The Rolling Stones haven’t released an album since 2005, but in December they’ll finally return – and with their first-ever covers album to boot. Titled Blue & Lonesome, the album contains their versions of 12 classic blues songs by Little Walter, Howlin’ Wolf, and more. They’ve snuck a blues cover on LPs here and there in the past (“Love in Vain” on Let It Bleed, “You Gotta Move” on Sticky Fingers) but this is the first time they’ve filled a full album with them. They’ve already released the first track, Little Walter’s “Just Your Fool,” which you can hear below. And this weekend, they performed another album cut at Desert Trip festival (aka “Oldchella”): Eddie Taylor’s “Ride ‘Em On Down,” which they last performed in 1962!
Cover Classics takes a closer look at all-cover albums of the past, their genesis, and their legacy.
By the time he recorded Rock ‘n’ Roll, John Lennon had been through quite a lot. From the dissolution of the Beatles to the fracturing of his marriage to the ever-present threat of deportation, he clearly had a great deal weighing on him. It was during this same time that he embarked on his legendary “lost weekend” in Los Angeles while estranged from Yoko Ono. Tearing through the city with drinking pal Harry Nilsson, Lennon seemed to fully embrace his chaotic path of self-destruction. While he would eventually come around enough to bring himself out of his increasingly fraught downward spiral, there was a clear spiritual line of demarcation between what came before and what was cut tragically short just a few years later.
It is within this self-reflective/post-self-destructive climate that Lennon embarked on the sessions that would produce Rock ‘n’ Roll. Not only would it represent a return to the music that inspired him in the first place, it also served as a swan song/love letter to fans, as he would, for all intents and purposes, retire from music and the public eye for the next half decade to concentrate on being a father to his son Sean. Because of this, there’s a heavy air of nostalgia at play. From the cover image (John in 1961 Hamburg, with a blurred Paul, George, and Stu Sutcliffe walking past him) down to the track listing, Rock ‘n’ Roll represents something of a mid-life reanalysis of self for the erstwhile Beatle. By returning to his roots, he was able to reassess his own position within and feelings toward the world of pop music.
Full Albums features covers of every track off a classic album. Got an idea for a future pick? Leave a note in the comments!
John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band, Lennon’s first solo album, got many rave reviews and deserved them all, but there are people who aren’t comfortable witnessing someone baring his soul, and Lennon wanted to reach them too. So he made sure his next album, Imagine, sweetened his message, even as he kept it intact. “Plastic Ono with chocolate coating,” he later called it. By lightening his touch and assuring the songs landed in his fans’ hearts rather than crashing into them, Lennon was rewarded with a commercial success, not to mention the title track that came to be his signature song.
David Bowie has only covered “Imagine” once, on December 8, 1983. On this final date of his tour supporting Let’s Dance, and the third anniversary of John Lennon‘s assassination, Bowie followed his Lennon cowrite “Fame” with a one-time-only “Imagine” cover in Hong Kong. Audio of that has circulated for years, but video harder to come by. Now it has finally surfaced, complete with Bowie’s heartwarming intro about his friendship with John.
Beatles covers are a dime a dozen these days (we’ve got a review of another tribute album going up later today in fact). The originals are so iconic it can be difficult to put one’s own stamp on it. Most covers stick too close to the originals, but then the braver attempts at dramatic reinterpretations fail ten times as often as they succeed. It’s hard to win.
On his new version of “Julia” though, classically-trained guitarist Jeremy Bass finds a nice middle ground. He reworks the song into a tender bossa nova rhythm for his new album New York in Spring, finding a new beauty in the melody without veering off into novelty Beatles Go Brazil!-type territory.
If you’ve been keeping tabs on the always quirky rockers The Flaming Lips, you’ll discover a not-so-hidden trend: they like covering the Beatles. Last month they released their track-for-track cover of the classic Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (titled With a Little Help from My Fwends), but a quick search of Cover Me will bring up 5 other Beatles/John Lennon songs they’ve covered, going all the way back to 2010. You can’t really argue with the formula, though, because it seems to be working.