Cover songs have become a battleground in the streaming era. On our best-of-the-month roundups (January’s, February’s), inevitably a sizeable number come from Spotify sessions. And Amazon is fighting back, regularly commissioning original covers for themed playlists exclusive to their own streaming service. The latest is called Made In Australia and includes 22 younger Australian bands covering their countrymen. We’ve rounded up some of the best below (though, sadly, many of the rest you can only hear in full as an Amazon Music subscriber).
Cover Classics takes a look at great covers albums of the past, their genesis and their legacies.
Is I’m Your Fan the most influential tribute album ever? That’s not something you can really measure, so let me just say this: Without it, you probably wouldn’t know “Hallelujah.”
So we’ll start there, at the last track, the secret chord. “Hallelujah” became the most clichéd of Cohen covers, but when John Cale picked it for this 1991 tribute album, it was the disc’s most obscure selection. The song had only come out in America the previous year, after Cohen’s label Columbia refused to release 1985 album Various Positions stateside. Explaining his decision, Columbia president Walter Yetnikoff issued the famous quote: “Leonard, we know you’re great, but we don’t know if you’re any good.”
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.
In Memoriam pays tribute to those who have left this world, and the songs they left us to remember them by.
It’s hard to know where to start when talking about Leonard Cohen covers. In some respects, he might have been the most cover-friendly artist of all time. Only Bob Dylan would come close.
Why was his music so coverable? Well, for one he wrote terrific songs. Duh. But so do Bruce Springsteen and The Rolling Stones, and covers of their songs on average do not match covers of Cohen. Or look at the Beatles, who I’d put on the opposite end of this spectrum. The average Beatles cover is nowhere near as good as the original (though lord knows there are exceptions).
But no artist inspired more great covers than Cohen. Perhaps that is because unlike the Beatles, whose performances are hard to top, his original recordings were rarely definitive. His early albums were so barebones that one could do almost anything with this songs. Then there was the Phil Spector record, where great songs were buried under too much production. Then the ’80s came, a decade rarely kind to singer-songwriters, and Cohen’s records especially suffered from a reliance on instantly-dated production. In so many cases, Cohen’s perfect songs were presented with imperfect recordings. Hundreds of songs ripe for another artist to come along and make his or her own.
They say nostalgia works in 20-year cycles, and this year the music of 1996 has been in the media a lot. And if you believe the music blogs, it turns out 1996 was a truly groundbreaking year for every possible genre. Over at SPIN: “The 96 Best Alternative Rock Songs Of 1996.” Complex: “Best Rap Songs of 1996.” Junkee: “Ten reasons 1996 was a great year for dance music”. Loudwire: “10 Best Metal Albums of 1996.” Red Bull Music: “1996: Why it was a great year for pop”. Suck it, 1995! (Kidding; similar articles were of course written last year too.)
We’ll be honest: 1996 was not some magical, pioneering year for cover songs. It was also not a terrible year. It was just, you know, another year. There’s no overarching theorem of 1996’s cover songs that wasn’t true in ’95 or ’97. But even so, Cover Me wasn’t around in 1996, so we never made a Best Cover Songs of 1996 list (our first year-end list came in 2009, with the Kings of Convenience’s “It’s My Party” topping it, and you can catch up on all the lists here). So we decided, before the year ends and we take our look at the best covers songs this year, why not take a nostalgic rewind and do 1996 just for fun, twenty years too late.
Cover Classics takes a closer look at all-cover albums of the past, their genesis, and their legacy.
When Mates of State‘s Crushes (The Covers Mixtape) came out in 2010, we ranked it the sixth best cover album of the year. If I were redoing that list today, I’d make it #1 (or, at worst, #2 – I do still love that Peter Gabriel album). The reason Crushes holds up so well is the same reason a lot of people might hate it: Its almost gleeful irreverence to its source material.
On Crushes, the husband-wife indiepop duo of Kori Gardner and Jason Hammel draw their song selections equally from indie hits of the past decade and classic singer-songwriters. But they are beholden to neither group. Americana laments become dance celebrations. Outsider indie-prog becomes glossy toy-store pop. Electronic beats and gorgeous harmonies coexist in worlds far different than the ones the original artists envisioned.