On “Bastard Son,” one of the early recordings by John Wesley Harding, the singer, songwriter, novelist and overall renaissance man self-describes himself as the bastard son of Bob Dylan and Joan Baez, a description that seems to be pretty much accurate. Whether you are listening to one of the albums released under his nom de plume or reading one of his novels under his given name Wesley Stace, the conclusion is the same. This is one talented guy.
Already on the short list of my personal favorite cover songs of 2018, singer Jordan Mackampa’s take on Lou Reed’s “Walk on the Wild Side” is a nuanced gem. From the acoustic guitar beginning on to the first lines, “Holly came from Miami F.L.A., Hitch-hiked her way across the U.S.A,” there is a mood-setting moment where you come to completely understand why you love music in general, and cover songs in particular.
The video itself is the first launching from COVERS, a new YouTube video series from the “Mahogany” sessions series. Mackampa starts things out sitting on a sparse office chair, guitar resting on his knee, slightly hunched over with a mood-setting backlight. At about the one minute mark, Georgia Mason and her autoharp make their appearance, and this is where the real magic begins.
Cover Classics takes a look at great covers albums of the past, their genesis and their legacies.
“Why now,” you ask. “Why focus on this album in 2018, more than 20 years since it was made and getting on 30 since the recipient of the tribute died? And who he anyway? He didn’t have any hits.”
Well, that’s where you are wrong. Doc Pomus wrote many of the 1950s songs we now see as standards – standards across many genres, encompassing blues through rock (and roll), with a hefty side influence into country and soul. Few people won’t have at least a whistling memory of at least one of these songs, probably more, in versions played by artists as diverse as ZZ Top, Engelbert Humperdinck and the Searchers.
Follow all our Best of 2017 coverage (along with previous year-end lists) here.
Year-end lists are a time to look back. That’s something we’ve been doing a lot of this year.
See, we turned ten years old in 2017 – practically ancient in internet-blog terms – so we’ve indulged in what we feel is well-earned nostalgia. At the beginning of the year, each of our writers picked the ten most important covers in their life (see them here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here). We even listed the ten most important covers in Cover Me‘s life, from the song that inspired the site to our very first Best of the Year winner.
Then, to cap things off, in October we commissioned a 25-track tribute to the cover song itself – which you can still download for free. We love the covers everyone contributed so much, incidentally, that we didn’t consider them for this list. It’d be like picking favorite children – if you had 25 of ’em.
Oh, and have I mentioned I wrote a book? … What’s that you say? I mentioned that constantly? Well, I’m quite proud of it. It’s called Cover Me: The Stories Behind the Greatest Cover Songs of All Time and it makes a great Christmas gift and – ok, ok, I’ll stop. You can find plenty more about it elsewhere.
Suffice to say, there’s been a lot of looking back this year. And we hope you’ll indulge us this one last glance rearward before we leap into 2018. Because if it’s been a hell of a year for us, it’s certainly also been a hell of a year for the cover song in general. Some of this year’s list ranks among the best covers we’ve ever heard, period. So dig in, and thanks for your support this past decade.
– Ray Padgett
Bob Seger has written any number of classic rock standards, but in recent years he’s turned increasingly towards covers. He promoted his last album, 2014’s Ride Out, with a cover of Wilco and Billy Bragg’s “California Stars”. The previous one launched with a version of Tom Waits’ “Downtown Train.” Now he’s just announced a follow-up, I Knew You When, with a cover of a relative Lou Reed deep cut, 1989’s “Busload of Faith.”
Where Reed’s original was a gritty punk-poetry diatribe, Seger blows it up into a white-man soul anthem. A horn section, backing chorus, and furious guitar solo brings a huge Seger sound that evokes one of his 1970s records. Well, with one difference: He changes Reed’s lyric “you can’t depend on the churches” into a timely “you can’t depend on the president.”
Cover Classics takes a closer look at all-cover albums of the past, their genesis, and their legacy.
Until 2010’s Scratch My Back appeared, Peter Gabriel had been an artist more covered than covering – arguably a pity, given the cracked wistfulness of his croaky beauty. But I guess if you can write material of the quality and diversity that he has, why bother with someone else’s material? The problem was, Gabriel hadn’t been writing that kind of material – this was his first album in eight years.
So was Scratch My Back just, as covers projects can so often be, a stopgap sales pitch to keep his brand alive during a creative lull? Who knows? I think not and hope not, feeling this a deliberate if somewhat failed experiment on two levels. Flawed, maybe, rather than failed.