Aug 132020
 

Five Good Covers presents five cross-genre reinterpretations of an oft-covered song.

While “House of the Rising Sun” may conjure up the sound of Eric Burdon’s deep powerful howls over a haunting interplay of guitar and organ, The Animals did not write the hit that made them major players during the British Invasion of the ‘60s – and arguably the first band to score a “folk-rock hit,” according to music critic Dave Marsh.

The origins of “House of the Rising Sun” are a mystery and even the subject of a book called Chasing the Rising Sun: The Journey of an American Song by Ted Anthony. The earliest known publication of the song’s lyrics are from a 1925 column called, “Old Songs That Men Have Sung,” in Adventure magazine. The earliest recorded version – titled “Rising Sun Blues” – is from 1933 by Clarence “Tom” Ashley and Gwen Foster – Ashley had said he learned the song from his grandfather, Enoch Ashley.

Another often contested mystery is the house at the center of the song. Some believe it’s an old women’s prison on the outskirts of New Orleans (where the words “rising sun” were etched in stone above the entrance), others believe it’s an all men’s hotel in the French Quarter that burned down in 1822 at 535-537 Conti St. (there is some evidence of a hotel called Rising Sun existing at this address), and some believe it’s an old brothel. Then there are theories of it actually originating in England or France. Of course it’s possible this house never actually existed at all.

Every recorded version of the song is a cover. But to include The Animals version in a list of covers seems a little too obvious. Their version inspired Bob Dylan to go electric, ranked number 122 on Rolling Stone’s “500 Greatest Songs of All Time,” was included in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s “500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll,” and received a Grammy Hall of Fame Award in 1999. The Animals have gotten their due.

Now on to five (other) good covers of “House of the Rising Sun.”
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Jul 282020
 

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!

Mark Lanegan covers

How many Mark Lanegans there are, I guess, depends largely on where you heard him first. For some it will have been the angry grunge of Screaming Trees; for others, the desert stoners of Queens of the Stone Age, or even the badass bromance of the Gutter Twins. Or they may, like me, have arrived from an altogether opposite direction, the low-fi acoustic of his duo work with Isobel Campbell, doe-voiced folkstrel and onetime cellist from Glasgow’s Belle and Sebastian. Other outliers will have been drawn in by the gospelectronica, if you will, of Soulsavers. Plus there will have been all those, suddenly marveling at his soundtrack tones, stamping over any number of films or boxsets.

But, once heard, that voice sticks. Memorably once described as being like a three-day stubble, it imprints, demanding both attention and immersion. And if the directions take you outa your usual safety genres, too bad; you go, you follow, opening new vistas on the way. Oh, and if you haven’t yet discovered Mark Lanegan, what are you waiting for?
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Jun 142020
 

In Memoriam pays tribute to those who have left this world, and the songs they left us to remember them by.

The recent rioting and violence in U.S. cities forms the backdrop to this remembrance of the much-loved Irish blues-rock guitarist Rory Gallagher, who died on this day in 1995–making this the 25th anniversary of his death. The connection is simply this: in the early ’70s, when Belfast, Northern Ireland was a war-torn site of terrorist bombings and assassinations with rival paramilitary units roaming the streets, Rory defied the fear that kept other performers away. Gallagher returned repeatedly to the shattered European capital, playing sold-out shows that brought Catholics together with Protestants, Loyalists together with Nationalists, healing the region’s division with music. For a few magic hours, anyway.

The Irish still remember his bravery and of course his music–on this day especially–though both Belfast and Ireland have transformed dramatically since. The peace agreements between the warring sides were signed in 1998, just three years too late for Rory Gallagher to witness the achievement.
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Nov 012019
 

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 mtv unplugged covers

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.

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Sep 172019
 
cover songs 1969

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.

The countdown begins on page 2…

Jul 102019
 
thou nirvana cover

The last time we wrote about Thou, our headline read: “Thou Leads Doom Metal Cover of Nirvana’s ‘Something in the Way’.”

Sound familiar?

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 »