Long before Disney began remaking its animated classics into live-action films famed director Robert Altman made Popeye. The 1980 musical starred Robin Williams as the spinach-eating sailor and Shelley Duvall as his love interest Olive Oyl. Upon its release, the film underperformed at the box office and earned mixed reviews from critics. Time has been kinder though, as some have praised it in recent years. “Altman imbues in Popeye a madcap mania that bares more than a few ‘Felliniesque’ touches, with its own intricate orchestration of audio-visual chaos, animated sound effects, breakaway props, and frenzied pratfalls,” writes Screen Mayhem.
That’s A Cover? explores cover songs that you may have thought were originals.
Fred Neil just wanted to go home. The cantankerous folkie hated being in the studio, and pulling his third album together was like pulling teeth. It was almost finished, but it had to have one more tune to fill it out.
“We needed another song, and he said he might have one more,” said his manager, Herb Cohen. “Matter of fact, I think he completed it in the toilet of the Capitol Records studio. As you can tell by the lyric, all he wanted to do was finish the album and go to Florida.”
Singing in a gruff, weary voice, Neil finished his yearning to breathe free in one take and got out of the studio as fast as he could. The album, Fred Neil, didn’t sell well, which probably suited Neil just fine – the less publicity he had to do, the better. Little did he know that he had just come up with the key that would unlock the door to his freedom.
In Pick Five, great artists tell us about five cover songs that matter to them.
We first came across Geographer in 2011 with his great cover of New Order’s “Age of Consent.” Seven years later, he’s blossomed into a killer electropop producer, singer, and songwriter. His new EP Alone Time finds him pushing his pop instincts to their limit, on five insanely catchy dance jams that would work equally well in a club or on headphones. Here’s a sample, new single “Read My Mind”:
Geographer main man Mike Deni told PopMatters “Musically, [the EP] represents an obsession with pop music that went to its furthest reaches and boomeranged back again into making not just lyrics, but sounds, that matter.” On the five covers he picked out for us, though, he dug beyond that pop music obsession into his songwriter roots, picking classic performances by the likes of Jeff Buckley and Harry Nilsson (though fans of his poppier side needn’t worry; by the end he gets to a “karaoke classic”).
Ten years ago today, I had a whim.
I was studying abroad one semester and found myself with a lot of free time – school work was light, and a college student’s budget limited my international explorations – so I decided to start a blog. A second blog actually, since for several years I had run a personal blog of concert reviews and bootleg downloads called Dylan, Etc (it had more “Dylan” than it did “Etc”). I’d fallen in love with the cover song after hearing Bob Dylan (who else) play a revelatory cover of “Summertime” on his short-lived radio show. I’d already hosted a Cover Me college radio show, and decided to expand us to the World Wide Web.
These were the days of the so-called “MP3 blog,” which included a vibrant subgenre of cover-songs blogs. That’s right, I’d like to claim credit for inventing the category, but I didn’t – not even close. RIP to Copy Right?, Cover Freak, Fong Songs, and the rest of the pioneers – and shoutout to our fellow survivors from that era, Coverville, which was releasing podcasts before most people knew what that word meant, and the folk blog Cover Lay Down, which began around the same time as us.
A lot has changed over the past decade. We’ve published 3,564 posts as of this one. Oh, and did you notice the pronoun change there? Cover Me is no longer an “I” – it’s a “we”, with over 60 writers contributing over the years. We’ve grown from an ugly Blogspot to our spiffy own domain (which is overdue for a redesign itself, frankly). And in case the large banner ads all over the site weren’t clue enough, I just released a book also called Cover Me, which – back-patting alert – Variety called “one of the best multi-subject music books to come down the pike in years.”
We wanted to do something special to celebrate our tenth birthday. And we wanted to celebrate not just ourselves, but celebrate the cover song itself. So we put together this little album Cover Me Turns 10: A Covers Tribute to Covers as a gift to our readers. We contacted several dozen of our musician friends and asked them to cover a cover. That is, to honor the many great songs we might not even know without an iconic cover – Aretha Franklin reinventing Otis Redding’s “Respect,” Quiet Riot amplifying Slade’s call to feel the noize, Prince learning that nothing compares 2 Sinéad O’Connor.
We’re honored that so many of our favorite musicians contributed, and frankly speechless at how great a job they did. So speechless, in fact, that we asked them all to introduce their own work with a few sentences. A million thanks to all of them, and also to Cover Me writer and art whiz Sean Balkwill for designing the lovely – ahem – cover. The whole thing is free to download at Bandcamp until downloads run out, and free to stream forever.
Enough chatter from me. For ten years this blog has been all about celebrating the music and we’re not going to stop now. Thanks for taking this journey with us.
– Ray Padgett
Cover Me Founder
For years, Phish superphans and the band’s many detractors – so far apart on so much else – have been able to agree on one thing: the band does some killer live covers. Phish long ago made a Halloween tradition out of covering another band’s album in full, tackling ambitious choices like the Beatles’ White Album and Talking Heads’ Remain in Light. And “ambitious” was also the keyword for the band’s just-completed thirteen night run at New York’s Madison Square Garden. Dubbed the “Baker’s Dozen,” each night featured a different donut theme and, more significantly, no song repeated the entire two weeks.
But back to the donuts. The band took the silly premise seriously, theming their sets each night around a donut flavor. This led to a number of surprise covers that they’ve never played before (or probably ever will again). Strawberry-donut night got “Strawberry Fields Forever” and “Strawberry Letter 23.” Chocolate-donut night got “Chocolate Rain” and “You Sexy Thing” – originally by Hot Chocolate. They even dug deep into lyrics, playing the one Radiohead song that talks about lemons.
Such first-time-ever covers tend to appeal even to non-fans because they tend to be short and –
let’s keep the donut theme going here – sweet. Unlike a jelly donut, on a song they’ve never play before they rarely jam. Instead, the fun and sheer rock chops to come forward in a way they may not on the heady stuff.
So I’ve ranked all the first-time covers from the past two weeks of Phish’s concerts, below. I’ll admit I’m not a huge fan myself – I once wrote an article defending their home of Burlington, Vermont from its jam-band stereotype – but some of these are among the best performances I’ve heard by them. Others…are not.
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!
Back in the late 1980s, as the alt-country/No Depression sound began to spread, a group of bands centered in the Minneapolis area often played in the same venues. Sometimes members of these bands would do cover shows for fun. Although even the members of the band remember the band’s fittingly murky origins differently, ultimately, some of these friends began to perform as “Golden Smog” (originally a Flintstones reference), mostly playing covers. The core membership coalesced as Gary Louris and Marc Perlman of the Jayhawks on bass, Dan Murphy and Dave Pirner of Soul Asylum, Kraig Johnson of Run Westy Run (and later the Jayhawks) and Chris Mars of the Replacements (although the drum chair in the band has a near Spinal Tap-level rotating door), often augmented by guest musicians and singers. It was like seeing an incredibly talented bar band.