August 16 has long been a day of infamy in the history of American popular music. It started in 1977 when Elvis Presley, the King of Rock n’ Roll, passed away. Forty-one years later, another member of rock royalty also died: Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul. Though she was older and her death less of a shock to the cultural landscape, I still remember the exact moment when I heard the news. I was with my family driving home from Sesame Place in Pennsylvania listening to the Beatles channel on SiriusXM. The DJ interrupted to tell us the sad news and in Franklin’s honor played her version of “Let It Be.”Continue reading »
The story goes that Bob Dylan called Smokey Robinson “America’s greatest living poet.” Not so, it turns out, but it sure seems like something he would say – it sounds a note of contrariness, but it also has the ring of truth.
Smokey Robinson turned 80 this month, and his legacy as one of the architects of the Motown sound has long been assured. Not only did he have a silken falsetto that conveyed sunshine and rain with equal ease, he also wielded a pen with a similar level of genius. Whether writing for The Miracles, the band that he led throughout the sixties, or the other members of the Motown stable, he came up with songs that became not just a part of music history, but a part of our nation’s history. As Smokey said, the Motown slogan was not “The Sound of Black America,” but “The Sound of Young America,” and that sound has rung down through the corridors of time as surely as the sound of the Liberty Bell.
No further proof is needed than the number of covers of Smokey’s songs – covers of his own recordings or covers of the original recordings by The Temptations or Marvin Gaye or the many other singers who benefited from his pen. His voice has spoken to other artists for decades, and when those artists tell us what he told them, those songs are just as fresh as they were the day he first set them down. We found thirty superlative covers of songs that Smokey wrote and/or sang, but, as we could have found thirty great recordings of “My Girl” alone, we know we’ve missed a few along the way. Whether you’re steamed at what we missed, or excited to discover what we found, we can agree on one thing: Smokey Robinson is one of the all-time greats, and we’re fortunate to have the privilege to listen to the songs he wrote for the rest of our lives.
In Memoriam pays tribute to those who have left this world, and the songs they left us to remember them by.
On this day 20 years ago, America lost its greatest entertainer when Francis Albert Sinatra passed away at the age of 82 after suffering a fatal heart attack. The renowned singer/actor/producer had been in ill health and out of the public eye for over a year following an earlier heart attack. While it’s appropriate to celebrate his amazing, resilient life, today marks the silver anniversary of a sad day. With that, we thought it would be just as appropriate to remember his talent for interpreting some of the sad songs that were often a source of comfort for many.
I was inspired to take this approach after reading an insightful thread in the popular Steve Hoffman music forum titled “Sinatra’s best sad songs.” There, one member astutely posted: “With Sinatra, there are sad songs, sadder songs, and ‘dark night of the soul’ sad songs.” Many have become pop/jazz standards and Sinatra is often credited with recording a definitive version. Here are covers of five songs that were mentioned frequently; we believe The Chairman would have smilingly approved.Continue reading »
In Pick Five, great artists tell us about five cover songs that matter to them.
When post-punk pioneers Gang of Four first reunited in 2005, they told the New York Times they weren’t planning on writing any new songs. They have clearly changed their tune since then, following a couple recent albums with a new EP out this week. Way back in 1980, David Fricke called them “probably the best politically motivated band in rock & roll,” and they’re still at it: that new EP features a photo of Ivanka Trump on the cover. And its title? Complicit. (As if that wasn’t pointed enough, there’s also a Russian translation.) Continue reading »
In October, I held the first release event for the Cover Me book at Paste Magazine’s New York studios, featuring performances by Eli Paperboy Reed, Emel Mathlouthi, and Anthony D’Amato (watch them all here!). And this week I held the second, at Phoenix Books in my old hometown of Burlington, Vermont. The concept was similar: rather than a dry book talk, I would combine some conversation with live covers of songs from the book.
Two of my favorite local bands, Swale and Madaila – both of which I’ve posted about here before – stepped up with some amazing performances. And luckily, like at Paste, we’ve got footage. (More amateur-quality footage, admittedly – iPhones at a bookstore rather than multi-cam at Paste’s recording studio – but the performances are every bit as stunning.)
Swale kicked things off with a tender trio take on “Unchained Melody,” the Righteous Brothers hit first recorded as the theme for the now-forgotten 1955 prison move Unchained. Bobby Hatfield left a pretty high bar for a vocalist to hit, but Swale’s Amanda Gustafson easily cleared it while Eric Olsen (guitar) and Tyler Bolles (bass) gave her a stripped-down acoustic backing.Continue reading »