Fifty years ago in the summer of 1969, an event occurred that changed the face of American popular music forever. As swarms of baby boomers were heading to and from Bethel, N.Y., their older siblings – and possibly their parents – made pilgrimages to the desert to see the King. On July 31, Elvis Presley returned to the stage for a month-long series of concerts at the International Hotel in Las Vegas, his first live performances since 1961.
You know the story – on August 15, 1969, an estimated 400,000 people coalesced on Max Yasgur’s dairy farm in upstate Bethel, New York, for “3 days of Peace & Music” at a music and art fair that ultimately defined a generation. Today marks the golden fiftieth anniversary of Woodstock, and to celebrate the occasion, the staff at Cover Me are going “back to the garden” to wrap you in the Top 50 covers performed by the legendary artists who graced the stage during that long weekend.
In Memoriam pays tribute to those who have left this world, and the songs they left us to remember them by.
Many of can say that rock and roll kept us alive and kept us going, but few meant it as literally as Dick Dale did. “I can’t stop touring because I will die,” he said in a 2015 interview, revealing that he needed to keep playing shows in order to raise the $3,000 a month he needed to treat his multiple health problems – rectal cancer, renal failure, diabetes, damaged vertebrae, and more. Four years after that interview, word came out that he’s played his last earthly concert, passing away at the age of 82.
Despite the controversy surrounding the Best Picture-winning film Green Book, the movie might actually be the best thing to ever happen to the legacy of pianist Don Shirley. Though Shirley’s relatives have objected to the way Shirley was portrayed in the film, before its release his life and music had been largely lost to history.
As of this writing, his biography on Allmusic.com is only one paragraph. Many of his albums don’t even have track listings on the site. The website AllAboutJazz.com lists him twice, both times in articles about the film. In the jazz and popular music encyclopedias at two local libraries, I only found one reference to him, a single small paragraph in The Biographical Encyclopedia of Jazz.
Two of the albums on this year’s list have similar titles: This Is Not Our Music and These Are Not Mine. Clever titles for collections of cover songs, sure, but misleading. Not your music? Why not? Songs are anyone’s for the singing. Even if a song’s lyrics or chord sequence didn’t first spring from a certain performer’s brain, that doesn’t mean he or she has any less claim. The great cover performers make the songs theirs, no matter whose they were before.
The twenty records below each contain numerous examples of artists doing just that. The songs may not have started out as these artists’ – but they are theirs now.
– Ray Padgett, Editor-in-Chief
Start the countdown on the next page…
Kanye West’s 2005 hit “Gold Digger” has origins that pass right through the heart of 20th century popular music. The story begins in 1954, when a black gospel group called The Southern Tones recorded a song called “It Must Be Jesus.” Its lyrics served as a warning to all sinners that Jesus is “Goin’ around” and “Takin’ names.” The song might have been lost to history, had it not been for a young R&B singer named Ray Charles who reworked it as “I Got A Woman.” The song would become one of Charles’ signature tracks and serve as an inspiration to Elvis and the Beatles, who both covered it.