Despite being revered by musicians of all stripes, Patti Smith songs don’t get covered as often as they should. So it’s a treat any time one comes across our desk – especially when it’s one as good as herMajesty’s new take on “Dancing Barefoot,” premiering below. Like Galaxie 500 meets The Doors, the cover’s dreamy swirl is punctuated by some serious throwback ’60s organ.
Welcome to Cover Me Q&A, where we take your questions about cover songs and answer them to the best of our ability.
Here at Cover Me Q&A, we’ll be taking questions about cover songs and giving as many different answers as we can. This will give us a chance to hold forth on covers we might not otherwise get to talk about, to give Cover Me readers a chance to learn more about individual staffers’ tastes and writing styles, and to provide an opportunity for some back-and-forth, as we’ll be taking requests (learn how to do so at feature’s end).
Today’s question, from Cover Me staffer Raphael Camara: What’s a song that’s been covered too many times?
An expanded version of this article – with a new Lenny Kaye interview! – appears in my upcoming book ‘Cover Me: The Stories Behind the Greatest Cover Songs of All Time’. Preorder it at Amazon.
Before there was a song called “Gloria,” there was a poem called “Oath.” And the transition from one to the other might never have happened without forty bucks and one loud bass note.
“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.