In 1975, months before the Rolling Thunder Revue began, Bob Dylan joined Neil Young for a huge benefit concert in San Francisco. As if that wasn’t enough, three-fifths of The Band joined them too: Levon Helm, Rick Danko, and Garth Hudson. The spontaneous supergroup performed ramshackle versions of a few Neil Young songs (“Lookin’ for a Love,” “Helpless,” “Are You Ready for the Country?”), a few Dylan songs (Bob’s first-ever live “I Want You” and a weirdly retitled “Knockin’ on Dragon’s Door”), and a few covers. The final song they performed was one of those covers, a raggedy but charming version of country standby “Will the Circle Be Unbroken,” popularized in the 1930s by The Carter Family. Here’s a stream:
Kirsten Agresta Copely is a harpist with a storied background. She has played harp since she was five and had her first solo tour at fourteen. Over the course of her career she has performed all over the world and shared the stage and recording studio with a variety of stars such as Stevie Wonder, Jay-Z, and Evanescence. She has even played alongside Beyoncé at a state dinner for Barack Obama.
At the end of last month, Copely released her first cover album. You may think an album of harp covers is a bit niche for everyday listening, but if you are looking for a cover album with class for your next dinner party, look no further. There is something for everyone on Copely’s new album with selections that span decades, from Fleetwood Mac to Rhianna.
AURORA – Across the Universe (The Beatles cover)
The first of a couple Beatles covers this month, AURORA’s “Across the Universe” doesn’t reinvent the wheel, it just removes a few spokes. The Norwegian singer-songwriter strips everything away but keys and a bunch of voices (there’s a guitarist too, though barely audible). It’s all the song needs.
Five Good Covers presents five cross-genre reinterpretations of an oft-covered song.
Gordon Lightfoot wasn’t happy. He’d learned that Warner Brothers intended to change the name of his album Sit Down Young Stranger, and he flew from Toronto to Los Angeles to ask them why. Stan Cornyn, head of merchandising, responded with his own question: “Gord, did you take algebra?”
“I took it, but I sure as hell never passed it,” Lightfoot confessed.
“Well, Gord, changing the name of the album is the difference between x and 8x.”
“Go ahead and change it,” said Lightfoot. Smart move on both their parts – as If You Could Read My Mind, the album went from 80,000 in sales to 650,000. Credit the now-title track, which peaked at #5 on the Billboard charts forty-eight years ago this month.
In his recent memoir, Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy philosophized on how online streaming has changed the way artists get their inspiration. “Anyone can access any era of music at any time,” Tweedy wrote. “So instead of being influenced only by the recordings and generations of musicians most accessible and obtainable to study, musicians today can draw upon almost anything ever recorded.”
These sentiments rang especially true when I first heard Rayland Baxter’s 2018 album Wide Awake. Listening to the record is like taking a trip through Baxter’s musical education. One can detect elements of alt-country rock, blue-eyed soul, new wave, the solo works of various Beatles, all sung with the confidence of a ‘70s singer/songwriter at the Troubadour. Hearing all these musical styles smash together, it makes sense that he was able to cross four decades with two covers. During a recent performance at Paste Studios, he played songs by Neil Young and the late Mac Miller. He took two serious tunes from very different artists and reworked them in his own way to make them seem lighter and definitely more fun.
‘The Best Ever’ series counts down our favorite covers of great artists.
Neil Young released his self-titled debut solo album on January 22, 1969. Well, technically he re-released it that day. It had initially landed without much fanfare the previous November, only for Young to quickly pull it from shelves due to what he deemed a subpar mix. Even in his professional infancy, decades before Pono and the Neil Young Archives, he was a stickler for quality control.
We hope this list would pass muster with him. At 50 songs, it’s our longest to date (tied only with The Rolling Stones) and still barely scratches the surface. We could have quite easily listed the best 50 covers of “Heart of Gold” or “Like a Hurricane” alone. He gets covered about as much as any songwriter alive, and about as well too.
Neil hasn’t slowed down in his own age, and neither has the flow of new covers. Some of the covers below came out near 50 years ago themselves. Others only landed in the last year or two. No doubt another contender will arrive tomorrow. Neil never stops, and, thankfully, neither do covers of his songs.