Feb 072016
 

They Say It’s Your Birthday celebrates an artist’s special day with other people singing his or her songs. Let others do the work for a while. Happy birthday!

Garth Brooks was my first musical hero. Looking back now, it feels a little weird saying that. I didn’t have a great love for music as a young kid. The few albums I owned when I was 10 were Beach Boys cassettes. I think I only liked them because they reminded me of being on vacation when I was stuck in a winter fog. So why Garth?

It started slowly. The songs from his self-titled first album were always on the radio. I must have heard “The Dance” a thousand times. Things cranked up a little when No Fences came out in 1990. “Friends in Low Places” was everywhere.  Ropin’ the Wind took things to another level not too long after. All the kids at school in Bean Station, Tennessee were going crazy over Garth. Heck, everybody everywhere was going crazy over Garth. Rolling Stone put him on their cover; he was crossing over into the mainstream. This Is Garth Brooks played on TV, and I watched it with my dad. He was mad that Garth smashed a guitar. I was thrilled that Garth changed the words to “Friends in Low Places” and told some lady she could kiss his ass. I was in.
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Jan 182016
 

Some covers are more equal than others. Good, Better, Best looks at three covers and decides who takes home the gold, the silver, and the bronze.

“Sloop John B” is a song that most of us have heard at least a few times in our lives. Popularized by the Beach Boys on their immortal Pet Sounds album, it has been around much longer than that. The song originally came out of the folk tradition in the Bahamas under the title “The John B. Sails.” It was transcribed as early as 1916 by Richard Le Galliene, but really came to fame in America when included by Carl Sandburg in his 1927 folk song collection The American Songbag.

From there, it was recorded multiple times over the years. Notable versions include artists as diverse as Dick Dale, Jimmie Rodgers (under the title “Wreck of the John B”), Johnny Cash (as “I Want To Go Home”), and the Kingston Trio. It was the Kingston Trio, who recorded the song as “(The Wreck of the) John B,” that had the largest influence on the Beach Boys’ take, which would explode in popularity all over the world.
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May 212014
 

Me First and the Gimme Gimmes have got the diva thing down. This collection of punk-ish rockers from various bands (NOFX, Foo Fighters, Lagwagon and Swingin’ Utters) started thier covers-only band back in the ‘90s. They have a new album of hits from popular divas reworked to fit the Gimme’s fast-paced, guitar thrashing style. Continue reading »

Jul 212013
 

They Say It’s Your Birthday celebrates an artist’s special day with other people singing his or her songs. Let others do the work for a while. Happy birthday!

Cat Stevens, now known as Yusuf Islam, was born Steven Georgiou 65 years ago today. His popularity exploded in the early-mid 1970s, and then, for all intents and purposes, he vanished from the music world for decades. Some of his disappearance can be attributed to changing musical tastes, but the main reason for the long disruption in his musical career was his conversion to Islam. Unlike his contemporary Richard Thompson, who converted to Islam a few years earlier, Stevens’ conversion not only led him to stop performing, but also embroiled him in controversy; his comments about the fatwa issued against Salman Rushdie in 1989 caused a typical media overreaction, with calls for (and actual) destruction of Cat Stevens albums and the removal of a very good cover of “Peace Train” from later pressings of a 10,000 Maniacs album.

In the 1990s, Islam began a slow return to performing, initially focusing on Islamic music and issues; more recently, he has returned to secular music, often with charitable purposes. His appearances included performing at Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert’s satirical pre-election “Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear,” where he sang “Peace Train,” while Ozzy Osbourne sang “Crazy Train.”
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Feb 202012
 

Original Pop Diva. Powerhouse. Train-wreck. Amongst these and other controversial titles eulogizing Whitney Houston upon her passing last week, let us add one more: Queen of Covers.

It’s true that Houston’s legacy shines bright with accolades that are all-Whitney. The diva received more than 400 industry awards in her lifetime, including six Grammys and 20 Billboard Awards; she scored an impressive string of seven number-one singles with “Saving All My Love For You,” “How Will I Know,” “Greatest Love of All,” “I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me),” “Didn’t We Almost Have It All,” “So Emotional,” and “Where Do Broken Hearts Go;” her debut album, “Whitney Houston” was the best-selling female vocal record, ever, upon its release. And never mind the music career, the lady was also a critically acclaimed actor, model and producer. Oh yes, and a mom. Continue reading »

Dec 062011
 

I have no hard data to back this up, but I suspect that EPs play a larger role in the world of cover songs than they do elsewhere. In the wider world, EPs tend to be an afterthought, a set of rejects or remixes that may or may not be worthwhile. People pay little attention to EPs, and artists act accordingly, saving their real statements for the full-lengths. In our world, though, we see as many EPs as we do proper albums, and they’re every bit as good. An artist may hesitate to put out a “cover album” – still a loaded term in some circles – but in the age of Garageband and Bandcamp, it’s only too easy to record a half dozen covers and toss ‘em out between albums. Therefore, in honor of the EP’s prominence in our world, we present our favorite EPs of 2011 (with an MP3 from each). Continue reading »