Today is Bob Dylan’s 75th birthday and, if you follow us on social media (or just about any other music site), you know last week was the 50th birthday of his iconic album Blonde on Blonde. To celebrate, Mojo magazine’s new issue contains a tribute CD with covers of every song. Hear a selection of highlights below.
The Grateful Dead – the iconic (nay, legendary) Palo Alto ensemble whose longevity, sheer number of live performances, eclectic and improvisational musical styles, as well as religious fanbase cemented them as one of the most influential and groundbreaking groups of rock and roll history – will be honored this May in an upcoming epic homage titled Day of the Dead.
As one of our own feature writers, Jordan Becker, so elegantly put in his In the Spotlight segment: “The Dead were not only a band; they typified a lifestyle that extended the hippie culture of the 1960s decades after most of the world turned it into a punchline.” Dubbed the “pioneering Godfathers of the jam band world,” their legacy lingers on, and with contributions from an overwhelming number of some of the music industry’s most respected names today, their music will be celebrated.
In Memoriam pays tribute to those who have left this world, and the songs they left us to remember them by.
Merle Haggard died on April 6th, his 79th birthday. On another April 6th, eleven years earlier, he celebrated his birthday in Chicago, opening the spring run of Bob Dylan’s “Never Ending Tour.”
I don’t know what he did for most of that 66th birthday, but I do know how five minutes or so was spent. He was standing outside his tour bus, listening to a handful of Dylan obsessives sing “Happy Birthday” to him. I was one of them.
I’m not sure there were more great cover songs this year than any other. But there were more good ones.
What I mean by that is, the average quality of the covers we come across in the time we’ve been around has risen, rather dramatically. Whether they’re iTunes homepage singles or some guy emailing us his Bandcamp, more cover songs in 2013 avoid the old pitfalls than ever before. They don’t sound like they were recorded in a cereal box, substitute ear-bleeding volume for actual creativity, or – the worst cover sin of all – try to carbon-copying the original. With the ease of production and distribution available now, artists seemed to record covers only when they felt they had something to add, and do a halfway decent job committing those ideas to 1s and 0s.
There’s a certain quality to some pop songs that gives them this feel of being something else entirely. You can hear it in the sound, a sound bestowed with measured calm and enormous passion that gives the sense of the song being sung a million times before. You can hear it in the lyrics, veering toward the biblical but never going all the way there and always feeling like a product of their time rather than like something plucked from bygone centuries.
There has been quite a bit of chatter this week about a certain beloved songwriter and his birthday, but, rather than offering another tribute to Mr. Zimmerman, the Brooklyn band Phosphorescent recently released a cover of fellow folk septuagenarian Leonard Cohen‘s “Hey, That’s No Way To Say Goodbye” on a UK-only live EP entitled Live/Ghost Lights. While usually a solo project of one Matthew Houck, Phosphorescent is currently on tour as a five-piece band, and given the little bit of chatter at the end, this recording sounds like the full group. On the other hand, the backing vocals do sound an awful lot like Houck’s own falsetto piled upon itself, so some ambiguity remains.