Last Friday, I posted a few videos from last week’s Town Hall tribute to Bob Dylan’s 1963 concert at the same venue. I included Bill Murray, Steve Buscemi, Geoff Muldaur, Emily Haines, and Bob Neuwirth’s performances, and promised I’d add more videos as they landed. Well, they never landed. But we’ve got the next-best thing: a bootleg audio recording of the full concert. It includes beautiful covers of songs Bob performed at that 1963 concert by the Milk Carton Kids, Laurie Anderson, Mark Kozelek, and many more. And we’ll get to them…but first we have to talk about the dog in the room.
Whatever your feelings about the music of the Cars, they were impossible to ignore. In the late-‘70s sea of muted earth-tones, the band’s retro-techno-geek look was a revelation. And in an era when the charts were dominated by soft rock, disco and 1950s nostalgia – the Bee Gees, Andy Gibb, the Grease soundtrack – the Cars’ spiky, New Wave-inflected guitar pop signaled a coming sea change in popular music.
Of course popular taste didn’t change overnight and, in retrospect, it may not even have changed a great deal. If the wildfires of punk and art-rock had blazed through the underground music scene and left behind a very altered landscape, in the larger arena of the Billboard Top 100 it was a different story. In America at least, punk wasn’t quite ready for primetime (nor, it should be noted, were the Cars in any sense a punk band).
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!
The paths of songwriter Graham Gouldman and all-time greats The Yardbirds are forever linked in rock and roll history, but not inextricably. In 1965, a nineteen-year-old Gouldman had the good fortune to begin his career by penning the iconic Yardbirds hits “For Your Love,” “Heart Full of Soul,” and “Evil Hearted You.” The songs helped establish the now-legendary group as they transitioned from one eventual rock guitar god (Eric Clapton) to another (Jeff Beck), but the hits wouldn’t define Gouldman’s career.
Gouldman, a musician in his own right, neither performed with the band (that we’re aware), nor wrote any further hits for them. However, his career was just getting started. The ‘60s saw him writing additional hits for The Hollies, Herman’s Hermits, and the aforementioned Jeff Beck, along with songs recorded by Cher, Wayne Fontana, and Ohio Express. The ‘70s brought hits with his own band 10cc. Additionally, Joe Cocker, Paul Carrack, Gary Wright, and Kirsty MacColl all recorded Gouldman tracks over the ensuing decades.
Today, the 71-year-old consummate troubadour is still at it; he just finished up his appropriately-named “Heart Full of Songs” tour in the UK before he rolls back out to Europe with 10cc in November. Let’s take a look at some standout covers of songs written by Gouldman from the major eras of a career that’s now spanned over fifty years…
Leonard Cohen has been gone five months this week, but the tributes keep on coming. We’ve already heard new covers by – deep breath – Coldplay, Norah Jones, The Avett Brothers, Car Seat Headrest, Amanda Shires, Gov’t Mule, Okkervil River, Richard Thompson, Josh Ritter, and an all-star lineup. Plus, of course, we wrote our own massive covers tribute.
It’s hard to keep up. At Canada’s Juno Music Awards this week, Feist performed a beautiful trio cover of “Hey, That’s No Way to Say Goodbye” – though releasing one of his best-ever albums right before his death actually is a pretty good way to say goodbye. Watch the clip below, introduced by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (Cohen was a pallbearer at Trudeau’s father’s funeral).
Follow all our Best of 2016 coverage (along with previous year-end lists) here.
2016 in music will be most remembered for one thing: death. It seemed like an unprecedented list of major musical figures left us this year: David Bowie, Prince, Merle Haggard, Leonard Cohen. The list, sadly, goes on and on.
Prominent passings affect many aspects of the music world, but the impact is particularly clear in the world of cover songs: When an artist dies, a lot of people cover his or her songs. The world was hardly hurting for Prince covers before April 21, but afterwards, to paraphrase the man himself, we went crazy. Bruce Springsteen alone became a one-man tribute machine, covering Bowie, Prince, The Eagles’ Glenn Frey, and Suicide’s Alan Vega after they died (it’s a shame his tour ended before Cohen passed because he’d do a great “Everybody Knows”). Our list this year features a number of these tribute covers – though both the Cohen covers listed were actually released before his death, proving there’s no need to wait to honor one of the greats.
Our list also features fantastic final covers by the recently departed, brilliant song-interpreters like Sharon Jones and Allen Toussaint. The fact that they died may add extra meaning to these new songs, but they’d make the list regardless. Whether they performed wonderful covers or wrote wonderful songs for others to cover, we miss these artists because they were great. They don’t need any “death bump.”
The year wasn’t all dire though. Our list features many covers by and of artists who are alive in every sense of the word. Kendrick Lamar and Drake represent the new world of hip-hop, Kacey Musgraves and Sturgill Simpson in country, Animal Collective and Joyce Manor in indie rock, and in too many other genres to name. Jason Isbell currently holds a streak here, making his third consecutive appearance this year.
We also have plenty of artists whose names I won’t highlight here, because you probably won’t have heard of them…yet. We’re not in the business of predicting fame – the music industry is far too fickle for that – but some of our past best-cover winners have gone on to big things this year, like Chance the Rapper (2014 winner) and The Weeknd (2012 winner). Hell, Sturgill (#3 in 2014) just got an Album of the Year Grammy nomination!
Those early covers may have helped kick off such success. A revelatory cover song can help a musician attract early attention. When I interviewed Mark Mothersbaugh recently, he said no one understood what Devo was doing until they covered “Satisfaction.” A familiar song done Devo-style finally made the connection for people. “Whip It” and other original hits would not be far behind.
Maybe some of this year’s under-the-radar names will go on to Weeknd-level superstardom. But even if they don’t, all these covers, by household names and Garageband geeks alike, deserve recognition. We’ll miss all the great musicians who left us this year, but it’s gratifying to see so many promising younger artists coming in to fill their shoes.
– Ray Padgett, Editor in Chief
(Illustration by Sarah Parkinson)
PS. Last year in this space, I mentioned I’m writing a book about cover songs. Well, Cover Me (the book, that is) is finished and will be out next year! In addition to the aforementioned Mothersbaugh, I interviewed Roger Daltrey about “Summertime Blues,” David Byrne about “Take Me to the River,” and many more. Follow our Facebook for updates on preorder, etc. Now, on to the countdown…
They say nostalgia works in 20-year cycles, and this year the music of 1996 has been in the media a lot. And if you believe the music blogs, it turns out 1996 was a truly groundbreaking year for every possible genre. Over at SPIN: “The 96 Best Alternative Rock Songs Of 1996.” Complex: “Best Rap Songs of 1996.” Junkee: “Ten reasons 1996 was a great year for dance music”. Loudwire: “10 Best Metal Albums of 1996.” Red Bull Music: “1996: Why it was a great year for pop”. Suck it, 1995! (Kidding; similar articles were of course written last year too.)
We’ll be honest: 1996 was not some magical, pioneering year for cover songs. It was also not a terrible year. It was just, you know, another year. There’s no overarching theorem of 1996’s cover songs that wasn’t true in ’95 or ’97. But even so, Cover Me wasn’t around in 1996, so we never made a Best Cover Songs of 1996 list (our first year-end list came in 2009, with the Kings of Convenience’s “It’s My Party” topping it, and you can catch up on all the lists here). So we decided, before the year ends and we take our look at the best covers songs this year, why not take a nostalgic rewind and do 1996 just for fun, twenty years too late.