Were he still with us, Harry Nilsson would have turned 75 this year, so what better way to kick off 2016 than with a tribute EP to the legendary songwriter? The well-named Francis Schmancis comes from Nick Francis DiFonzo. DiFonzo is the frontman for the New York rock band the Majorleans, but from an echoy “One” to an ethereal “Early in the Morning” to a more straightforward “Everybody’s Talking” (not written by Nilsson, but owned by him), this EP is a much more stripped-down affair.
Follow all our Best of 2014 coverage (along with previous year-end lists) here.
Back when we redesigned the site in 2010, we created basic star icons to represent the ratings we’d give an album when we reviewed it. 2 stars, 3.5 stars, etc. When we posted an album review, we’d find the corresponding icon where we last uploaded it. However, earlier this year we couldn’t find one of the icons we were looking for. Why? It turns out we’d never used it. We’d never before given an album a perfect five stars.
This year, for the first time, we did. Which should suffice to say it’s been an excellent year for cover albums. True, a few of the marquee tributes we most eagerly anticipated fell flat, either too formulaic (The Art of McCartney) or too out-there (that Flaming Lips’ Sgt. Peppers tribute we’ll never speak of again). But in the cracks and under the radar, cover and tribute albums thrived.
In our list of the twenty best, we’ve got everything from big names on major labels to DIY projects thrown up on Bandcamp. We’ve got New Orleans jazz, Parisian dub reggae, and songs that were popular when your great-great-great-great grandfather was calling town dances. Something for everyone, I guess. Something for all our fwends (sorry, that was the last time, promise).
Start the countdown on Page 2…
Covers albums are commonly filled with songs that have special meaning to the band and often had an impact on the members. “Break-Up album” usually refers to a collection of songs dedicated to the end of a recent, often painful, relationship. Brooklyn band Quiet Loudly missed both of those memos. Their album is filled with songs chosen at the whim of a few fans who pledged a certain amount on the previous album’s Kickstarter, and the “Break Up” referred to is the band itself.
Five Good Covers presents five cross-genre reinterpretations of an oft-covered song.
In honor of Eric Idle’s 71st birthday tomorrow, let’s pay tribute to his most famous song, “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life,” from Monty Python’s Life of Brian. Idle, of course, is best known as a comic actor and writer and a member of the Python troupe and not as a songwriter. However, this surprisingly happy tune, with deceptively dark lyrics, sung by Idle and a group of fellow crucifixion victims at the end of the film, has become remarkably popular. It was a parody of the peppy songs often featured in Disney movies, but over time its ironic underpinnings have been ignored in favor of its upbeat chorus and jaunty whistling (suggested by Neil Innes, who wrote most of the music associated with the Pythons).
Under the Radar shines a light on lesser-known cover artists. If you’re not listening to these folks, you should. Catch up on past installments here.
Are you looking to discover a dream-poppy, trip-hoppy kind of singer? Do you want to learn about someone who invests her emotions in electronica? Have you been waiting far too long for the chance to learn about a singer-songwriter who can’t help but obliterate the way you think about famous songs with her covers? Boy, have we got an artist for you, and her name is Mimi Page.
Cover Classics takes a closer look at all-cover albums of the past, their genesis, and their legacy.
Harry Nilsson’s two best-known songs, both of which won Grammys, were cover songs – “Everybody’s Talkin'” came from Fred Neil, and “Without You” was originally Badfinger’s. Meanwhile, his peers knew that as talented a singer as he was, he was an even greater songwriter. For the Love of Harry: Everybody Sings Nilsson, released a year after his 1994 passing, shone a light on nearly two dozen of his compositions and showed the esteem two generations of musicians held him in.
Quickies rounds up new can’t-miss covers. Download ‘em below.
• Last month, the Rosebuds covered the Talking Heads. The choice was a natural – both groups deliver poppy, off-kilter melodies that worm into your head for days. Salt-n-Pepa, on the other hand, haven’t influenced Ivan and Kelly Rosebud one iota. They just re-released it for free on their new Bandcamp.
MP3: The Rosebuds – Push It (Salt-n-Pepa cover)
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!
Few would argue that Harry Nilsson was one of the best and most unique American singer-songwriters of his time. Nilsson crafted complex multi-layered vocal pop for his amazing voice, which had a range of three and one-half octaves. He wrote beautiful, personal, and emotional songs that earned him the respect of his peers, critical acclaim, and occasional commercial success – though his two Grammy awards were not for originals. Yet Nilsson is a largely forgotten cult figure; a legacy he himself insured with his stubbornness, his insecurities, numerous bad career decisions and an appetite for destruction more commonly associated with contemporaries like Keith Richards, John Bonham and Keith Moon. (Ironically, both Moon and Mama Cass would die in Nilsson’s London apartment, which he allowed his friends to use when he was in the States.)