Mar 022016
 

Some covers are more equal than others. Good, Better, Best looks at three covers and decides who takes home the gold, the silver, and the bronze.

 
I came early to the Bee Gees. For the barely teenage me they gave a plaintive, yearning sound to well-constructed ballads, with keening mid-range harmonies that totally belied their higher pitched ’70s second coming (which, incidentally, is where I left again). And never mind the earnest re-appraisals of their disco years – when is someone going to give a punt for their still-remarkable ’60s canon? Do we have to wait until the original Bee, Barry, last man standing and eldest sibling of the brothers Gee (Gibb), departs this earth? Whilst today I but celebrate this sole song, “New York Mining Disaster 1941.” Was there a mining disaster in New York in 1941? It seems not, but since when did the truth need to bother a decent song.

This is the song that started the Bee Gees down their yellow brick road – it’s reputedly the one which, when played by their staunch impresario/manager Robert Stigwood to Paul McCartney, led to their being signed to a recording contract. In turn it was their first worldwide hit, reaching #14 on the Billboard chart in 1967. And I dispute the latter-day dismissal given of it by Maurice, who didn’t write it anyway, it being the product of his twin, Robin and aforementioned elder brother Barry. (Maurice had suggested it was a deliberate rip-off of the Beatles, whereas the only Beatle link was to do with some duplicity in the disc jockeys of the day, making out it may have been actually by them.) It appears on their imaginatively titled first LP, Bee Gees’ 1st, and I commend it, along with later double concept album Odessa, as both dated but overlooked artifacts of a time blessed with more ideas and experimentation than is now remembered of the three toothy brothers from Melbourne, Australia (but actually all born in Manchester, England).
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Jul 272012
 

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

I never liked conventional “children’s music,” which is condescending and ignores the reality of children’s lives, which can be dark and scary. These children hated “cute.” They cherished songs that evoked loneliness and sadness. – Hans Fenger

Hans Fenger was a musician who accepted a job teaching music in a western Canadian school district. He dismissed hi-ho-the-merry-O children’s music in favor of current pop favorites, and his pupils responded enthusiastically enough that he recorded two albums of their performing, pressing 300 copies. More than twenty years later, WFMU DJ and outsider music scholar Irwin Chusid heard the albums and set out to get them released to the world; the end result, Innocence & Despair: The Langley Schools Music Project, wound up on multiple best-of lists at year’s end. Continue reading »

Nov 302010
 

They Say It’s Your Birthday celebrates an artist’s special day with other people singing his or her songs. Let others do the work for a while. Happy birthday!

It’s hard to imagine the 1980s music scene without Billy Idol. Just as MTV gained a foothold in the collective consciousness, along came a punk-rock James Dean, all bleach-blonde spikes and hundred-mile snarl. Sure, he’d gained some renown in Generation X and, briefly, Siouxsie and the Banshees, but it wasn’t ‘til “White Wedding” hit television screens in 1982 that Idol catapulted to superstar status. The black latex, gothic cathedral, and weird doctor/necromancer enraptured kids and enraged their parents. No one unwraps a headscarf quite like Billy Idol.

His star may have sunk a little – that holiday album didn’t help – but for a full decade no one bettered Billy Idol. For an artist so tied to his time, though, the songs have aged surprisingly well. So today we celebrate Billy’s 55th with five covers of his hits: Continue reading »

Jan 182010
 

Music is about making noise kind of by definition, so the number of songs extolling the virtues of silence is surprising. In truth, the only sonically accurate piece about silence is John Cage’s 4’33”…but it’s hard to find covers of that one that differ much from than the original, for obvious reasons. If you’re unfamiliar with the piece, go get educated, then come back and listen to some slightly louder songs.


Action Camp – Enjoy the Silence (Depeche Mode)
Telling someone to enjoy the silence kind of undercuts the message. “Hey you! Are you enjoying the peace and quiet? Well, are you??” [Free EP Download]

Christopher O’Riley – I Better Be Quiet Now (Elliott Smith)
O’Riley takes Smith’s advice, shutting his trap for a soothing piano instrumental. [Buy]

The Tremeloes – Silence Is Golden (The Four Seasons)
Frankie Valli and the gang originally put this out as a b-side to “Rag Doll.” They should have given it its own release; in 1967 the Tremeloes took it to number one in the U.K. [Buy]

Stanford Harmonics – The Sound of Silence (Simon and Garfunkel)
A cappella Simon and Garfunkel? Yawn. Well give it a chance, because this very strange interpretation incorporates all sorts of unexpected genres like ambient and chillout electronica. [Buy]

Everclear – Our Lips Are Sealed (The Go-Gos)
The Vegas Years is an unusually good title for a covers album. Everclear’s top-40 alt-rock sound works pretty well with this one, a guilty-pleasure hit itself in its time. [Buy]

Sonic Youth – Loudmouth (The Ramones)
Kim Gordon’s favorite band is the Ramones, so on their 1991 live album Hold That Tiger they closed with four covers, none of which are quiet. [Buy]

Benjamin Costello – No Surprises (Radiohead)
Because suicide is one way to get some peace. [Buy]

No Age – It’s Oh So Quiet (Björk)
This seems to be No Age’s answer. Too quiet? Well we’ll fix that! [Buy]

Jet Pack – Don’t Speak (No Doubt)
Jet Pack may not speak, but on this killer surf-rock instrumental they don’t exactly shut up either. [Buy]

Deerhoof – A Kind of Hush (Herman’s Hermits)
There’s probably a reason more covers don’t just randomly omit words, but it certainly is unique. [Buy]