Stan Rogers’ folk song “Northwest Passage” has been called the unofficial Canadian national anthem – and by a Canadian Prime Minister, no less. Two incredibly different covers that have come out recently add more evidence to that claim, and show that the song may be crossing the country’s southern border just as it crosses genre lines.
“Covering the Hits” looks at covers of a randomly-selected #1 hit from the past sixty-odd years.
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.
I have long held it to be a covers truism that people who love covers are most compelled by musicians who can re-imagine a song in order to create something new. The whole point – I’ve said and written – of covering a song is to merge the acts of making and enjoying music in order to say something through song while also saying something about the song itself. Good covers discover or reveal. Good covers surprise.
The expectation that a cover should make something new, however, starts to feel unfair when one is attempting to evaluate covers of songs that have been covered as often as the sixteen Beatles songs on Keep Calm & Salute the Beatles. Covering the Beatles is a bit like taking a picture of THE MOST PHOTOGRAPHED BARN IN AMERICA, an act that Don DeLillo describes not as capturing an image but maintaining one. What is there left to say, discover, or reveal about these songs beyond the tautological notion that they are good enough to be covered again and again?
There seems to be an unlimited amount of three things in this world: 1) Money in Washington, D.C.; 2) Fast & Furious movie storylines; 3) Tributes to The Beatles.
Sweet Judy “Blue Eyes” Collins is still majestic at 75. Judy’s new release, Both Sides Now- The Very Best Of includes 28 beautiful original songs and interpretations of legendary songs. Her first single, “Helpless”, is a Neil Young cover, and a duet with Rachael Sage. Judy has called Neil Young a master songwriter. She has been connected to Neil and the rest of Crosby, Stills, and Nash for many years. It’s her on-again off-again romance with Stephen Stills that inspired Stills to pen the lyrics “change my life, make it right, be my lady…” on “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes”. This was a failed attempt to get Judy back in the late ’60s. But the song was a hit in 1969 and made Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of all Time. You can hear a Collins-Stills duet on the song “Last Thing on My Mind” (2010) on Both Sides Now.
Judy’s been an inspiration to musicians and politicians alike. Bill and Hillary Clinton named their daughter Chelsea after Judy’s rendition of Joni Mitchell’s Chelsea Hotel.
Judy has had her share of struggles; depression, alcoholism, bulimia, and the suicide of her son to name a few battles. She’s triumphed beautifully and is not at all helpless like the title of her first single. Judy’s graceful collaboration with a very young, virtually unknown artist, Rachael Sage, on her first duet is a testament to her humble and true devotion to music.
To read more about Judy, click here.
In Memoriam pays tribute to those who have left this world, and the songs they left us to remember them by.
We would be remiss in our duty here at Cover Me if we didn’t take a moment to honor Pete Seeger, who passed away on January 27 at the age of 94.
Seeger was the twentieth century’s phosphorescent light of traditional folk music. Whether he was adapting works of unknown authors to strike tremendous chords (“Goodnight Irene,” “We Shall Overcome,” “Turn! Turn! Turn!”), introducing modern songs to audiences who weren’t quite ready for them (he recorded “Black and White” sixteen years before Three Dog Night took it to number one), or writing everlasting classics of his own (“If I Had a Hammer,” “Where Have All The Flowers Gone?”), Seeger knew the importance of bringing music to the people. “I am proud that I never refuse to sing to an audience, no matter what religion or color of their skin, or situation in life,” he testified to the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1955. “I have sung in hobo jungles, and I have sung for the Rockefellers, and I am proud that I have never refused to sing for anybody.”
Seeger’s concerts inevitably turned to community singalongs, with audiences joining in on songs they may have known for seventy-five seconds or seventy-five years. Under his guidance, everybody who ever attended a Pete Seeger concert became a cover artist. Seeger taught us that it wasn’t the quality of our voices that mattered; it was the volume to which we raised them. He made millions of gardens grow, inch by inch and row by row, and America is the better for his having done so.