Aug 282017
 
cover me book

Cover Me: The Stories Behind the Greatest Songs Of All Time comes out October 3. It dives deep into twenty iconic covers, from Elvis’s “Hound Dog” through Adele’s “Make You Feel My Love.” I interviewed artists like David Byrne and Roger Daltrey to get the untold stories behind their greatest covers. You can read all about it here.

Now we’ve got a special bonus for anyone who preorders: a free digital album of other covers of those same songs.

What’s the greatest “Take Me to the River” that’s not by Al Green or the Talking Heads? My favorite “Hurt” untouched by either of those men in black? An “I Will Always Love You” that sounds like the artist has never heard either Dolly Parton or Whitney Houston’s versions? This mix answers all those questions. Continue reading »

May 192017
 
Cover Me

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.

Aretha FranklinAfter 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. Continue reading »

Nov 022010
 

What Neil Diamond means to you depends on your frame of reference. It could mean The Jazz Singer film and soundtrack with the iconic hit “America.” It could mean singing “Sweet Caroline” during the eighth inning of Red Sox games. It could even mean Will Ferrell parodies on Saturday Night Live, but few don’t recognize the name. A prolific songwriter and performer, Neil Diamond sells out arenas and, unlike certain schmaltz-rock peers (read: Billy Joel), regularly releases new material. On his newest disc Dreams, Diamond interprets classic songs by Bill WithersLeonard CohenRandy NewmanThe Eagles and others. Johnny Cash‘s American series remains the most obvious point of comparison for any aging singer releasing back-to-roots covers, but unlike Cash, Diamond chose not to cover any current artists. He didn’t exactly unearth any buried treasures either. No, he chose to cover songs like “Hallelujah” (over 200 covers to date) and “Ain’t No Sunshine” (144). Interpreting standards is a tricky business and albums turn out badly if the artist doesn’t choose the songs and arrangements with care. We’re looking at you, Rod. Continue reading »

Phil Spector

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Apr 212009
 

You’ve probably heard that last week Phil Spector was finally sentenced for second-degree murder in a verdict that surprised no one. Now sure, it’s easy to make fun of his eccentric courtroom hairstyles, but that makes it no less sad that such a man has sunk so far. Arguably the most favorite producer ever, Spector built an empire with his “Wall of Sound,” churning out hit after hit. The stories of his obsessive need for perfection in the studio are the stuff of legend, him driving artists to the brink of exhaustion to reproduce what he had in his head. Many of his classic girl group tracks are given new interpretations below, as well as some of his more surprising work doing albums like Let It Be.

Glasvegas – Be My Baby (The Ronettes)
Perhaps the quintessential Spector production, the original is a pop masterpiece. It’s been covered from everyone from John Lennon to We Are Scientists (which you can get at this Girl Groups post, with many other Spector covers), and here Scottish foursome drenches the pep in reverb, sounding like a pleading breakdown. [Buy]

Bruce Springsteen – Then She Kissed Me (The Crystals)
For the opener of one of the final shows on last year’s Magic tour, Bruce surprised everyone by doing a cover he hadn’t done since ’75, a slightly gender-altered take on the Crystals classic. Check out the stadium-sized roar when he starts singing and the crowd realizes what it is. Thirty-four years later, it hasn’t aged a bit. Speaking of Springsteen, I’m seeing him in Boston tomorrow and Wednesday. Here are two Bruce posts to celebrate. [Buy]

Frurk – Rock ‘n’ Roll High School (The Ramones)
The fact that the Ramones picked Spector to produce them for End of the Century is bizarre, and one wonders how they put up with his famous eccentricity. This song in particularly is noteworthy for the eight hours Spector had Johnny Ramone play the opening chord to get it perfect. One chord, eight hours. Listen to the original and see if it was worth it, then come back for this slowed-down lo-fi take. [Buy]

The Ramones – Baby I Love You (The Ronettes)
In a tribute to Phil Spector’s production, it’s nice to actually post a track that was produced by Spector. When Spector produced the Ramones, it seems he couldn’t resist throwing a track he produced twenty years prior at ‘em. Here he tries to navigate the difference between punk and girl groups, bringing out Joey Ramone as a real singer in the process. [Buy]

The Morning Benders – He’s a Rebel (The Crystals)
A strange fact about many of Spectors’ groups is that he held the rights to their name, so he could have recorded Donovan and called it “The Crystals” if he wanted. While he never went that far, guess who wasn’t on the Crystals’ only number one hit…the Crystals! Not wanting to wait for the group to return from touring to record this new song, Spector used Darlene Love and the Blossoms on this track. Word has it that the Crystals heard their hit on the radio one day and, needless to say, were quite confused. [Buy]

Gladys Knight and the Pips – Let It Be (The Beatles)
Trying to cover the Beatles is an idea best avoided. Unless you’re Gladys Knight, in which case you can bust the hell out of any song you please. When it begins, you might think you’re in for a reasonably by-the-numbers cover. And you would be wrong. Hold on to your eardrums, cause voices like this don’t come along every day. [Buy]

Jeff Mangum – I Love How You Love Me (The Paris Sisters)
The man behind indie legends Neutral Milk Hotel released Live at Jittery Joe’s a few years back, showcasing a concert from 1997 where through audience requests he worked through early versions of songs that would end up on In the Aeroplane Over the Sea. [Buy]

David McComb & Adam Peters – Don’t Go Home With Your Hard-On (Leonard Cohen)
Leonard Cohen doesn’t write many stupid songs, but I guess even poet gods need to let lose sometime. So enter this little instructional ditty from the Spector-produced Death of a Ladies’ Man to remind you, “You can’t melt it down in the rain.” Because apparently that’s something you might want to do. [Buy]

The Saints – River Deep Mountain High (Ike & Tina Turner)
Spector caused a stir in 2007 when during his euology for wife-beater Ike he said “Ike made Tina the jewel she was. When I went to see Ike play at the Cinegrill in the 90s…there were at least five Tina Turners on the stage performing that night, any one of them could have been Tina Turner.” He then continued by attacking Oprah for promoting Tina’s autobiography. Another sign that Phil Spector may not be the authority on how a man should treat a woman. All Covered in Punk features vintage groups covering everything from Blondie to Frank Sinatra. Here we find a brawling Saint’s b-side from ’77 resurrected in all its fuck-you glory. [Buy]

Phosphorescent – You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’ (The Righteous Brothers)
A heartbreaking live one here, the slide acoustic cracks in the voice. The mood is apparently lost on the asshole laughing in the background and I’m not sure the sing-along chorus helps the vibe. If there’s ever a studio version released of this, I want to be the first to know. [Buy]