Kraftwerk’s “Autobahn” is a landmark fusion of experimental German electronic music and pop hooks. Most people have only heard the single version, a three-minute edit of the 22-minute track, which could be considered the first ever synthpop song and became an international hit. Though Kraftwerk’s version contains a few organic instruments like guitar, it is primarily composed of electronic instruments and prominently features electronically distorted vocals. The success of the song showed that there was commercial potential for music made largely with electronic instruments, whereas most electronic music prior to its success was a very niche thing.
Arctic Monkeys – Lipstick Vogue (Elvis Costello cover)
Arctic Monkeys got a lot of attention covering the Strokes last week (especially because on his new album, Alex Turner sings: “I just want to be one of the Strokes”). But I preferred their wonderfully sleazy “Lipstick Vogue” cover, played in honor of Costello as he recovered from cancer surgery. Turner’s a product of his influences; in addition to the Strokes and Elvis, he appears to have his Nick Cave snake slither down cold.
Last year I did a roundup of the Best Cover Songs of 1996. It was a fun project to retroactively compile one of our year-end lists for a year before Cover Me was born. I wanted to do it again this year, but continuing the twentieth-anniversary theme with 1997 seemed a little boring. Turns out 1997 also featured a bunch of Afghan Whigs covers.
So to mix it up, I decided to go a decade further back and look at 1987. Needless to say, the landscape looked very different for covers. For one, far more of that year’s biggest hits were covers than we saw for 1996. The year had #1 cover hits in Heart’s “Alone,” the Bangles’ “Hazy Shade of Winter,” Los Lobos’ “La Bamba,” Tiffany’s “I Think We’re Alone Now,” Club Nouveau’s “Lean on Me,” and Kim Wilde’s “You Keep Me Hangin’ On.” Plus ubiquitous hits that didn’t quite top the charts, but remain staples of the songs-you-didn’t-know-were-covers lists, Buster Poindexter’s “Hot Hot Hot” and George Harrison’s “Got My Mind Set On You.”
Under the Radar shines a light on lesser-known cover artists. If you’re not listening to these folks, you should. Catch up on past installments here.
As a rule, rappers don’t do covers. Sure, they might karaoke a beloved Biggie verse every now and again, but you almost never see them record a regular, honest-to-goodness cover. They honor their influences through sampling and remixing, which, given that they generally can’t sing, works better for most of them.
Enter Buck 65. The Tom Waits of hip-hop, this Canadian cult hero is anything but an ordinary rapper and he does covers on the regular. And not even covers of other rap songs, but covers of pop and folk that blend seamlessly into his albums. Though no one could question his encyclopedic knowledge of hip-hop history, Buck (aka Richard Terfry) draws from folk and blues regularly, giving his work a grit more Robert Johnson than Tupac. Below, we sample five choice reimaginings as a primer on how rappers can do covers right.
Quickies rounds up new can’t-miss covers. Download ‘em below.
• Unsubtle band name notwithstanding, L.A. duo Well Hung Heart show a surprising delicacy on their Huey Lewis and the News cover. Recorded for Syffal’s Pop Cultures Collide series, it reinvents the Back to the Future smash.
MP3: Well Hung Heart – The Power of Love (Huey Lewis and the News cover)
In Johnny Cash’s American Recordings series, he covered Depeche Mode, Beck, and Nine Inch Nails. Sadly, he never quite made it to Krautrock. If he had though, it might have sounded like this. Well, vocally at least. If Rick Rubin produced it, there’d be more cello.
Seattle’s Brent Amaker and the Rodeo released a country-fried cover of Kraftwerk’s “Pocket Calculator” as a bonus track to their new Please Stand By. It bounces along like the Man in Black fronting Men Without Hats. You’re never quite sure whether they’re taking the piss here, but the fact is the synth-pop groove translates surprisingly well. (via My Old Kentucky Blog)