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…

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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.
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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.”

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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…
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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 »