Sep 172019
 
cover songs 1969

This marks the fourth year I’ve done a big anniversary countdown (after 1996, 1987, and 1978). It also proved to be the most challenging. There were a lot of covers released in 1969. In fact, according to covers-and-samples database WhoSampled, there were more than in any of the other years we’ve done. Their database lists 3,110 covers, which is surely still a small fraction.

The reason for the cover song’s proliferation seems clear to me after going through them all: Popular bands released a lot more music back then. Aretha Franklin released two albums in 1969. So did The Byrds, Elvis Presley, Joe Cocker, Johnny Cash, Johnny Winter, and Nina Simone. Creedence Clearwater Revival and Merle Haggard released three albums apiece. James Brown topped them all with four. To get that kind of output, artists would pad their albums with covers. Every 1969 album by every artist I just mentioned includes at least one cover. Many include several. A few are all covers. It adds up.

Impressively, many of those covers reinterpreted songs that had come out within the previous year. This entire list could easily have been “Hey Jude” covers. “Wichita Lineman” and “Light My Fire” came up constantly too (the latter song slightly older, but it had hit the charts again in 1968). Even songs from 1968’s soundtrack to Hair got covered endlessly in 1969.

Even beyond “Hey Jude,” Beatles covers dominated the year. I’m not going to go back through the entire 3,110 covers and count, but if you told me Beatles covers made up a full half of those, I wouldn’t be shocked. Add Bob Dylan covers to that side of the scale and it’s probably true. Beatles songs got covered in every conceivable genre for every conceivable audience. Jazz and swing and folk and proto-metal Beatles covers everywhere the eye can see. Plenty of people cover the Beatles these days, sure, but trust me: It’s nothing like it was in 1969.

So wheedling all those down to the top 50 proved incredibly difficult. But it means this is maybe the top-to-bottom strongest set thus far, and it killed me to leave some off (that’s why our Patreon supporters will get a set of 69 bonus tracks – so join now).

One note: I left off Woodstock performances. For one, we counted down the 50 best covers performed there last month. But more importantly, most people did not actually hear those covers until the movie and soundtrack came out in 1970. Jimi Hendrix performed his iconic Star-Spangled Banner – pretty much everyone’s top cover of the weekend – to a nearly empty field. Most of the audience had left before he punched in at 9 AM that Monday morning. That said, several of the classic covers performed at Woodstock were released as singles or on albums the same year – including Joe Cocker’s “With a Little Help from My Friends” – and those studio versions make this list.

Now, let the sunshine in with the 50 best covers of 1969.

The countdown begins on page 2…

Nov 142018
 

In Pick Five, great artists pick five cover songs that matter to them.

erin mckeown cover songs

After almost two decades of critically acclaimed albums, singer-songwriter-guitarist Erin McKeown just added another hyphenate to her resumé: “theatrical composer.” She wrote music and lyrics for the new Public Theater musical Miss You Like Hell in New York. Variety wrote after seeing the show, “Erin McKeown makes an impressive stage debut with music that is eclectic and appealing.” Here’s a taste, two-time Tony nominee Daphne Rubin-Vega singing McKeown’s new song “Mothers”: Continue reading »

Jun 152018
 
best cover songs 1978

Welcome to the third installment in our Best Cover Songs of Yesteryear countdown, where we act like we were compiling our usual year-end list from a year before we – or the internet – existed. Compared to the first two, this one has significantly less grunge than 1996 and less post-punk than 1987. It’s hard to have post-punk, after all, before you have punk, a new genre starting to hit its peak in 1978. And don’t forget the other big late-’70s sound: disco. Both genres were relatively new, and super divisive among music fans. Lucky for us, both genres were also big on covers.

Disco, in particular, generated some hilariously ill-advised cover songs. We won’t list them all here – this is the Best 1978 covers, not the Most 1978 covers. If you want a taste (and think carefully about whether you really do), this bonkers take on a Yardbirds classic serves as a perfect example of what a good portion of the year’s cover songs looked and sounded like: Continue reading »

Nov 282015
 

They Say It’s Your Birthday celebrates an artist’s special day with other people singing his or her songs. Let others do the work for a while. Happy birthday!

randynewman

The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 saw New Orleans receiving 15 inches of rain in 18 hours, with parts of it under four feet of water. Forty-seven years later, Randy Newman released “Louisiana 1927,” a lament about the devastation the disaster caused and the government’s callous response. Thirty-one years after that, Hurricane Katrina struck, and the song took on a new life. It takes a remarkable writer to compose a song about the long-ago past that can be relevant in the far-ahead future, and that’s just what Randy Newman is.

As he celebrates his 72nd birthday today, Newman can look back on a career of critically praised albums, memorable film scores, a couple of fluke hits, twenty Oscar nominations and two wins. He’s the absolute master of the unreliable narrator, which allows him to explore the uncomfortable side of humanity with dark humor. Journalist Paul Zollo writes, “There is no other songwriter who has shown us bigotry, ignorance, and human weakness as convincingly as Randy Newman.” People who only know him as the guy who writes for Pixar movies and gets mocked by Family Guy need to take a closer look; fortunately, many cover artists have been all too happy to take that closer look for us.
Continue reading »

Mar 032015
 

Randy Newman, two-time Academy Award winner, has a distinct voice that triggers memories of the movies, given his widely popular film scores over the years. His song “Sail Away” had previously been covered by Ray Charles, whom Randy called his biggest musical influence growing up. Matthew E. White covered the song for the French video series, La Blogotheque, which follows artists making live music in different locales around Paris. Continue reading »

Jan 162014
 

In the world of alt-country, Asleep at the Wheel frontman Ray Benson has more cover song credibility than most. In their four decade career, the nine-time Grammy winners have recorded not one but two Bob Wills tribute albums with guests like Willie Nelson and the Dixie Chicks, which were so successful that they turned into a touring musical (which Ray starred in). He’s covered W.C. Handy with Willie Nelson and Red Foley with Brad Paisley. And on his new solo album A Little Piece, out next week, he takes on Randy Newman‘s “Marie”. Continue reading »