Mar 182020
 

In Memoriam pays tribute to those who have left this world, and the songs they left us to remember them by.

Chuck Berry is universally acknowledged as one of the founding fathers of rock ‘n’ roll. By the 1980s, however, Berry’s status as a legend had almost been cancelled out by his infamous live performances.

This was the drill: having specified beforehand that the promoter would provide amplifiers and a local backing band, Berry would arrive alone and head straight for the promoter’s office to collect his cash. After counting the money, Berry would walk onstage, plug in his guitar and start playing, often without speaking to the band or advising them of the evening’s setlist. He was known to occasionally fire band members mid-song if they couldn’t keep up. Eventually, at the climax of the nights’ final number, Chuck would launch into his famous duck walk and disappear into the wings.  He would be in his car and speeding down the highway before the last guitar note had finished echoing around the room.

“I’ve been so disappointed in Chuck Berry’s live gigs for years and years and years,” said Keith Richards in the documentary Chuck Berry Hail! Hail! Rock ‘n’ Roll (1987). “Because he didn’t give a damn. If he made a mistake he’d blame it on the band, and he’d just wing it and get through, and he’s got such a powerful personality that he’s managed to get away with it!”

It wasn’t always this way. Charles Edward Anderson Berry had established himself in the early 1950s as a member of pianist Johnnie Johnson’s Sir John Trio in St Louis, and shortly arrived at Chicago’s Chess Records via a personal recommendation from Muddy Waters. Here, Berry would cut the vast majority of his classic sides, backed by a rotating cast of first-rate musicians including Fred Below, Willie Dixon, Matt Murphy, Lafayette Leake, Otis Spann, and right-hand man Johnnie Johnson.
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Dec 172018
 
best cover songs of 2018

Two things strike me as I scan through our list this year. This first is that many of the highest-ranking covers are tributes to recently-deceased icons. No surprise there, I suppose. But none actually pay tribute to artists that died in 2018. They honor those we’ve been honoring for two or three years now – your Pettys, your Princes, your Bowies. Hundreds of covers of each of these legends appeared in the first days after their deaths, but many of the best posthumous covers took longer to emerge.

Good covers take time. That principle – the cover-song equivalent of the slow food movement, perhaps – holds true throughout the list. Sure, a few here appear to have arisen from sudden moments of brilliance, flash-arranged for some concert or radio promo session. But many more reveal months or even years of painstaking work to nail every element. Making someone else’s song one’s own isn’t easy. These 50 covers took the time to get it right.

– Ray Padgett, Editor-in-Chief

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Jul 312018
 
Arctic Monkeys – Lipstick Vogue (Elvis Costello cover)

Arctic Monkeys got a lot of attention covering the Strokes last week (especially because on his new album, Alex Turner sings: “I just want to be one of the Strokes”). But I preferred their wonderfully sleazy “Lipstick Vogue” cover, played in honor of Costello as he recovered from cancer surgery. Turner’s a product of his influences; in addition to the Strokes and Elvis, he appears to have his Nick Cave snake slither down cold. Continue reading »

Nov 102017
 
best covers 1987

Last year I did a roundup of the Best Cover Songs of 1996. It was a fun project to retroactively compile one of our year-end lists for a year before Cover Me was born. I wanted to do it again this year, but continuing the twentieth-anniversary theme with 1997 seemed a little boring. Turns out 1997 also featured a bunch of Afghan Whigs covers.

So to mix it up, I decided to go a decade further back and look at 1987. Needless to say, the landscape looked very different for covers. For one, far more of that year’s biggest hits were covers than we saw for 1996. The year had #1 cover hits in Heart’s “Alone,” the Bangles’ “Hazy Shade of Winter,” Los Lobos’ “La Bamba,” Tiffany’s “I Think We’re Alone Now,” Club Nouveau’s “Lean on Me,” and Kim Wilde’s “You Keep Me Hangin’ On.” Plus ubiquitous hits that didn’t quite top the charts, but remain staples of the songs-you-didn’t-know-were-covers lists, Buster Poindexter’s “Hot Hot Hot” and George Harrison’s “Got My Mind Set On You.” Continue reading »

Mar 182014
 

Cover Classics takes a closer look at all-cover albums of the past, their genesis, and their legacy.

Richard Thompson is a Cover Me favorite, and for good reason. His songwriting and playing are brilliant, and his songs are often covered by musicians who recognize his genius, even if he has escaped widespread popularity. Not only that, he has, since his early days as a teenaged guitarist in Fairport Convention, performed many wonderful covers of other artists. Thompson also has a wicked sense of humor, which is hinted at in his lyrics, but more often displayed in his writings, interviews and stage shows. Rarely does Thompson perform without unleashing a zinger or ten, often directed at audience members who mistakenly believe they can best him in a battle of wits.

So when Playboy magazine came to him in 1999 and asked him to join other musicians in providing a list of the ten greatest songs of the millennium, it is not surprising that he mischievously took them literally. As Thompson wrote:

Such pretension, I thought. They don’t mean millennium, do they? Probably about 30 years is the cut-off: Tears for Fears might sneak in, Cole Porter probably not.

He called their bluff and did a real thousand-year selection, starting with a song from 1068 and including one effort from the 20th century. Playboy, which is rumored to have articles, chose not to print Thompson’s list, sparing their “readers” the opportunity to consider a toe-tapper by St Godric.
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