The Velvet Underground continues to be a popular source of material for cover songs (as recently noted here and here). However, this may be the first time that The Velvet Underground and Lou Reed have been covered at the Grand Ole Opry. Elizabeth Cook, like any country artist worth her weight in cowboy boots, can flat out rock when she wants to, only to shift gears and deliver a soft, sincere song, like “Pale Blue Eyes,” without being too saccharine.
Listening to Courtney Barnett’s narrative style of solo work (prime example: “Avant Gardener”), it’s clear a Lou Reed influence is at play. So perhaps it’s no surprise that, when teaming up with folk veteran Billy Bragg, the two would turn to The Velvet Underground. Barnett opened for Bragg on his recent Australian tour. They took time together to record “Sunday Morning” for RocKwiz, the Australian TV show.
Doo wop and early ‘60s pop may not be the first things that come to mind when you think of Lou Reed, but, listening to his early work with The Velvet Underground, all of that – and much more – is there. Like The Velvet Underground did a couple of generations ago, Hollis Brown, a five-piece band from Brooklyn, clearly draws on a variety of influences to craft a classic rock and roll sound.
“I will now sing to you the 2013 song of the year,” Patti Smith said at her 67th birthday concert last week in NYC, then launched into a moving – not to mention unexpected – cover of Rihanna‘s “Stay.” Never one to cover a pop song ironically, Smith and pianist Tony Shanahan delivered the lyrics with poise and purpose, even when nerves caused her to forget a few of the words partway through.
I’m not sure there were more great cover songs this year than any other. But there were more good ones.
What I mean by that is, the average quality of the covers we come across in the time we’ve been around has risen, rather dramatically. Whether they’re iTunes homepage singles or some guy emailing us his Bandcamp, more cover songs in 2013 avoid the old pitfalls than ever before. They don’t sound like they were recorded in a cereal box, substitute ear-bleeding volume for actual creativity, or – the worst cover sin of all – try to carbon-copying the original. With the ease of production and distribution available now, artists seemed to record covers only when they felt they had something to add, and do a halfway decent job committing those ideas to 1s and 0s.
In Memoriam pays tribute to those who have left this world, and the songs they left us to remember them by.
Not much can be said about Lou Reed that hasn’t already been said. When he died on October 27 at age 71, Reed left behind an indisputable legacy of influence that dwarfs some of the biggest names in rock and roll. You can ignore him, hate his music or his voice, dislike his politics or his openness with drugs and sexuality, or downplay his role in rock and roll history — but none of that matters. If you chopped down the tree of influence that grew from the roots of Reed and the Velvet Underground, what would come crashing down would take out most of the house of rock and roll as we know it. The leaf you listen to seems to be all its own, but the branches that hold it up are massive.