In late 1997, a Michigan trio of teenagers calling themselves 400 Pounds of Punk released their only album, a five-song cassette called He Once Ate A Small Child. Calling it obscure puts it mildly; until today, there was no mention of this release anywhere on the internet. “I doubt more than a half-dozen people even knew about it,” writes Third Man Records co-founder Ben Blackwell (that’s him on the left in the photo) on Discogs. Blackwell has changed that, posting a track from it in honor of Cassette Week. That track, a raw and rocking cover of Blondie’s “One Way or Another,” features a young Jack White on vocals.
In Pick Five, great artists pick five cover songs that matter to them.
Broadway star Lena Hall (Kinky Boots, Hedwig and the Angry Inch) has been releasing an ambitious series of EPs this year. Every month, she covers a handful of tracks by a favorite artist. In what she’s dubbed the Obsessed series, she’s already tackled Elton John, Peter Gabriel, and The Cranberries. June’s installment say her bringing her Broadway belt to five Radiohead songs; here’s a highlight:
Jack White is next month’s featured artist, and I’m quite excited for that one. As the covers Hall selected for us demonstrate, she’s something of a White Stripes superfan. She’ll hopefully preview one or two of her upcoming Stripes covers at her New York concert tomorrow night, “Six Months of Obsessions: From Radiohead to Hedwig” at Public Arts (tickets here).
Check out Hall’s cover-song picks below. Sure hope Dolly Parton and Soundgarden are on her Obsessed docket…
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”).
April was the best month for covers of the year so far. There’s no particular reason for that, I suspect. These things just ebb and flow. But the fact remains that it was a proverbial embarrassment of riches, as the length of the list below confirms.
As always, there’s no quality difference between the main picks and the honorable mentions; a cover’s categorization is only determined by how much I had to say about it.
Our official list of the Best Cover Songs of 2017 comes next week. But first, we’re continuing the tradition we started last year by rounding up some of the songs it most killed us to cut in a grab-bag post. No ranking, no writing, just a bunch of knockout covers.
Every once and awhile, a musical project comes along that reminds us of the magnitude of talent and ingenuity many of our current musicians possess. The American Epic series by PBS is one such project. Directed by Bernard McMahon, American Epic re-imagines the music captured by record companies way back in the 1920’s. But not just any music. “Country singers in the Appalachians, blues guitarists in the Mississippi Delta, Gospel preachers across the south, Cajun fiddlers in Louisiana, Tejano groups from the Texas Mexico border, Native American drummers in Arizona, and Hawaiian musicians”. The record companies gave a musical voice to so many talented, undiscovered musicians at that time.
To make the project authentic, the American Epic team reassembled the very first electrical sound recording system which was used back in the 1920s. They then tasked executive producers Jack White and T Bone Burnett to create an album of recordings by twenty of today’s artists, all recorded on the only system of this kind in the world. The result is a fantastic throwback to long ago brought to us by some seriously talented and committed musicians.