saying), “Wee doggies!” How country is Dwight Yoakam? When he came caroling on Nashville’s doorstep in the late 1970s, Nashville basically pretended it wasn’t home. The genre was leaning more and more in the direction of pop-country, and here was someone who sounded like Merle Haggard. And Buck Owens (with whom Yoakam would collaborate). And Johnny Cash (who would call Yoakam his “favorite male artist”).

Still, there’s a reason Time once referred to Dwight Yoakam as a renaissance man. While his guitar arrangements and twang are country the core, the man himself represents a bounty of styles. After all, he didn’t give up when Nashville wasn’t receptive; he headed to LA. There, he played hillbilly music in punk and rock clubs – attracting, in part, a demographic of fans affectionately known as cowpunks – and it’s clear some osmosis of the scene took place.

The counterintuitive influence runs both ways. Just as punk and rock color his song selection, presentation, and interests (asked what he was listening to in a 2005 interview, he answered Green Day and Jack White), his rustic sound speaks to those far outside genre bounds. The compliments accompanying his music videos encompass dyed-in-the-wool Hank Williams fans and metalheads alike. This stylistic versatility of his coupled with a loyalty to roots helps explain the success he’s experienced in covering songs that, well, you’re not supposed to cover.
Continue reading »