Jun 182019
 

In Defense takes a second look at a much maligned cover artist or album and asks, “Was it really as bad as all that?”

across the universe soundtrack

Moviemakers can’t get enough of the Beatles. At the end of the month, Yesterday debuts, with a tantalizing premise: What if no one but you remembers the Beatles? You can claim their songs as your own and piggyback your way towards stardom. 

Over a decade ago, Julie Taymor, perhaps best known as the director who brought The Lion King to Broadway, took a swing at another Beatles-related movie, bringing us Across the Universe. This movie takes place in the ’60s and follows characters with original names like JoJo, Jude, Lucy, Max, Prudence, and Sadie through the Vietnam War and plenty of drug trips.

Despite the fact that Sir Paul McCartney himself said he enjoyed the film, a fun fact revealed by Taymor to Oprah during an interview, critics have middling feelings. Peter Travers of Rolling Stone gave it 2.5/4 stars. Stephen Holden of the New York Times admits:

Somewhere around its midpoint, ‘Across the Universe’ captured my heart, and I realized that falling in love with a movie is like falling in love with another person. Imperfections, however glaring, become endearing quirks once you’ve tumbled.

Rotten Tomatoes’ Critics Consensus summarizes the overall sentiment best:

Psychedelic musical numbers can’t mask Across the Universe’s clichéd love story and thinly written characters.

All that being said, these are critiques of the movie, not the music, and I’m here to defend the soundtrack as an enjoyable cover album. Throughout, I’ll set the scene in context of the movie because the motivation behind the evoked emotion is crucial to the success of these covers. These covers all have very different tones than the original. They don’t try to be the Beatles. The performers just try to express their feelings and tell their own stories through the words and tunes of the legends.

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Mar 012019
 

That’s A Cover? explores cover songs that you may have thought were originals.

The term “groupie” was just starting to get a toehold in the American vernacular in the late ’60s. Groupies were written about in lengthy articles in Rolling Stone and Time magazines. They were the subject of a 1969 book (Groupie) and a 1970 documentary (Groupies). They were, in the words of Hall of Fame groupie Pamela Des Barres, the Mary Magdalenes to any and all Jesuses in the rock bands that came through town. And Rita Coolidge thought they would make an ideal subject for a song.

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Apr 102018
 

That’s A Cover? explores cover songs that you may have thought were originals.

dont let me be misunderstood covers

Nina Simone will be posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this weekend. To anyone counting, that is 24 years after the Animals were inducted. And they wouldn’t have had one of their most enduring hits without her.

Though Animals frontman Eric Burdon is a fine songwriter in his own right, he didn’t write the majority of the band’s biggest 1960s hits. “We Gotta Get out of This Place” was written by the iconic Brill Building duo Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, and originally intended for the Righteous Brothers. “It’s My Life” also came out of the Brill stables, written for the band by lesser-known duo of Roger Atkins and Carl D’Errico. And “House of the Rising Sun” was a traditional cover Burdon learned off of Bob Dylan’s first record. Continue reading »

Mar 212018
 

In Pick Five, great artists pick five cover songs that matter to them.

erika wennerstrom covers

For the third entry in our new “Pick Five” series – following Frank Turner and Emel Mathlouthi – we checked in with singer and songwriter Erika Wennerstrom. She is preparing to release her solo debut this Friday as her band Heartless Bastards takes an extended hiatus. Titled Sweet Unknown (where Wennerstrom is venturing after 15 years fronting the band), the album spotlights, as Consequence of Sound puts it, “the warm and bluesy instrument fans of Heartless Bastards have grown to love.” That instrument is, as anyone who has heard a single Heartless Bastards will know, her powerhouse vocals.

So it’s perhaps no surprise that the five covers she selected for us all feature powerful vocal performances. Powerful, though, in very different ways, ranging from Aretha Franklin’s gospel belt to Johnny Cash’s fragile whisper. Let’s turn it over to her: Continue reading »

Mar 062018
 

In Pick Five, great artists pick five cover songs that matter to them.

frank turner cover songs

We launched our new series “Pick Five” last week with Emel Mathlouthi, and today the great singer-songwriter Frank Turner tells us about his five favorite cover songs.

Dubbed “the people’s prince of punk poetry,” Turner has broadened his sound on upcoming seventh studio album Be More Kind (out May 4th), the follow-up to his acclaimed 2015 release Positive Songs For Negative People. He told NME that he incorporated sounds fans might not associate with the guitar-basher, like keyboard synths and sampled loops. For a taste of this lusher production, listen to the latest single:

Such eclectic influences can also be seen in the five covers he picked for us. He mixes in the guitar-strummers and punk-blasters fans might expect (Johnny Cash and NOFX, respectively) with artists like Joe Cocker and Tori Amos. He also illustrates the depth of his musical knowledge; as he notes, few people even realize the Blondie song he picks is a cover. So let’s turn it over to him. Continue reading »

Oct 032017
 
cover me playlist

Today is the day! At long last, Cover Me: The Stories Behind the Greatest Cover Songs of All Time is in stores and online at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, IndieBound, Powell’s, and many other places (including, hopefully, your local independent bookstore!).

A lot has happened since I first announced the book back in May. The New Yorker published an excerpt about Devo’s meeting with Mick Jagger. I was interviewed on SiriusXM about the Hendrix, Cash, Aretha, Pet Shop Boys, Elvis, and Creedence Clearwater Revival chapters. And most importantly for you reading this, I put together an exclusive bonus mix that blog fans can get when they buy the book (it says “pre-order,” but we’ll say “week-of-release order” counts too).

And I wanted to share one more thing, another blog exclusive: An audio companion to the book. Continue reading »