“I will now sing to you the 2013 song of the year,” Patti Smith said at her 67th birthday concert last week in NYC, then launched into a moving – not to mention unexpected – cover of Rihanna‘s “Stay.” Never one to cover a pop song ironically, Smith and pianist Tony Shanahan delivered the lyrics with poise and purpose, even when nerves caused her to forget a few of the words partway through.
Fifty years ago, a covers album wasn’t called a “covers album.” It was called an album. Full stop.
Frank Sinatra, Elvis, Billie Holiday – most albums anyone bought were “covers albums” as we’d think of them today, but that’s not how folks thought of them then. Once the public began putting a premium on singers writing their own songs in the ’60s the concept of course shifted, so that an artist doing a covers album has to be like Michael Jordan playing baseball – an okay diversion but let’s get back to the main event please.
More so this year than ever before though, that pendulum seems to be swinging back in small but meaningful ways to what an album originally meant. More and more artists are releasing LPs saying, this is not my new quote-on-quote “covers album,” this is my new album (that happens to consist of covers). The attitude showcases a confidence and surety of purpose that shows they take performing other peoples songs every bit as seriously as they do their own.
That holds true for both of our top two covers albums this year, and plenty more sprinkled throughout. Which isn’t to knock anyone doing a covers album as a lark, novelty, tribute, or side project – you’ll see plenty of those here as well – but any blurred lines that put a “covers album” on the same level as a “normal” album have to be a good thing.
Start our countdown on Page 2…
The third season of HBO’s crime drama, Boardwalk Empire has just finished. Having spent a good deal of time in the Atlantic City area when I was young, I have become a big fan of the show which is based on historical criminal figures. There is a lot to like about the show and many focus on the once-in-a-lifetime role of gangster Nucky Thompson as played by Steve Buscemi. Indeed he is incredible. But what transports you into 1920′s prohibition era South Jersey shore are the sets, costumes, cinematography and perhaps most importantly, the music.
Just two weeks into their Fall 2012 tour, Jersey indie punkers Screaming Females have had to cancel the rest of the dates. The word from their publicist:
“Since falling ill with mononucleosis in May, Marissa Paternoster has been experiencing severe chronic pains that have rendered it very difficult for Screaming Females to tour. To ensure that Marissa has adequate time to heal so that Screaming Females can continue, it brings us great sadness to announce that all scheduled dates after October 10th will be cancelled.”
Full Albums features covers of every track off a classic album. Got an idea for a future pick? Leave a note in the comments!
Yesterday we took a look at the early years of Neil Young, as represented on the first two sides of Decade (if you missed it, click here to get caught up). Today, it’s sides three and four’s turn; a dozen artists looking at a dozen classics a dozen different ways…
Though Bob Dylan moved away from his role as a ‘protest singer’ long ago — we saw Another Side by his fourth album — his name will forever be associated with social activism. The international human rights organization Amnesty International rose out of the same turbulent era as Dylan, forming in 1961, the year Dylan recorded his first album. Fitting, then, that in celebration of their 50th birthday, Amnesty would call on artists to contribute their Dylan covers to the massive four disc set Chimes of Freedom: The Songs of Bob Dylan Honoring 50 Years of Amnesty International.
When people look back in 2011 in music a decade from now, one name will come to mind: Adele. In our little world of cover songs, she dominated. Everyone covered Adele this year. It’s not just that we saw more covers of “Rolling in the Deep” than any other song; they beat out second place (probably “Pumped Up Kicks”) by like a factor of five! We generally try to look for larger cover trends in these annual wrap-ups, but it’s hard to remember anything else from this year except the year-long onslaught of Adele covers hitting our mailbox.
There’s only one “Rolling in the Deep” cover in this year’s list though. The rest are all over the place. Some of the artists listed built their covers with lush soundscapes, thick beats, and intricate string work. Others just took guitars or pianos and bowled us over with the emotion in their voices. There may not be much of an overarching “Year in Covers” narrative, but that means there’s a cover or two for everyone. From feel-good takes on rap songs to kill-yourself versions of pop songs, this year’s list features flips, flops, and genre switcheroos of all sorts. A good cover should be informed by the source material but stand on its own, and we’ll be unrolling the 50 finest examples of songs doing just that all week. Start with #50-41 on the next page and check back daily as we count down to the best cover of 2011.