May 152015
 

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

Maybe it is too facile to say that Van Morrison’s second solo album, Astral Weeks, is respected, while its follow up, Moondance, is loved. We looked at Astral Weeks about a year ago, so there’s no reason to repeat that here, but it’s clear that Morrison took a very different approach with the two albums, both of which have entered the rock pantheon as classics (for example, both albums were inducted in the Grammy Hall of Fame and Astral Weeks is 19 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Albums of all time; Moondance was ranked 66.) But while the older album is revered as a work of art, you actually heard (and still hear) songs from Moondance on the radio. Astral Weeks failed to chart, and no singles from the album were released, but Moondance reached 29 on the Billboard Pop Album chart, and had three singles released.

Astral Weeks is considered to be a unified song cycle or a concept album, filled with stream of consciousness lyrics. The musicians that were recruited mostly had jazz backgrounds, and Morrison encouraged them to improvise after hearing Morrison play the songs on an acoustic guitar. Despite critical acclaim, it received little commercial airplay and limited support from the label, Warner Bros.

After recording Astral Weeks, Morrison and his wife moved into a mountaintop house near Woodstock, in upstate New York. He began to write the songs for Moondance and recruited local musicians for the recording sessions. Although, like with his previous album, there were no formal written charts, Morrison focused this time on shorter, more upbeat and optimistic songs with accessible song structures, in part influenced by another group of Woodstock area residents, The Band. It also was greeted with great reviews, but garnered significantly more radio airplay and immediate sales than its predecessor. And, I would argue, few albums have a stronger first side (when that mattered) than Moondance (“And It Stoned Me”/”Moondance”/”Crazy Love”/”Caravan”/”Into The Mystic”), and side 2 isn’t shabby, either.
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Apr 292015
 

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!

Willie Nelson, 82 years old today, has always been an awkward cuss. Still relentlessly on the road and putting out record after record, somehow it would seem a cop-out to “let others do the work for a while,” as is the norm for these pieces (and besides, been there done that), so this is more a celebration of the myriad and varied covers he has performed over the decades. The germ for this idea came as the staff pow-wow took place around our best country covers of non-country songs Q&A, with Mr. Nelson featuring twice.

His career in music has lasted, so far, a staggering 59 years, his first recording being 1956’s “Lumberjack.” Since then, he has passed through many incarnations, from clean cut C&W performer, consummate Nashville standards songwriter, self-imposed banishment and his counter-intuitively hippie redneck years (copyright me), banding up with and as like-minded (the) Outlaws, before settling into iconic status as a national treasure, lauded by presidents and paupers alike. Somehow his skirmishes with the I.R.S. and his enduring support for marijuana has but strengthened his appeal, even within the staunchly conservative country demographic. And, of course, all of us longhairs just love him. Don’t we?
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Oct 252014
 

In Memoriam pays tribute to those who have left this world, and the songs they left us to remember them by.

Were Ray Charles alive, he’d be celebrating his 84th birthday today. Not a ridiculous conceit – Sean Connery, Gene Hackman, and Clint Eastwood all did the same earlier this year. Which only goes to show that it’s still hard sometimes to come to grips with a world without Ray. But it would be much, much harder to live in a world without his music.
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Sep 032014
 

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, courtesy of staffer Stephen Gwilliams: What’s your favorite cover of a song from a musical?
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Nov 222013
 

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

November 22, 1963 is a date that resonates with people the world over – not least because it’s the day that both Aldous Huxley and C.S. Lewis passed away – but it’s an important date in the music world too. It was on this day, fifty years ago, that the Beatles released their second album, With the Beatles. Certainly that date resonated with the Beatles – they released the White Album five years later to the day, and that was no coincidence – and the music they released on that fateful day had proven to resonate just as long.
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Dec 172012
 

This year’s cover albums offered ambition on a scale we’ve never seen before. Moving beyond the normal “cover a bunch of random songs we like” tossoff, 2012 offered deeply thought-out conceptual collections. One updated kiddie folk songs for raved-out rockers, others reworked complete albums to their own ends. Even the all-star tributes that pop up every year aimed higher – one of the year’s most high-profile had 70+ tracks! So today we count down the best of the bunch, the ones that swung for the fences and got there. With every passing year there seems to be less sigma attached to the phrase “cover album,” and these sets move that needle even farther forward. Continue reading »

Aug 102012
 

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

Let It Be was the soundtrack of a band falling apart. That was never the plan, of course – the Beatles conceived the album as a back-to-basics effort, in which they would rediscover the joys of playing together without overdubs, only to find themselves bored, angry, and miserable, each one trapped with three bandmates who couldn’t understand what he was going through. They were unhappy with the results and shelved them, but a known goldmine won’t stay untampered, and Phil Spector was brought in to make something of the mess. Upon its release, the highest praise any Beatle gave it came from John, and his quote – “When I heard it, I didn’t puke” – scarcely counts as a ringing endorsement.

Today Let It Be is still seen as one of the weakest albums in the Beatle catalog – but then, this being the Beatles, that means there are only three or four immortal classics, plus a few more that would be high points in the catalogs of 98% of the world’s bands. Somehow, this dying gasp of an album, recorded in notoriously joyless circumstances, found its way into the hearts of millions; somehow, that’s where it was always meant to be.
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