Apr 282016
 
national-feature

The Grateful Dead – the iconic (nay, legendary) Palo Alto ensemble whose longevity, sheer number of live performances, eclectic and improvisational musical styles, as well as religious fanbase cemented them as one of the most influential and groundbreaking groups of rock and roll history – will be honored this May in an upcoming epic homage titled Day of the Dead.

As one of our own feature writers, Jordan Becker, so elegantly put in his In the Spotlight segment: “The Dead were not only a band; they typified a lifestyle that extended the hippie culture of the 1960s decades after most of the world turned it into a punchline.” Dubbed the “pioneering Godfathers of the jam band world,” their legacy lingers on, and with contributions from an overwhelming number of some of the music industry’s most respected names today, their music will be celebrated. Continue reading »

May 052011
 

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the release of the Phil Spector collection Back to Mono (1958–1969), the landmark set that compiles all of the early productions by the one-in-a-million wunderkind. Phil Spector’s abhorrent personal life and criminal history notwithstanding, the man’s influence on American music is indisputable.

So much in music circles back to this now-infamous sociopath. Music seems to channel Spector now more than ever: She and Him spearhead a resurgence of doo-wop sounds; Best Coast rebuild the Wall of Sound in fuzzier, shoegaze form; and, while it is no longer 1999, there are still millions of teenage generations to come that will have to see Top Gun and download the song all over again. So let’s celebrate the music that defined a generation and changed the landscape of popular American music forever. Here are five of the most well-known and oft-cited covers of classic Phil Spector productions. Old and new, these tracks have contributed to the ongoing resurrection of the Wall of Sound. Continue reading »

Jul 152008
 

There’s just something about the 80’s that inspires great cover songs. So great, in fact, that this series is gonna be a two-parter. First up: Rock. All the excesses of the 80’s – big hair, ten-minute guitar solos, and Jon Bon Jovi – are all well represented below by artists who aren’t afraid to find the good songs amidst the novelty. And stay tuned for some 80’s pop next week.

Jessica Will – For Those About to Rock (AC/DC)
When AC/DC titled this song, they clearly weren’t singing to Will. Her light acoustic take packs a punch, attitude and intensity making up for lack of distortion. And if you want more acoustic female covers of AC/DC, there’s a whole disc of ‘em: Backed in Black.

M. Ward – Let’s Dance (David Bowie)
Indie posterboy, most recently of She & Him fame, does a quiet take kind of like how you would expect and indi posterboy covering Bowie to sound

Jon Regen – Don’t Stop Believin’ (Journey)
Another ironic Journey cover…yech. This one’s a keeper though, not too mellow and keeping the strong melody of the original. Bonus points for rocking out the guitar fills on the keys!

Anberlin – Love Song (The Cure)
So far in today’s 80’s rock theme, we’ve yet to have any real rocking covers. This should change that though, an aggressive rock band from Florida that does a loud and intense take, with a singing voice that melts in your mouth.

Grizzly Bear – Owner of a Lonely Heart (Yes)
The Bear made the blog rounds a year or so ago with their “He Hit Me (It Felt Like a Kiss)” cover (download it here), and this takes a similar approach, a slow builder that never explodes.

The Whip – White Wedding (Billy Idol)
When the banjo leads this one in, you know you’re in for something special. And are you ever. This one’s off a charity comp of Portland covers called Bridging the Distance. Yes, the Decemberists are on it.

Scott D. Davis – The Final Countdown (Europe)
I posted Laibach’s cover of this one a few weeks back, but this piano take is fun and bouncy – way more than Laibach’s death-goth. Davis has a whole album of these instrumental takes on classic rock, Rockfluence, and it’s fabulous.

Mary Lou Lord – Jump (Van Halen)
Cover girl extraordinaire, Lord does a song so sincere here you wonder whether she realizes exactly what band she’s covering. It’s beautiful though, and as she draws you in you forget the original even exists.

Damien Rice – When Doves Cry (Prince)
One of those songs that seems to inspire great covers, I can’t decide if I like this or Patti Smith’s version more. It’s solo acoustic here, with Rice sounding so delicate that if you do touch his stomach, he might break.

Philmore – Livin’ On a Prayer (Bon Jovi)
It seems appropriate to end on some more rock, so here you go. Even louder and more aggressive than the original, but just as sing-along-able.

Girl Groups

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Feb 192008
 

The original theme for this post was Motown, but I was more interested in the sound than who was officially on the Motown label, so to avoid controversy…girl groups, whatever label they were on. In great song lists, these often get overlooked as being to simple or syrupy, but these are high-quality (if not to lyrically stimulating) songs. The production on the originals, often courtesy of Phil Spector, was superb, but these covers stand on their own without all that orchestrated sound.

We Are Scientists – Be My Baby (The Ronettes)
Some fuzzy distortion that rocks out the original but, in the end, stays just faithful enough.

Grizzly Bear – He Hit Me (It Felt Like a Kiss) (The Crystals)
This one’s been making the blog rounds for the last year or so, but it lives up the the hype. One of the most disturbing girl group songs, Grizzly Bear’s slow and languid performance brings out the uncomfortable domestic abuse of the lyrics. Creepy.

The Afghan Whigs – Come See About Me (The Supremes)
Indie-rock freakout on this live recording from the Cincinnati quartet, starting slow and ending in frenetic drum facemelt.

Smith – Baby It’s You (The Shirelles)
A big hit in its own right, the Death Proof soundtrack revived this soul gem with organ trills and a singer who jumps from loud to soft and back smoothly and keeps the song lively.

Ruby Rats – Heatwave (Martha and the Vandellas)
Organ-drenched cover from the 60’s by the ultra-obscure Ruby Rats. Couldn’t find much information on them online, except nothing they’ve done has ever been issued on CD, so excuse the fuzziness of this vinyl transfer.

Bob Dylan and George Harrison – Da Doo Ron Ron (The Crystals)
From a jam session in ’69, neither one really knows the words, or realizes that this recording will ever leak into the bootleg world. So it’s loose and fun, enjoyable to listen to if not stunning.

Paris Bennett – My Boyfriend’s Back (The Angels)
I can’t believe I’m putting a song by an American Idol contestant up here, but it’s a nice reworking that replaces the handclaps with computerized beats. What the song would sound like if it were a new release today…which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Also funny “street” lyric changes about how “it’s me that he’s reppin’ / So you better be steppin’.”

Jane Olivor – He’s So Fine (The Chifons)
A slowed-down operatic version, with some Spanish guitar and smooth sax. The novelty feel quickly disappears as you forget the bounce of the original and the song works just as well this way too.

Twisted Sister – Leader of the Pack (The Shangri-Las)
Amazing how the transsexual hair-metal crew can use their sound to give pretty much the same feel as the original. Dee Snyder hits basically the same notes as the original singer, but the backing vocals are what keep it interesting in a Summer Loving vein.

Broadzilla – Love Child (The Supremes)
All-female punk rock like a more aggressive Blondie, the angry nasal whine over the distortion gives a very different feel over the original. Certainly suits the lyrics, which are very less warm and fuzzy than Diana Ross and co. would have you believe.