The first of a couple Beatles covers this month, AURORA’s “Across the Universe” doesn’t reinvent the wheel, it just removes a few spokes. The Norwegian singer-songwriter strips everything away but keys and a bunch of voices (there’s a guitarist too, though barely audible). It’s all the song needs.Continue reading »
On her terrific 2009 covers album Cover (forgettable title, memorable NSFW artwork), Joan As Police Woman covered everyone from Jimi Hendrix to Britney Spears. And those were just the first two tracks. The disparate source material worked together wonderfully in Joan Wasser’s quirky indie-pop style, and we’ve been anxious for a sequel. We’re still waiting, but on her new best-of-plus-outtakes collection Joanthology, she includes a few Cover highlights (T.I.’s “Whatever You Like,” Sonic Youth’s “Sacred Trickster,” Public Enemy’s “She Watch Channel Zero”) and adds one new cover, of Prince’s “Kiss.”Continue reading »
Last week, Beyoncé surprised-dropped her live album Homecoming. It accompanied the Netflix film of the same name, which immortalized her lionized 2018 Coachella performance. The biggest surprise of all was the bonus track: a cover of Maze’s 1981 “Before I Let Go.” The original song wasn’t a huge hit when it first came out, but has grown to be referred to sometimes as the “black national anthem.” Beyoncé brings it right up to the present with a big production including marching band, new rap verse, and a sample of New Orleans bounce artist DJ Jubilee.Continue reading »
In another world, Prince could have been a long-haired Southern outlaw. In an oral history of the film Purple Rain, these were Prince’s then-drummer Bobby Z’s recollections of the first time he heard the title track: “My first reaction was, ‘Wow, this is almost a country song.’ It had a different feel than anything we’d been rehearsing for the rest of the album.”
Time has proven Bobby Z correct, as “Purple Rain” has been covered by the likes of Dwight Yoakam, LeAnn Rimes, Darius Rucker, and Brad Paisley. The latest to give Prince’s masterwork a southern-fried makeover is the Allman Betts Band. During their tour opener on March 27 at the Brooklyn Bowl the band reinterpreted “Purple Rain” as a country-rock jam.Continue reading »
All week we’ve been running features on every artist inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s unusually strong 2019 class. But the biggest tribute goes to the band least excited about the honor. And that’s maybe as it should be.
Their unenthusiastic reaction – as I write this, it’s not even clear if any of them will show up – reminds me of when Bob Dylan first played Obama’s White House. Bob didn’t come to his own rehearsal, or to the customary photo op with the president. He turned up at the last minute, played his songs, shook the President’s hand, and immediately left the building. And as Obama told Rolling Stone: “That’s how you want Bob Dylan, right? You don’t want him to be all cheesin’ and grinnin’ with you. You want him to be a little skeptical about the whole enterprise.”Continue reading »
Two things strike me as I scan through our list this year. This first is that many of the highest-ranking covers are tributes to recently-deceased icons. No surprise there, I suppose. But none actually pay tribute to artists that died in 2018. They honor those we’ve been honoring for two or three years now – your Pettys, your Princes, your Bowies. Hundreds of covers of each of these legends appeared in the first days after their deaths, but many of the best posthumous covers took longer to emerge.
Good covers take time. That principle – the cover-song equivalent of the slow food movement, perhaps – holds true throughout the list. Sure, a few here appear to have arisen from sudden moments of brilliance, flash-arranged for some concert or radio promo session. But many more reveal months or even years of painstaking work to nail every element. Making someone else’s song one’s own isn’t easy. These 50 covers took the time to get it right.