Sep 172019
 
cover songs 1969

This marks the fourth year I’ve done a big anniversary countdown (after 1996, 1987, and 1978). It also proved to be the most challenging. There were a lot of covers released in 1969. In fact, according to covers-and-samples database WhoSampled, there were more than in any of the other years we’ve done. Their database lists 3,110 covers, which is surely still a small fraction.

The reason for the cover song’s proliferation seems clear to me after going through them all: Popular bands released a lot more music back then. Aretha Franklin released two albums in 1969. So did The Byrds, Elvis Presley, Joe Cocker, Johnny Cash, Johnny Winter, and Nina Simone. Creedence Clearwater Revival and Merle Haggard released three albums apiece. James Brown topped them all with four. To get that kind of output, artists would pad their albums with covers. Every 1969 album by every artist I just mentioned includes at least one cover. Many include several. A few are all covers. It adds up.

Impressively, many of those covers reinterpreted songs that had come out within the previous year. This entire list could easily have been “Hey Jude” covers. “Wichita Lineman” and “Light My Fire” came up constantly too (the latter song slightly older, but it had hit the charts again in 1968). Even songs from 1968’s soundtrack to Hair got covered endlessly in 1969.

Even beyond “Hey Jude,” Beatles covers dominated the year. I’m not going to go back through the entire 3,110 covers and count, but if you told me Beatles covers made up a full half of those, I wouldn’t be shocked. Add Bob Dylan covers to that side of the scale and it’s probably true. Beatles songs got covered in every conceivable genre for every conceivable audience. Jazz and swing and folk and proto-metal Beatles covers everywhere the eye can see. Plenty of people cover the Beatles these days, sure, but trust me: It’s nothing like it was in 1969.

So wheedling all those down to the top 50 proved incredibly difficult. But it means this is maybe the top-to-bottom strongest set thus far, and it killed me to leave some off (that’s why our Patreon supporters will get a set of 69 bonus tracks – so join now).

One note: I left off Woodstock performances. For one, we counted down the 50 best covers performed there last month. But more importantly, most people did not actually hear those covers until the movie and soundtrack came out in 1970. Jimi Hendrix performed his iconic Star-Spangled Banner – pretty much everyone’s top cover of the weekend – to a nearly empty field. Most of the audience had left before he punched in at 9 AM that Monday morning. That said, several of the classic covers performed at Woodstock were released as singles or on albums the same year – including Joe Cocker’s “With a Little Help from My Friends” – and those studio versions make this list.

Now, let the sunshine in with the 50 best covers of 1969.

The countdown begins on page 2…

Jun 042019
 

Five Good Covers presents five cross-genre reinterpretations of an oft-covered song.

sugar sugar covers

I used to work in the music department of a chain bookstore. One day a customer came in and asked, “Do you have a copy of the song ‘Sugar, Sugar’?” We did, of course; I took him to the Various Artists section and handed him a copy of Billboard Top Rock ‘n’ Roll Hits: 1969.

“Thanks,” he said. “I have to learn this song for a lip-sync for work.” He grimaced.

“Wait,” I said. “If it doesn’t matter what version you lip-sync to…”

In a twinkling he was holding a Very Best of Wilson Pickett CD, containing Pickett’s classic “Sugar, Sugar” cover. “Yes!” he said, eyes alight. “This has songs on it I’ll actually want to listen to more than once!”

The Wicked Pickett’s version is indeed eternally worthy of relistening, but I don’t want to slight the Archies song. Sung by Ron Dante and backed up by Toni Wine (who turns 72 today!), it’s the perfect AM rock song, the #1 song of 1969, one that Lou Reed once admitted he wished he’d written. It’s been remade for Archie-related live-action TV shows, not once but twice. And it’s raked up a lot of covers – including some by artists you never would have guessed…

Continue reading »

May 092018
 

In Pick Five, great artists tell us about five cover songs that matter to them.

david ford covers

Plenty of musicians write songs about politics. Fewer write songs about economics. But that’s the subject of all ten tracks on British singer-songwriter David Ford’s new album Animal Spirits, out Friday.

If an album about markets and trickle-down theory sounds kind of, well, dry – it isn’t. At all. Like all of his albums, Animal Spirits is brilliant: bluesy barn-stormers mixed with a few wedding-worthy love songs. Check out the title track: Continue reading »

Apr 072017
 

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.

Phil Spector had co-written a smash, and now that he was about to produce it, he had to get the right singer. Someone whose voice could blast through the thickest Wall of Sound he ever constructed. Fortunately, he had just the voice – he’d signed Ike and Tina Turner for the express purpose of having Tina record this one song.

While Ike was paid twenty thousand dollars to stay away from the studio, Tina worked. She was singing a non-R&B song for the first time in her professional life, and where Ike was always asking her to scream, Phil told her to stick to the melody. The sessions were grueling, causing Tina literal pain; after trying and trying to get it right, her blouse soaked with sweat, she said, “Okay, Phil, one more time,” then ripped off her blouse and let out an incendiary vocal that floored everybody. “It was like the whole room exploded,” her manager said.
Continue reading »

Oct 142016
 

Five Good Covers presents five cross-genre reinterpretations of an oft-covered song.

otis redding

Otis Redding built one of his greatest songs out of almost nothing. Guitarist and co-writer Steve Cropper explains: “‘I Can’t Turn You Loose’ was just a riff I’d used on a few songs with the MG’s. Otis worked it up with the horns in about 10 minutes as the last thing we did one night in the studio. Just a riff and one verse that he sings over and over. That’s all it is.”

Continue reading »

Oct 032014
 

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.

 
Aretha Franklin is back in the news again, promoting her upcoming cover album Aretha Franklin Sings the Great Diva Classics and letting fly with her 72-year-old chops on Letterman. Meanwhile, Derek Jeter played his last game, and the Red Sox saluted him by inviting Michelle Brooks-Thompson from “The Voice” to sing “Respect.” She was promptly dubbed “Fake Aretha Franklin.”

Anyway, both events brought back memories of one of the undisputed greatest covers ever recorded. And the original’s nothing to sneeze at, either – this is Otis Redding we’re talking about, expressing as only he could what he’s got-ta, got-ta, got-ta have. “That’s one of my favorite songs because it has a better groove than any of my records,” Redding said. “Everybody wants respect, you know.” It was true – the song took him into the top 40 for only the second time, and the stampede to cover it began. Some of those covers were on the same level as the version by the nun in Airplane!, but a lot more of them rose far above that level…
Continue reading »