Lana Del Rey has been one of the most polarizing artists in the 21st century pop world. Questions of authenticity have dogged her for her entire career, from criticisms of her so called adopted persona to her supposed affections supporting it. Every move has been ripe for attack. Criticism has often come wrapped in a thin veil of sexism; the fact is, her career blueprint is not much different from that of David Bowie’s. He was as calculated and theatrical in regards to his persona and product as they come, but the credibility of the music he produced was never in question.
The latest Del Rey album, Norman Fucking Rockwell! is not the work of a persona or a character; it is an open, brazen modern day love letter to the classically cynical, gorgeous California pop of the ’70s. Gone are the echo laden, girl group, Blue Velvet vibes that personified her previous recordings, Del Rey instead meshes lyrically caustic, in your face vocals with memorable melodies resting somewhere between post Pet Sounds-era Beach Boys and early ’70’s Joni Mitchell and wears her passion for these sounds on her sleeve. Prince once said when it came to making music, he would look at what his contemporaries were doing and go the other way. Del Rey is going the other way.Continue reading »
This marks the fourth year I’ve done a big anniversary countdown (after 1996, 1987, and 1978). It also proved to be the most challenging. There were a lot of covers released in 1969. In fact, according to covers-and-samples database WhoSampled, there were more than in any of the other years we’ve done. Their database lists 3,110 covers, which is surely still a small fraction.
The reason for the cover song’s proliferation seems clear to me after going through them all: Popular bands released a lot more music back then. Aretha Franklin released two albums in 1969. So did The Byrds, Elvis Presley, Joe Cocker, Johnny Cash, Johnny Winter, and Nina Simone. Creedence Clearwater Revival and Merle Haggard released three albums apiece. James Brown topped them all with four. To get that kind of output, artists would pad their albums with covers. Every 1969 album by every artist I just mentioned includes at least one cover. Many include several. A few are all covers. It adds up.
Impressively, many of those covers reinterpreted songs that had come out within the previous year. This entire list could easily have been “Hey Jude” covers. “Wichita Lineman” and “Light My Fire” came up constantly too (the latter song slightly older, but it had hit the charts again in 1968). Even songs from 1968’s soundtrack to Hair got covered endlessly in 1969.
Even beyond “Hey Jude,” Beatles covers dominated the year. I’m not going to go back through the entire 3,110 covers and count, but if you told me Beatles covers made up a full half of those, I wouldn’t be shocked. Add Bob Dylan covers to that side of the scale and it’s probably true. Beatles songs got covered in every conceivable genre for every conceivable audience. Jazz and swing and folk and proto-metal Beatles covers everywhere the eye can see. Plenty of people cover the Beatles these days, sure, but trust me: It’s nothing like it was in 1969.
So wheedling all those down to the top 50 proved incredibly difficult. But it means this is maybe the top-to-bottom strongest set thus far, and it killed me to leave some off (that’s why our Patreon supporters will get a set of 69 bonus tracks – so join now).
One note: I left off Woodstock performances. For one, we counted down the 50 best covers performed there last month. But more importantly, most people did not actually hear those covers until the movie and soundtrack came out in 1970. Jimi Hendrix performed his iconic Star-Spangled Banner – pretty much everyone’s top cover of the weekend – to a nearly empty field. Most of the audience had left before he punched in at 9 AM that Monday morning. That said, several of the classic covers performed at Woodstock were released as singles or on albums the same year – including Joe Cocker’s “With a Little Help from My Friends” – and those studio versions make this list.
Now, let the sunshine in with the 50 best covers of 1969.
Joni Mitchell is 75 and won’t be with us forever. She suffered an aneurysm in 2015, and she’s coping with the little-understood Morgellons disease. She has difficulty walking, and has not spoken publicly in years. But if her place on earth is tenuous, her place in the heavens is secure; millions of people already look up to her every day.
Joni Mitchell’s songs are famous for being intensely personal, a deep expression of her self that people nevertheless relate to. Those who aspire to her voice become near-slavish devotees. There’s a great New Yorker piece about a small show of Joni’s that a drunken Chrissie Hynde gets overly caught up in (“That’s a REAL singer up there!”), and Hynde’s not alone. Mitchell isn’t just a real singer, though. She’s a real songwriter, a real painter, a real guitarist, a real follower of her muse – a real artist, one of the realest of the past hundred years. That authenticity is what continues to bring people into her circle on a daily basis.
In an excellent essay for NPR, Ann Powers wrote: “Like her prime compatriots Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen and her favorite protégé Prince, no one can adequately echo her; even great singers, taking on her songbook, admit they can only hope to achieve proximity.” Indeed, a Joni Mitchell cover is never just a tribute – it’s an assertion, an artist coming forth to pick up a gauntlet she lay down decades ago.
We found 30 covers that show the artists doing an especially good job at matching their talents to Joni’s, creating new works of art that, no matter how novel or innovative they may be, never set out to eradicate the original artist’s signature. May her art continue to open eyes, whether through her own performances or those of others, for centuries to come.
Full Albums features covers of every track off a classic album. Got an idea for a future pick? Leave a note in the comments!
At that period of my life, I had no personal defenses. I felt like a cellophane wrapper on a pack of cigarettes. I felt like I had absolutely no secrets from the world and I couldn’t pretend in my life to be strong. Or to be happy. But the advantage of it in the music was that there were no defenses there either. – Joni Mitchell, 1979
As many a person has pointed out, Blue works really good if you’re really low. These five girls came up to me once in a bar and said, “Joni, before there was Prozac, there was you.” – Joni Mitchell, 1996
Two of the albums on this year’s list have similar titles: This Is Not Our Music and These Are Not Mine. Clever titles for collections of cover songs, sure, but misleading. Not your music? Why not? Songs are anyone’s for the singing. Even if a song’s lyrics or chord sequence didn’t first spring from a certain performer’s brain, that doesn’t mean he or she has any less claim. The great cover performers make the songs theirs, no matter whose they were before.
The twenty records below each contain numerous examples of artists doing just that. The songs may not have started out as these artists’ – but they are theirs now.
Cover Classics takes a look at great covers albums of the past, their genesis and their legacies.
Black Friday may have gone, but here’s a twofer bargain.
Cat Power, aka Chan Marshall, has produced two near-full album cover classics in her career (so far), which doesn’t even begin to fully address her never-more-quirky approach to the songs of others. Not that she is lost for any words of her own! She’s got a back catalogue stretching across many styles and many genres, from raw scratchy indie through slinky southern soul, a touch of electronica and back again, yet always unmistakably herself. Her career has seen her seemingly beset by internal demons; many had written her off until her triumphant return this fall with Wanderer, containing ten of her own songs, and one contender for our Cover Songs of the Year post.
But it is back to 2000 we first go, to The Covers Record. Allegedly a disappointment to her record company, who had appreciated this was an artiste worth their investment, but even with lackluster promotion it became a slow burning triumph. Praise and plaudits accumulated over the years, not least as box set dramas required ever more diverse musical accompaniments. Continue reading »