Aug 072017
 
phish bakers dozen covers

For years, Phish superphans and the band’s many detractors – so far apart on so much else – have been able to agree on one thing: the band does some killer live covers. Phish long ago made a Halloween tradition out of covering another band’s album in full, tackling ambitious choices like the Beatles’ White Album and Talking Heads’ Remain in Light. And “ambitious” was also the keyword for the band’s just-completed thirteen night run at New York’s Madison Square Garden. Dubbed the “Baker’s Dozen,” each night featured a different donut theme and, more significantly, no song repeated the entire two weeks.

But back to the donuts. The band took the silly premise seriously, theming their sets each night around a donut flavor. This led to a number of surprise covers that they’ve never played before (or probably ever will again). Strawberry-donut night got “Strawberry Fields Forever” and “Strawberry Letter 23.” Chocolate-donut night got “Chocolate Rain” and “You Sexy Thing” – originally by Hot Chocolate. They even dug deep into lyrics, playing the one Radiohead song that talks about lemons.

Such first-time-ever covers tend to appeal even to non-fans because they tend to be short and –
let’s keep the donut theme going here – sweet. Unlike a jelly donut, on a song they’ve never play before they rarely jam. Instead, the fun and sheer rock chops to come forward in a way they may not on the heady stuff.

So I’ve ranked all the first-time covers from the past two weeks of Phish’s concerts, below. I’ll admit I’m not a huge fan myself – I once wrote an article defending their home of Burlington, Vermont from its jam-band stereotype – but some of these are among the best performances I’ve heard by them. Others…are not. Continue reading »

Apr 192017
 
screaming females neil young

Neil Young recently cancelled his Pearl Jam Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction speech due to illness (he’s reportedly fine now). While he takes a break though, new Neil covers keep rolling in. Two particularly great ones have surfaced in the last month, tacking a pair of Young’s loudest and most fiery songs.

First up, composer Teho Teardo and singer Blixa Bargeld (of Einstürzende Neubauten/Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds fame) cover “Hey Hey, My My” on their new EP together Fall. A weird and wonderful production, it brings together bass clarinet, musical saw, and a six-piece string section under Bargeld’s mesmerizing line readings. It’s one of the best Neil covers we’ve heard in recent years, surprising and unexpected. Continue reading »

Feb 202017
 

Welcome to Cover Me Q&A, where we take your questions about cover songs and answer them to the best of our ability.

matt vadnais

Matthew Vadnais lives in Beloit, Wisconsin. He’s been writing for Cover Me since 2015. Of all his Cover Me essays, he especially likes his reviews of the albums paying tribute to Blind Willie Johnson, Uncle Tupelo’s No Depression, and Jason Molina.
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Feb 142017
 

Welcome to Cover Me Q&A, where we take your questions about cover songs and answer them to the best of our ability.

sean

Sean Balkwill makes his home in North Carolina. He’s been writing for Cover Me since 2013, and has also served as the site’s art director. Of all his Cover Me essays, he especially likes his pieces on Glen Hansard and the Replacements, both of which feature Sean’s artwork.

When I thought of the idea of writing about the personal connection to cover songs, I thought it would be great to also extemporize on the question, “What is a cover song?” So I’ve decided to write about a list of songs that changed the way that I looked at cover music itself, both on a personal level and on a wider trek to define what a cover song is. Here’s my thoughts…
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Jan 252017
 
protest cover songs

Well, it has been quite a week in politics. President Trump got sworn in Friday, then on Saturday hundreds of thousands of protesters marched across the country. We don’t need to go into the many (many) controversies and debates the first few days of the Trump administration have already brought us. You know them, and that’s not really our beat anyway.

What is our beat is cover songs, and a whole lot of politically-minded covers came out in the past week. Some are explicitly covers of songs with political lyrics, like Neko Case, kd lang, and Laura Veirs covering Patti Smith’s “People Have the Power” and OK Go covering Morrissey’s “Interesting Drug” (opening lines: “There are some bad people on the rise / They’re saving their own skins by ruining other people’s lives”).

Other covers are only political in the sense that they were released to raise money for groups like the American Civil Liberties Union or Planned Parenthood. Barsuk Records put out a covers comp featuring Nada Surf, David Bazan, Mates of State, The Long Winters (wonderfully titled Sad!). Members of the Philadelphia punk scene came together for a 35-song set of covers by the likes of Laura Stevenson and Jeff Rosenstock, which range from the covers of political artists like Against Me! and Bikini Kill to a cover of the Beatles’ “I’m Only Sleeping,” which would be difficult to find a political take on. Continue reading »

Dec 162016
 

Follow all our Best of 2016 coverage (along with previous year-end lists) here.

best cover songs

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…

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