This week we’ve posted tributes to three of this year’s six Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees: The Cars, Dire Straits, and Nina Simone. And lord knows we’ve posted plenty of covers of the other three over the years: Bon Jovi, The Moody Blues, and “Early Influence” inductee Sister Rosetta Tharpe. But to celebrate them all in one place in advance of this weekend’s induction ceremony, we thought we’d round up a few of the best covers we didn’t include in all those other features.
In high school, a friend and I drove two hours to a blues festival in rural Maine one Saturday. When we got to the gate we found tickets to be well outside of our meager budget, but there was only one artist we’d wanted to see anyway: Johnny Winter. So we found a low fence we could peer over, and sat, and waited.
Cover Classics takes a closer look at all-cover albums of the past, their genesis, and their legacy.
Richard Thompson is a Cover Me favorite, and for good reason. His songwriting and playing are brilliant, and his songs are often covered by musicians who recognize his genius, even if he has escaped widespread popularity. Not only that, he has, since his early days as a teenaged guitarist in Fairport Convention, performed many wonderful covers of other artists. Thompson also has a wicked sense of humor, which is hinted at in his lyrics, but more often displayed in his writings, interviews and stage shows. Rarely does Thompson perform without unleashing a zinger or ten, often directed at audience members who mistakenly believe they can best him in a battle of wits.
So when Playboy magazine came to him in 1999 and asked him to join other musicians in providing a list of the ten greatest songs of the millennium, it is not surprising that he mischievously took them literally. As Thompson wrote:
Such pretension, I thought. They don’t mean millennium, do they? Probably about 30 years is the cut-off: Tears for Fears might sneak in, Cole Porter probably not.
He called their bluff and did a real thousand-year selection, starting with a song from 1068 and including one effort from the 20th century. Playboy, which is rumored to have articles, chose not to print Thompson’s list, sparing their “readers” the opportunity to consider a toe-tapper by St Godric.
Back Track reexamines an old cover that deserves a new spotlight.
In 1983 X released More Fun in the New World, which became the fourth consecutive album to garner critical praise, and no doubt helped solidify their status as L.A. punk legends. More Fun was crisper than their previous albums, but no less raw and passionate. John Doe and Exene Cervenka still wrote their lyrics as if they were simply writing poems, and while there were more elements of pop to this album, the band’s punk and rockabilly roots held a presence.
It’s unsettling to think what might have become (or not become) of rock music if not for one man in Memphis and his modest recording studio. The talent that Sam Phillips welcomed into his Memphis Recording Service in the early 1950s was legendary and included B.B. King, Rufus Thomas, Howlin’ Wolf, Junior Parker and Ike Turner. These early blues and R&B artists gave Phillips and his fledgling label, Sun Records, some minor notoriety that would soon attract rock, country and rockabilly upstarts such as Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, and of course, Elvis Presley. His willingness to produce raw-sounding records featuring reverb and distortion caused some to say Phillips didn’t know what he was doing, and others to praise his unique genius. Perhaps Phillips’ biggest stroke of genius was seeing the potential in the young Presley boy that just kept hanging around. Pairing Elvis with guitarist Scotty Moore and Bill Black on bass in the summer of 1954 initially led to a lackluster session until, after a break, Elvis began goofing around with Arthur Crudup’s “That’s All Right.” Instantly Phillips knew he was hearing something special – the white artist with the “negro” sound that he had been seeking.
Let’s face it – we could run Cover Me from Third Man Records releases alone (see here, here, here, and here). When Jack White gets behind something, cover songs just seem to pour forth. That holds true in his latest Vault subscription package, which gave lucky viewers a reissue of the White Stripes’ Captain Beefheart covers and this 7” of the 188.8.131.52.’s and White covering two oldies favorites: “Great Balls of Fire” and “Hanky Panky.”