Apr 182014

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

The Elektra label has a history of celebrating itself with various books and anthologies, but then, there’s a lot to celebrate. Started by a teenaged Jac Holzman in his dorm room in 1950, it grew into major label status while retaining an eclectic roster of musicians who were given the chance to spread their artistic wings, just as likely to reach pinnacles of cult fandom (Tim Buckley, Love) as pinnacles of worldwide success (the Doors, Queen). In 1990, Elektra celebrated its 40th anniversary by releasing Rubaiyat, a 4-LP/2-CD/2-cassette box set with a unique premise – the label’s current artists covering songs from the label’s prior artists. Rarely have such disparate musicians rubbed shoulders as they do on this release, whether on levels of dissimilarity (Tracy Chapman and Metallica – together again!) or familiarity (the Shaking Family was infinitesimally as well known as the Cure), but that was the point, and they all got together here for some fine and enlightening work.
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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!

At this writing, Glen Campbell is taking his Farewell Tour. This is not one of those concert tours by a celebrity announcing retirement yet again; rather, it’s Campbell taking a valedictory lap around the country before the ravages of Alzheimer’s disease rob him entirely of his gifts. Reviews of these shows note the occasional stumbles, but also make mention of the standing ovations, Campbell’s still-unerring guitar work, and the fact that this is a man who doesn’t need to make new fans – he needs to say good-bye in style, and he’s doing exactly that. Continue reading »

Though Bob Dylan moved away from his role as a ‘protest singer’ long ago — we saw Another Side by his fourth album — his name will forever be associated with social activism. The international human rights organization Amnesty International rose out of the same turbulent era as Dylan, forming in 1961, the year Dylan recorded his first album. Fitting, then, that in celebration of their 50th birthday, Amnesty would call on artists to contribute their Dylan covers to the massive four disc set Chimes of Freedom: The Songs of Bob Dylan Honoring 50 Years of Amnesty International. Continue reading »

Ah, the ’80s – a time when nearly every cult classic film birthed a popular, chart-topping hit. Such was the case with Fast Times at Ridgemont High and “Somebody’s Baby.” The soundtrack single came courtesy of folk rock singer/songwriter Jackson Browne and was one of the biggest hits of his career. Similarly folky (though slightly more indie) band The Wooden Birds picked up the song to cover, offering it as a bonus for downloading their most recent single, “Criminal Minds” off their newest album, Two Matchsticks. Continue reading »

In 1965, a 16-year old Jackson Browne wrote the song “These Days.” It was first recorded by German model Nico in 1967, then Gregg Allman, and then Browne himself in 1973. These three versions in differing styles have created the foundation for one of the more popular cover songs in the last 45 years. Other notable artists to cover the track include; Nitty Gritty Band, John Cale, Tom Rush, 10,000 Maniacs,  Fountains of Wayne, and St. Vincent. Continue reading »

Had he lived, tomorrow would have been Buddy Holly’s 75th birthday, and today marks the release date of the second full-length Buddy Holly tribute of the past ten weeks. Due to the proximity of the release dates, the two collections are destined to be linked together and compared. On the surface, similarities abound: both Rave On Buddy Holly (review here) and Listen To Me: Buddy Holly feature big name stars and a bevy of classic rockers. Rave On boasts Paul McCartney, Nick Lowe, Patti Smith and Lou Reed while Listen To Me offers Stevie Nicks, Brian Wilson, Jackson Browne and Ringo Starr. The differences lie in the roster of contemporary contributors. Where Rave On is stocked with indie cred, Listen To Me relies on a list of chart-topping pop stars.

Less innovative than its slightly older cousin, Listen To Me: Buddy Holly has a few oddities that tend to tarnish an otherwise pretty solid compilation. First on the list of disappointments is Linda Ronstadt’s 1976 Hasten Down The Wind version of “That’ll Be The Day.” Really? Does a 35 year-old song get a pass on an otherwise “new” collection simply because the legendary Peter Asher produced both projects? Did they think we wouldn’t notice? Continue reading »

As part of the upcoming 2012 year-long 100th birthday celebration of Woody Guthrie comes Note of Hope, a twelve song covers tribute of mostly unreleased Guthrie songs. Woody’s daughter Nora Guthrie is at the helm producing the project which features bass player extraordinaire Rob Wasserman joining up with a fantastic selection of artists. The legendary American singer-songwriter and folk musician is getting the birthday party he deserves. Continue reading »

Song of the Day posts one cool cover every morning. Catch up on past installments here.

Gary U.S. Bonds is often overlooked in the annals of rock history. To some degree, this is fair. His presence didn’t change much. While his sound was never particularly innovative though, his one hit “Quarter to Three” is 1950s rock and roll bliss (despite the fact it dropped in ’61). These days more fans remember the song for Bruce Springsteen than U.S. Bonds though. The Boss closed his shows for decades with “Quarter to Three,” sometimes stretching it out to fifteen minutes or more, complete with James Brown passing-out shtick.

Bonds made a moderate comeback in the ‘80s and once again, the world has Springsteen to thank. For Bond’s 1981 album Dedication, Bruce wrote three songs, sang on one, and co-produced the whole thing with Little Steven. If Bonds’ backing group sounds like the E Street Band, that’s because it is the E Street Band. Having gotten many miles out of “Quarter to Three,” the whole gang repaid the favor by giving Bonds the muscular sound (and star power) his talent demanded.

The album includes covers of the traditional “Jolé Blon,” Bob Dylan’s “From a Buick 6,” and this, Jackson Browne’s lite-FM staple “The Pretender.” Bond goes high octane on it, bringing in a backing chorus to boost the E Street sound even further. It won’t get you dancing ‘til quarter to three, but it’ll show you just what can happen to a faded has-been when the right people remember. Continue reading »

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