Jul 162019
 

In Defense takes a second look at a much maligned cover artist or album and asks, “Was it really as bad as all that?”

Pat Boone

Reasons abound for maligning Pat Boone’s career in popular music. The catalyst for his career was a string of covers of R&B tunes by black artists for whom the legacy of segregation never afforded the same amount of wealth. White artists made substantially more than their counterpart artists of color. Major record labels had larger distribution chains, promotional budgets, and stronger connections to radio and television networks to advantage their artists. By contrast, black musicians on “race records” benefited from none of these privileges. While artists like Little Richard, Big Joe Turner, and Fats Domino have enjoyed staying power and wide acclaim for being architects of rock music, in the early decades of that genre, white covers were commercially more successful. Added to this was the exploitative nature of covers on larger labels that made more money than the originals while paying out no royalties to the black originators. Boone was unapologetic that his career benefited from this exploitation.

It is also noteworthy that Boone’s performance and lyricism of some of rock’s first generation of are a case study in the sanitized tastes of the burgeoning white middle class in the 1950s. His smooth vocal delivery was reminiscent of crooners rather than the raspy, full-throated yowl of Little Richard. And the lyrical changes on “Tutti Frutti” were a nod to teenage infatuation stripped of any of the sexuality in Little Richard’s original.

Despite Boone representing the residuals of white privilege while Jim Crow reigned supreme, there is a note of appreciation to be made for Boone and contemporaries Elvis Presley and Bill Haley in helping to extend the reach of rock music to new audiences at a critical juncture in that genre’s history.
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Jan 312019
 
best cover songs january
Beck – Tarantula (Colourbox cover)

Few expected the movie Roma to be as big a hit as it was (it’s tied for the most Oscar nominations). Even Sony must not have, as they’re just getting around to releasing a soundtrack two months after release – and as Music Inspired By The Film Roma, i.e. must that doesn’t actually appear in the film. But Beck’s beautiful cover of 4AD group Colourbox arrives better late than never. Accompanied by an orchestra and Leslie Feist on backing vocals, he’s never sounded more like Peter Gabriel. Continue reading »

Jan 122019
 

The following is a chapter from my book ‘Cover Me: The Stories Behind the Greatest Cover Songs of All Time’ that got left on the cutting room floor due to space. For 19 more stories like it, from Hendrix’s “Watchtower” to Devo’s “Satisfaction,” buy the book Variety called “a music snob’s dream come true” at Amazon, IndieBound, Barnes and Noble, or anywhere else.

led zeppelin dazed and confused

It’s like if your baby is kidnapped at two-years-old and raised by another woman. All these years later, it’s her kid.
— Jake Holmes

Led Zeppelin’s self-titled debut album came out 50 years ago today. But if you’ve purchased it more recently, you might have seen the following writing credit under the song “Dazed and Confused”: “By Jimmy Page; Inspired by Jake Holmes.”

Those seven words may seem pretty innocuous on the page, but that phrase is the result of decades of controversy and litigation. Those words reveal questions of what counts as a cover song, how an artist needs to credit a songwriter from whom they draw material, and where the line lies between homage and theft.
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Jan 032019
 
matt pond chris hansen covers

When last we heard from Matt Pond PA, he was turning The Cars’ “Drive” into a lush folk-pop ballad. Now Pond and bandmate Chris Hansen are back with new covers applying a similar soft sheen to two very different artists: Peter Gabriel and Led Zeppelin.

They covered Gabriel’s “Mercy Street” to close out the year and to celebrate the final episode of a radio show they do in upstate New York. Here’s what Pond wrote about it: Continue reading »

Jan 022019
 
cover songs 2018

We already counted down the 50 Best Cover Songs of 2018 but, inevitably, many of our staff’s personal favorites get left off. So, before we begin scouting for what might become the best cover of 2019, we share the best of the rest, an unranked hodgepodge of worthy covers that only just missed our year-end countdown. Continue reading »

Jun 262018
 

In Pick Five, great artists pick five cover songs that matter to them.

lena hall cover songs

Broadway star Lena Hall (Kinky Boots, Hedwig and the Angry Inch) has been releasing an ambitious series of EPs this year. Every month, she covers a handful of tracks by a favorite artist. In what she’s dubbed the Obsessed series, she’s already tackled Elton John, Peter Gabriel, and The Cranberries. June’s installment say her bringing her Broadway belt to five Radiohead songs; here’s a highlight:

Jack White is next month’s featured artist, and I’m quite excited for that one. As the covers Hall selected for us demonstrate, she’s something of a White Stripes superfan. She’ll hopefully preview one or two of her upcoming Stripes covers at her New York concert tomorrow night, “Six Months of Obsessions: From Radiohead to Hedwig” at Public Arts (tickets here).

Check out Hall’s cover-song picks below. Sure hope Dolly Parton and Soundgarden are on her Obsessed docket… Continue reading »