Mar 292018
 
talking heads covers

Let’s start by defining our terms: This list concerns the best covers of the Talking Heads. Because the best covers by the Talking Heads is a very short list.

Here is that list, in its entirety: Continue reading »

Nov 032017
 

In October, I held the first release event for the Cover Me book at Paste Magazine’s New York studios, featuring performances by Eli Paperboy Reed, Emel Mathlouthi, and Anthony D’Amato (watch them all here!). And this week I held the second, at Phoenix Books in my old hometown of Burlington, Vermont. The concept was similar: rather than a dry book talk, I would combine some conversation with live covers of songs from the book.

Two of my favorite local bands, Swale and Madaila – both of which I’ve posted about here before – stepped up with some amazing performances. And luckily, like at Paste, we’ve got footage. (More amateur-quality footage, admittedly – iPhones at a bookstore rather than multi-cam at Paste’s recording studio – but the performances are every bit as stunning.)

Swale kicked things off with a tender trio take on “Unchained Melody,” the Righteous Brothers hit first recorded as the theme for the now-forgotten 1955 prison move Unchained. Bobby Hatfield left a pretty high bar for a vocalist to hit, but Swale’s Amanda Gustafson easily cleared it while Eric Olsen (guitar) and Tyler Bolles (bass) gave her a stripped-down acoustic backing. Continue reading »

Oct 202017
 

Full Albums features covers of every track off a classic album. Got an idea for a future pick? Leave a note in the comments!

exile on main street

It’s a bit overrated, to be honest. Compared to Let it Bleed and Beggars Banquet, which I think are more of a piece, I don’t see it’s as thematic as the other two. I’m not saying it’s not good. It doesn’t contain as many outstanding songs as the previous two records. I think the playing’s quite good. It’s got a raw quality, but I don’t think all around it’s as good. – Mick Jagger

Every time I (choose my favorite Stones album), I keep thinking about the ones I’m leaving out. It’s like babies. But if I’ve got to pick one I’ll say – and you can take it with a large dose of salt – Exile. Because of its amazing spirit, the incredible amount of enthusiasm and screw-you-ing, You can throw us out but you can’t get rid of us. – Keith Richards

Now seen as a masterpiece, Exile on Main Street has been getting mixed reviews for most of its life, and not just from its creators. Lester Bangs wrote a review calling it “at once the worst studio album the Stones have ever made, and the most maddeningly inconsistent and strangely depressing release of their career”; later, he wrote, “I practically gave myself an ulcer and hemorrhoids, too, trying to find some way to like it. Finally I just gave up, wrote a review that was almost a total pan, and tried to forget about the whole thing. A couple weeks later, I went back to California, got a copy just to see if it might’ve gotten better, and it knocked me out of my chair. Now I think it’s possibly the best Stones album ever.”

Now the critics of yesteryear who trashed Exile have turned into critics calling the record overrated. But that’s a hard criticism to support. The record shows the Stones at their bravest and least calculated, playing blues, gospel, country, boogie, good old rock ‘n’ roll, even a couple of covers, as if the music exuded from deep inside their selves. These multiple genres weren’t accoutrements to dress up in as the mood struck, but were part of the sweat and grime that hung in the air and coated the basement walls at Nellcote as the Stones recorded there.
Continue reading »

Aug 072017
 
phish bakers dozen covers

For years, Phish superphans and the band’s many detractors – so far apart on so much else – have been able to agree on one thing: the band does some killer live covers. Phish long ago made a Halloween tradition out of covering another band’s album in full, tackling ambitious choices like the Beatles’ White Album and Talking Heads’ Remain in Light. And “ambitious” was also the keyword for the band’s just-completed thirteen night run at New York’s Madison Square Garden. Dubbed the “Baker’s Dozen,” each night featured a different donut theme and, more significantly, no song repeated the entire two weeks.

But back to the donuts. The band took the silly premise seriously, theming their sets each night around a donut flavor. This led to a number of surprise covers that they’ve never played before (or probably ever will again). Strawberry-donut night got “Strawberry Fields Forever” and “Strawberry Letter 23.” Chocolate-donut night got “Chocolate Rain” and “You Sexy Thing” – originally by Hot Chocolate. They even dug deep into lyrics, playing the one Radiohead song that talks about lemons.

Such first-time-ever covers tend to appeal even to non-fans because they tend to be short and –
let’s keep the donut theme going here – sweet. Unlike a jelly donut, on a song they’ve never play before they rarely jam. Instead, the fun and sheer rock chops to come forward in a way they may not on the heady stuff.

So I’ve ranked all the first-time covers from the past two weeks of Phish’s concerts, below. I’ll admit I’m not a huge fan myself – I once wrote an article defending their home of Burlington, Vermont from its jam-band stereotype – but some of these are among the best performances I’ve heard by them. Others…are not. Continue reading »

May 192017
 
Cover Me

As we’ve noted already, 2017 marks Cover Me’s tenth birthday. We’ll have some more celebratory posts leading up to the actual date this fall, but I’m thrilled to announce one thing that’s on deck for October: the release of my first book, Cover Me: The Stories Behind the Greatest Cover Songs of All Time!

Ever since I started this site, friends and readers have suggested that I should write a book about cover songs (surprisingly, a comprehensive book doesn’t really exist). For years, I resisted. “That’s like saying ‘I’m going to write a book about original songs’,” I’d snarkily reply – i.e., that’s a stupid idea. Cover songs seemed too broad a category. There’s no grand unifying theory of cover songs to fit tidily between two book covers; it’s too big and messy and wonderful a tent for that.

Aretha FranklinAfter years of saying no, I finally came up with the solution. I wouldn’t write a book about cover songs – instead, I would write a book about twenty specific cover songs, and through those twenty covers, a broader narrative would emerge.

The story of covers as traced in Cover Me involves artistic triumphs and music-industry shenanigans. It touches on trends in record-making, music videos, and the internet’s impact on music (did you know the first viral song was a cover?). There are beautiful moments of unlikely artists coming together, and some uglier instances of exploitation and racism. Every major change in the music industry since the advent of rock and roll finds some expression in the world of cover songs. Continue reading »

May 022017
 
bob weir trey anastasio gaga

At the Grateful Dead’s 2015 “Fare Thee Well” final concerts, Phish frontman Trey Anastasio stepped into the Jerry Garcia role, playing lead guitar across five mammoth shows. They drew from a wide range of sources for their varying setlists, including plenty of covers – but the covers they chose were all songs the Dead had played regularly in the past (“Not Fade Away,” “Samson and Delilah,” etc). For the latest Phish-Dead pairing, though, they drew from a far less likely source: Lady Gaga. Continue reading »