Aug 082019
 
david byrne cover songs

Talking Heads only ever recorded one cover, and when I talked to David Byrne about it for my book, he seemed to have mixed feelings on the subject. “There’s always a little bit of resistance to recording a cover like that because it’s kind of a crowd pleaser,” he told me. “I’d seen it happen before, where radio DJs who pick what they’re going to play will often pick a cover song… So then a band gets known for covering somebody else’s song as opposed to writing their own material. They have to go through a struggle for years to get identified with their own songs.”

Talking Heads recorded “Take Me to the River,” it became their biggest hit up to that point, and Byrne said: That’s it. No more covers. The band never followed it up with a second.

He’s relaxed the rules a bit more in his solo career, most recently covering Janelle Monae’s “Hell You Talmbout” on tour (he says he’s bringing the cover to Broadway, too). And clearly he’s been listening to covers. For his DB Radio show on his website, he just compiled a wonderfully eclectic mix of his favorite covers. The theme, he says, is artists doing the unexpected, from Sonic Youth covering The Carpenters to Miley Cyrus covering Nine Inch Nails. And when the song choice itself may not be surprising – Patti Smith covering the Rolling Stones, say – the arrangements are. Here’s what he wrote on his website: Continue reading »

Jul 192019
 

Five Good Covers presents five cross-genre reinterpretations of an oft-covered song.

beds are burning covers

Midnight Oil had many huge hits in their native Australia, but only one song made an appearance on the U.S. Top 40: the 1987 classic “Beds Are Burning.” In a way, it’s surprising this song was their international breakthrough, given how specific the lyrics are to their native land – a protest song advocating for giving Australian lands back to Aboriginal group the Pintupi. Not subject matter guaranteed to register internationally when you take into account all the desert oak and cockatoo references (how many non-Australians can even pronounce “Yuendemu”?).

In another way, though, it’s no surprise at all this song connected wildly. I mean, ignore the lyrics (as no doubt many listeners did) and just listen to it:

The song has not been covered an enormous amount, but a few dozen versions exist. Many Australian bands have covers in their back pockets. In other cases, big touring bands like Pearl Jam and Imagine Dragons might prepare a version when touring down under. Continue reading »

May 162019
 

Patti Smith made cover-song headlines a couple years ago stepping in for an unwilling Bob Dylan to perform “A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall” at his Nobel Prize ceremony. More recently, she’s quietly slipped another old protest song into her setlist: Midnight Oil’s 1987 hit “Beds Are Burning.” Continue reading »

Nov 012018
 

‘The Best Ever’ series counts down our favorite covers of great artists.

best nirvana covers

Nirvana released its first single 30 years ago today. Well, today-ish. That single was the first installment in the now-legendary Sub Pop Singles Club, so I imagine its “release date” was whatever day it landed in the mailbox for the 1,000 lucky people who got it (you can get it too, but you’ll have to drop $3,300 on Discogs).

And what was that very first Nirvana single? Whaddya know, it was a cover! The band launched their recording careers with “Love Buzz,” originally by Dutch psychedelic-rockers Shocking Blue. Not the most obvious start for the most iconic band of the ’90s (apparently it was Krist’s idea). Already a staple of their raucous live show, “Love Buzz” did represent, according to Sub Pop founder Bruce Pavitt, “an indicator of some of their direction in songwriting.”

Three decades on, that songwriting has generated a few covers of its own. “Smells Like Teen Spirit” has of course been covered thousands of times, but some other Nirvana songs aren’t as far behind as you might think. “Lithium,” “Come As You Are,” and “In Bloom” remain perennial cover selections, and “Territorial Pissings” seems surprisingly popular. (“Rape Me,” not so much.) Heck, half the artists we hear covering David Bowie’s “The Man Who Sold the World” or Leadbelly’s “In the Pines” seem to really be covering Nirvana’s MTV Unplugged versions.

So today, we continue our Best Covers Ever series by whittling down the moshing masses of Nirvana covers to the best thirty. Here we are now. Entertain us!

Honorable Mention: Nirvana – Lithium

No, not that Nirvana. The 1960s British band of the same name covered “Lithium” when they reunited in the 1990s. A cute nod, made less cute when you realize this older group had sued over the grunge band’s use of the name only a few years prior (Sub Pop reportedly had to pay them $100,000). At any rate, this Nirvana’s cover is not that good, but this psych-pop spin on “Lithium” perhaps paved the way for a much better version in the same vein a few years later. But we’ll get there… Continue reading »

Jun 082018
 
anthony bourdain music

Others can offer more on Anthony Bourdain’s massive impact on the worlds of food, or travel, or recovery, or just living life to the fullest. But anyone who followed his work closely knew in additional to all that, he was a music superfan. He adored 1970s punk from his early days working in New York kitchens in particular; he wrote a must-read essay on that thirty years later for SPIN.

So we’re going to pay tribute the only way we know how: With covers of Bourdain’s favorite songs. Which we know from playlists he made over the years for Rolling Stone and KCRW. We hope he would have liked these covers of the soundtrack to his life. Continue reading »

May 302018
 

In Pick Five, great artists pick five cover songs that matter to them.

wax idols cover songs

Last month, we got cover picks from Gang of Four guitarist Andy Gill, a man with as much claim as anyone to founding the genre awkwardly labeled “post-punk.” And today we hear from one of the most prominent younger post-punk acolytes today: Wax Idols.

On their great new album Happy Ending, though, founder Hether Fortune broadens her sonic template beyond post-punk’s familiar tropes. On a dark yet melodic song suite, she and her bandmates bring in new wave, goth-rock, and even hints of straight-up pop music. For a taste, watch the VHS-ed out graveyard video for “Mausoleum”: Continue reading »