Jul 102019
 

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!

Earlier this year, a young rapper named Lil Nas X found himself in an odd position. With rhymes about horses, tractors, cowboys, and Wrangler jeans, his song “Old Town Road” was blazing up the country charts. Then, suddenly, it was dropped from the list. Officials at Billboard claimed it was because the tune was not country enough. Some cried foul, some cried racism. Billy Ray Cyrus called it something else.

The country singer, who shook up Nashville himself with his 1992 hit “Achy Breaky Heart,” labelled Lil Nas X a true country outlaw. Cyrus took to Twitter, saying: “When I got thrown off the charts, Waylon Jennings said to me ‘Take this as a compliment’ means you’re doing something great! Only Outlaws are outlawed. Welcome to the club.”

With Lil Nax X’s blessing, Cyrus went into the studio to record some of the lyrics and an additional verse. Just like that, “Old Town Road (Remix)” was born. This time, they did not need the country charts. The song shot up to the top spot on Billboard’s Hot 100, where it has stayed for 13 weeks as of July 1. At age 57, Cyrus earned the first number one pop single of his career. But more importantly, the man known to many as Miley Cyrus’ dad has suddenly been blessed with cultural street cred. On June 23, the two performed the song at the BET Awards with the whole crowd singing and dancing along. It’s a type of cachet that has been eluding Cyrus since the “Achy Breaky” backlash of the early ‘90s.

I can’t help but feel somewhat vindicated by all this. You see, I have been a Billy Ray defender for decades. Yes, I know “Achy Breaky Heart” is corny and was overplayed to nth degree. But once you get beyond his many attempts to replicate his “Achy Breaky” success with equally cheesy sequels, he has many great songs that have held up well in the ensuing decades. Plus, Cyrus can really sing. His voice enables him to take on many subgenres of country, rock, pop, and now rap with equal ease.

As with any country singer, Cyrus has recorded a number of cover songs over the years, including two feminist anthems. Here’s a quick primer for those who dare to embrace Cyrus’ well-worn mullet.

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Jun 122019
 

Welcome to Cover Me Q&A, where we take your questions about cover songs and answer them to the best of our ability.

song at your funeral

Here at Cover Me Q&A, we’ll be taking questions about cover songs and giving as many different answers as we can. This will give us a chance to hold forth on covers we might not otherwise get to talk about, to give Cover Me readers a chance to learn more about individual staffers’ tastes and writing styles, and to provide an opportunity for some back-and-forth, as we’ll be taking requests (learn how to do so at feature’s end).

Today’s question: What cover song would you like to have played at your funeral?
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Apr 192019
 

“Covering the Hits” looks at covers of a randomly-selected #1 hit from the past sixty-odd years.

Harry Chapin

No number one hit says “massive guilt trip” like Harry Chapin’s “Cat’s in the Cradle.” It’s become a shorthand reference to neglectful father-son parenting, featured in popular culture from Simpsons to Shrek the Third, and Stevie Wonder only wishes he prompted as many phone calls just to say “I love you.”

It started off as a poem by Sandy Chapin, Harry’s wife, inspired by the relationship between her first husband and his father. “He came home and I showed him the poem, and he sort of brushed it aside,” she said. But a year later Harry had become a father, and found himself living the life his wife had written about; he wrote music and a chorus, and David Geffen selected it to be a single. “You can’t do that; it’s ridiculous,” Sandy told him. “That song will only appeal to 45-year-old men, and they don’t buy records.” Harry himself wanted to re-record the song, saying “It’s terrible, just terrible. It’s much too fast a tempo.” Both of them were proved very wrong, as the song went to #1 in December 1974.

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Jan 312019
 

‘The Best Ever’ series counts down our favorite covers of great artists.

best neil young covers

Neil Young released his self-titled debut solo album on January 22, 1969. Well, technically he re-released it that day. It had initially landed without much fanfare the previous November, only for Young to quickly pull it from shelves due to what he deemed a subpar mix. Even in his professional infancy, decades before Pono and the Neil Young Archives, he was a stickler for quality control.

We hope this list would pass muster with him. At 50 songs, it’s our longest to date (tied only with The Rolling Stones) and still barely scratches the surface. We could have quite easily listed the best 50 covers of “Heart of Gold” or “Like a Hurricane” alone. He gets covered about as much as any songwriter alive, and about as well too.

Neil hasn’t slowed down in his own age, and neither has the flow of new covers. Some of the covers below came out near 50 years ago themselves. Others only landed in the last year or two. No doubt another contender will arrive tomorrow. Neil never stops, and, thankfully, neither do covers of his songs. Continue reading »

Sep 072018
 

kilonovaWilliam Elliott Whitmore is 40, but he has always sounded like a much older man, with a deep, soulful voice that gives everything he sings a certain gravitas.  Think Tom Waits, Leonard Cohen, or late Dylan, or most of all, Johnny Cash at his most apocalyptic.  If Whitmore sang “Don’t Worry, Be Happy,” you’d still worry, and probably be unhappy.  I first heard Whitmore in 2006, opening for Lucero, at the Bowery Ballroom in New York, and was immediately transfixed by his timeless voice, dark songs, austere banjo, guitar and foot stomping accompaniment, and intense performance.

Born and raised on a 150-acre farm in southeastern Iowa, which he inherited from his parents and still owns, Whitmore grew up singing and playing guitar and banjo, with musical influences that started with country and moved toward punk as he got older.  At a certain point, though, Whitmore realized that he needed to focus on the folky, rustic, blues music that he grew up on–but with a punk edge.

So when Bloodshot Records released Kilonova, an album of covers of (mostly) lesser known songs from many musical eras, the question was, how would such a distinctive artist put his stamp on this block of diverse songs? “Diverse” barely begins to tell the story–artists range from Dock Boggs, to Johnny Cash,  to the Magnetic Fields to Bad Religion.

In short, the answer is, remarkably well.
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Aug 022018
 

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

lucero cover songs

Memphis rock-and-roll lifers Lucero celebrate 20 years together, and they’ve never been better. Their last album, 2015’s All a Man Should Do, was low-key the best of their career – just listen to the fiery horn blast “Can’t You Hear Them Howl” if you’re not convinced. This Friday they will return with the follow-up, Among the Ghosts. Early signs point to another classic; I mean, how can you go wrong with a song titled “Cover Me”?

“Cover Me” is an original Lucero song, but the band does record actual covers regularly. Their last album’s Big Star cover even earned a spot on our Best of 2015 list. So in honor of their covers, and their “Cover Me,” we spoke with founding member John C. Stubblefield about his five favorite cover songs. He takes on a musical and personal tour of growing up in Memphis, a punk-rock kid discovering his city’s musical heritage. Continue reading »