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.
Five Good Covers presents five cross-genre reinterpretations of an oft-covered song.
“Sweet Jane” is a great song. Released on 1970′s Loaded, the Velvet Underground’s last studio album featuring Lou Reed, it immediately became a staple of FM radio, despite its odd and provocative lyrics, unusual structure, and unconventional sound, and it continues to get airplay to this day. What’s the appeal? Part of it, of course, is the riff (which apparently includes a “secret chord”), part of it is the indescribable cool of Reed’s delivery, and part of it is that magic that makes some songs great and others not so much. According to Rolling Stone, it is the 335th greatest song of all time, which is curiously specific. And now, in honor of Reed’s passing earlier this week at the age of 71, the time has come to write about it here on Cover Me.
Susanne Mohle and Pete Klein are Night Bird, a jazz-inflected Deutschland duo who take popular songs and transform them into tunes that fit right into any smoky basement with a cover charge. It’s not an uncommon approach, but the end results are a lot rarer – quality performances that don’t leave you pining for the original hits by the original artists.
This year’s cover albums offered ambition on a scale we’ve never seen before. Moving beyond the normal “cover a bunch of random songs we like” tossoff, 2012 offered deeply thought-out conceptual collections. One updated kiddie folk songs for raved-out rockers, others reworked complete albums to their own ends. Even the all-star tributes that pop up every year aimed higher – one of the year’s most high-profile had 70+ tracks! So today we count down the best of the bunch, the ones that swung for the fences and got there. With every passing year there seems to be less sigma attached to the phrase “cover album,” and these sets move that needle even farther forward.
When you want someone to pay tribute to Sam Cooke’s soaring soul sound, Lou Reed may not be the first voice to come to mind. For Hal Willner’s Freedom Rides tribute concert last fall though, Reed came out to deliver “A Change Is Gonna Come.” Now there’s a video that proves that, in his own way, he nailed it.