Mar 232020
 

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

Dylan is Bob Dylan‘s first break-up album. Out of print for decades before eventually being issued on CD in 2013, the LP was a result of Bob’s defection from Columbia Records to the fledgling Asylum Records in early 1973. While the split ultimately proved to be a temporary separation, it appeared at the time to be a permanent divorce.

The resulting album is often framed as an act of revenge on Columbia’s part, a collection of poor-quality outtakes specifically designed to reduce Dylan’s stock with record buyers. However, this theory doesn’t add up. Columbia still owned Bob’s valuable back catalogue, which they presumably intended to continue profiting from, and releasing an intentionally substandard Dylan album would have been counterproductive. What was probably going on, as Jon Landau suggested in his review for Rolling Stone, was that Dylan would have been the first in a series of “new” Bob Dylan albums comprised of outtakes from previous Columbia sessions. Decca Records was concurrently doing the same thing with their trove of unreleased recordings by The Rolling Stones.

But why these recordings? The track selection on Dylan is perplexing, especially since Columbia already possessed much of the material that would later surface on the successful Bootleg Series. A likely explanation is that whoever compiled the album (possibly Mark Spector, who assembled an abandoned early version) was under pressure to get the record out before Dylan’s first release for Asylum – which was being recorded at that very moment – and therefore had no choice but to simply grab some of the most recent tapes off the top of the pile. The tapes in question, as it happened, were from the sessions for Dylan’s 1970 albums Self Portrait and New Morning.

Columbia’s ploy worked. Dylan reached No.17 on the Billboard chart and was certified gold, despite overwhelmingly negative reviews. Were the critics right? Let’s take another look.
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Mar 032020
 
big yellow taxi covers

In 2009, the Village Voice ranked The 50 Worst Songs of the 2000s. Sitting pretty at #1 (or maybe that’s sitting ugly in this case) was the Counting Crows’ cover of Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi.” The hilariously petty writeup is worth reading for lines like this: “You know the line about how they ‘paved paradise and put up a parking lot?’ Like how they replaced something beautiful with something cold and heartless and commercial? That’s you. You’re the parking lot, motherfucker. You drove your shitty steamroller over something everyone loved…” Continue reading »

Jan 312020
 

Check out the best covers of past months here.

best cover songs january 2020
Angel Olsen – More Than You Know (Ann-Margret cover)

Many have covered this 1929 American songbook standard, but Angel Olsen’s solo piano cover was purportedly inspired by Ann-Margret’s 1961 take. Olsen doesn’t bring any frills or gimmicks;. If you didn’t know Olsen was one the coolest, most blog-beloved artists around, you’d think she was an unusually talented piano-jazz singer. Catch her at a cabaret near you. Continue reading »

Dec 112019
 

Follow all our Best of 2019 coverage (along with previous year-end lists) here.

best tribute albums 2019

With their surprise success “Africa,” Weezer delivered easily the biggest cover-song news of 2018. And they similarly seemed poised to dominate this year’s cover-album news when they dropped a full set of similar songs in January (that album’s not on our list, because it is – and I say this as a fan for going on 20 years – terrible).

Thankfully, that album got forgotten about five minutes after its release. A slate of other high-profile cover albums took its place, and delivered more staying power. Angelique Kidjo, Morrissey, and Juliana Hatfield all released covers albums, and a host more stars contributed in one way or other to tribute compilations, from Norah Jones and Margo Price covering Bobbie Gentry to Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile tackling Wilco. Some of the aforementioned made our list and some just missed it, but all are worth investigating.

That’s to say nothing of the many lesser-known artists who came out of nowhere, amazing covers records by bands and singers I’d never heard of before. Covers albums can offer a wonderful entry point for discovery, and I’ve now got a lot of new favorite bands to dig deeper into. Hopefully you’ll find a few here too.

– Ray Padgett, Editor-in-Chief

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Nov 222019
 

Full Albums features covers of every track off a classic album. Got an idea for a future pick? Leave a note in the comments!

I should probably start this with a pop music true confession: the first Joni Mitchell album I ever bought and listened to in full was 1974’s Court And Spark, and the sole reason I purchased it was because I’d heard Prince, whom I was obsessed with (this was the early ’80s), say that he loved it and thought she was a genius (or something to that effect). Basically, if the person who made my #1 favorite album (Purple Rain) with my # 1 favorite song (“I Would Die 4 U”) loved her, there had to be a reason, and I needed to know what that reason was. I bought the album, and by the time I’d finished playing it, like most humans upon exposure to Joni, I’d been transformed into a complete devotee, snarfing up every album and playing them endlessly forever. That Prince, he knew what he was talking about.
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Nov 012019
 

Check out the best covers of past months here.

best cover songs october 2019
Angie McMahon – Knowing Me, Knowing You (ABBA cover)

It comes too late for our Best ABBA Covers countdown, but Angie McMahon’s low-simmer version of “Knowing Me, Knowing You” would make a worthy addition. Though it comes coated in a layer of rock grit, the band’s vocal harmonies stand up to the Swedes. And just wait for Angie McMahon’s cover-closing holler. Continue reading »