Jun 152018
 
best cover songs 1978

Welcome to the third installment in our Best Cover Songs of Yesteryear countdown, where we act like we were compiling our usual year-end list from a year before we – or the internet – existed. Compared to the first two, this one has significantly less grunge than 1996 and less post-punk than 1987. It’s hard to have post-punk, after all, before you have punk, a new genre starting to hit its peak in 1978. And don’t forget the other big late-’70s sound: disco. Both genres were relatively new, and super divisive among music fans. Lucky for us, both genres were also big on covers.

Disco, in particular, generated some hilariously ill-advised cover songs. We won’t list them all here – this is the Best 1978 covers, not the Most 1978 covers. If you want a taste (and think carefully about whether you really do), this bonkers take on a Yardbirds classic serves as a perfect example of what a good portion of the year’s cover songs looked and sounded like: Continue reading »

Feb 232018
 
frank ocean moon river

The 1961 film Breakfast at Tiffany’s has a complicated legacy rivaling that of Gone with the Wind. The images of Audrey Hepburn standing in front of the famed Manhattan jewelry store are some of the most memorable of the 20th century. Yet, Mickey Rooney’s yellowface portrayal of the Japanese landlord I. Y. Yunioshi renders the film almost unwatchable today.

The movie’s Oscar-winning theme song “Moon River,” with music by Henry Mancini and lyrics by Johnny Mercer, has long transcended the era in which it was written. The song’s instantly recognizable melody has made it a standard through the ages, with versions by a wide range of artists from Frank Sinatra to The Killers. On Mancini’s Spotify page, Hepburn’s original from the movie and the main-title instrumental rendition are his top two tracks, beating out the equally iconic “Pink Panther Theme.” Frank Ocean recently added to “Moon River’s” exhaustive legacy by releasing a cover.

Ocean has made a name for himself as a musical trailblazer with his hypnotic blend of R&B and hip hop. Ocean sings most of the song in a raspy, almost bluesy voice. The accompaniment itself is rather sparse: one note simply repeating itself again and again, almost like a heartbeat. Ocean, singing lead and backup, uses his voice to carry the melody. He inverts the lyrics, shifting emphasis away from the words “moon river” and placing them squarely on the words “two drifters,” singing them with a heavy dose of sadness in his voice. The song fades out with soft electronic effects, sounding like it would be at home on Ocean’s other albums. With an artist of Ocean’s caliber taking on the tune, it’s clear that Mancini and Mercer’s iconic song from the early ‘60s is in no danger of fading away.

Click here to listen to our five favorite covers of “Moon River.”

Apr 032017
 
Bob Dylan Standards

With the release of his mammoth Triplicate album last week, Bob Dylan upped the number of Great American Songbook standards he’s covered to 52: 10 on 2015’s Shadows in the Night, 12 on last year’s Fallen Angels, 30 (30!) on Triplicate.

The original idea was that these would all be covers of songs Frank Sinatra once sang. Though Bob’s veered away from that some, Ol’ Blue Eyes still looms large. At their best, these songs embody Sinatra’s emotion and versatility as Dylan finds his own way in to a song. At their worse, they sound like Tony Bennett karaoke by someone who can’t sing.

So with so many of Dylan’s standards covers now out, we decided to rank all 52 songs. Some of Dylan’s finest-ever vocal performances are on these three albums. Also some that make Self Portrait look inspired. So let’s try to separate the wheat from the chaff, the curds from the whey, the In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning from the Sinatra Sings Great Songs from Great Britain. Continue reading »

Feb 072017
 
Hula Hi-Fi

Many listeners’ knowledge of Hawaiian music begins and ends with Israel Kamakawiwo’ole’s “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” (which, to be fair, deserves every play it gets). But on a new album, a new trio aims to change that by adapting a dozen familiar songs across decades into a new genre they call “Hawaiian noir.” Like David Lynch in Maui, they reinvent songs by Nirvana (“In Bloom”), The Cars (“Drive”), Radiohead (“Bulletproof…I Wish I Was”), Chris Isaak (“Wicked Game”), and more with ukuleles, lap steel, and harmonies.

Known as Hula Hi-Fi, the band is new but the players – Josh Kaler, Annie Clements and Sarah Bandy – are seasoned, having worked with the likes of Sugarland, Amos Lee, Butch Walker, and more in their respective careers. Their abilities show; these are carefully constructed productions, not tossed-off ukulele strum-alongs. Continue reading »

May 132016
 

Five Good Covers presents five cross-genre reinterpretations of an oft-covered song.

Moon River Audrey Hepburn

“Moon River” has been recorded over five hundred times. Clearly, there’s something universal about the song. It has touched a great number of people, and artists across a diverse range of genres have given it a shot. What is it about this song that causes such a reaction?
Continue reading »

May 312011
 

Download This scours the web’s dark corners for cool cover freebies. View past installments.

Originally a solo project of frontman Chris Chu, The Morning Benders quickly evolved into a full-fledged quartet. They relocated from Berkeley to Brooklyn a couple of years ago and, with the assistance of Grizzly Bear’s Chris Taylor, recorded their critically acclaimed second album, Big Echo. Even the notoriously fickle folks over at Pitchfork loved the bright, atmospheric pop of the album, adding it to their “Best New Music” list.

Never ones to hide their influences, the band recorded a collection of covers shortly before their departure from the West Coast and posted it as a free download on their blog. The Bedroom Covers features, suitably, a collection of lo-fi, low-key acoustic versions of a cross-section of pop tunes. The song selection won’t surprise you, but there’s something refreshing about seeing a young band that has an appreciation for musical history. Continue reading »