Full Albums features covers of every track off a classic album. Got an idea for a future pick? Leave a note in the comments!
Nirvana has sold more than 75 million records, joining the ranks of Aretha Franklin, The Police, Journey, and Tupac Shakur among others, despite having their career tragically cut short by the death of Kurt Cobain after they’d released only three albums. The band is credited with increasing grunge music’s recognition beyond the Pacific Northwest, introducing the genre to the masses.
Today marks the 25th anniversary of the release of Nirvana’s live album, MTV Unplugged in New York. The performance was recorded on November 18, 1993, aired on MTV on December 16, 1993, and released as an album almost a year later, the first Nirvana release since Kurt Cobain’s death in April. The performance was filmed in one take and differed from the style of many of the previous MTV Unplugged sessions. The band chose to build their Unplugged setlist using mostly lesser known songs, including six covers out of fourteen songs, passing over their biggest hit, “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”
This album has a variety of accolades, including a Grammy for Best Alternative Music Album, a number one debut on the Billboard 200, a 5x platinum certification, and the top spot on New Musical Express‘s 50 Greatest Live Albums list.
To celebrate the historic day, we’ve compiled covers spanning a variety of artists who reimagine each track.
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.
Two years later, the Louisiana metal quintet returns with another Nirvana cover, even more doom-y than the last. This time, they tackle “Where Did You Sleep Last Night?,” the song Nirvana learned from Leadbelly’s version (who called it “In the Pines”) and famously performed on MTV Unplugged. Even played on acoustic guitars, Nirvana’s version was plenty heavy, but Thou takes the word “heavy” to a whole other level. Over a thunderous nine minutes, they growl and roar over a wall of distorted guitars. This sort of death-metal vocal style (“Cookie monster” to its detractors) can turn off non-metalheads, but it proves a perfect fit for this song and this sound.Continue reading »
In the Spotlight showcases a cross-section of an artist’s cover work. View past installments, then post suggestions for future picks in the comments!
Over the years, the perception of Keith Richards has changed from “He’ll die any day now” to “How has he not died yet?” to “He’s never going to die.” In 2016, a year that wiped out Bowie, Prince, and Abe Vigoda, not to mention Emerson, Lake, and (Arnold) Palmer, the soul of the Stones kept right on glimmering. A popular meme shows him reading the paper and saying, “Hey, Mick, look who I outlived this week.” In a way, it’s self-fulfilling prophecy; Keith is rock and roll, and rock and roll – especially in the form of the Rolling Stones’ songs – will never die.
Elvis Costello’s recent Detour run (detour… de tour… get it?) was billed as a solo gig, but for half of the show I caught, he wasn’t up there alone. Flanking him was his opening band, the duo Larkin Poe. For instance, here’s the trio on one of Costello’s classics, “Blame It On Cain”:
You can see why Costello has come to depend on them so much at these “solo” dates; he even turned over lead vocals on an unreleased new song, “Burn the Paper Down to Ash.” Larkin Poe’s opening set was every bit as impressive – the fact that they still had energy left to join Costello after it, even more so. Atlanta sisters Megan and Rebecca Lovell stormed the stage, making a mandolin and steel guitar howl and holler with a blues-rock fever. They’ve earned themselves the tagline “the little sisters of the Allman Brothers,” and for good reason.Continue reading »
Five Good Covers presents five cross-genre reinterpretations of an oft-covered song.
“In The Pines,” AKA “Where Did You Sleep Last Night,” AKA “Black Girl,” is a traditional Appalachian folk song, nearly a century and a half old, that encompasses elements of searing heartbreak, perceived betrayal, death (by decapitation in many cases), and murder. Not to mention the fact the the song title is named after a location where “the sun don’t ever shine” and “we shiver when the cold wind blows.”
Not exactly “Kumbaya,” right? Which is fortunate, because if this song had been about the warm and fuzzies, it never would have lasted to become the haunting classic it remains today.