Sep 282018
 

‘The Best Ever’ series counts down our favorite covers of great artists.

I’ve been watching early episodes of Saturday Night Live recently. On the fifth episode ever – back when it bore the shorter title Saturday Night – the host was comedian Robert Klein. Two musical guests joined him: Loudon Wainwright III and ABBA.

Wainwright’s performance plays it straight, just him and his guitar on stage. With ABBA, though, the show undermines the Swedish quartet from the start. They have to perform “S.O.S.” on a sinking Titanic set, competing for screen time with Klein and some SNL writers pretending to drown in vintage dining-lounge attire. Even when the camera lands on ABBA, it waves and swoops to indicate they’re going down with the ship too.

The second performance, “Waterloo,” does them even dirtier. Before the first verse even ends, these words pop up on the screen: “Right now ABBA is lip-syncing. It’s not their fault. The tracks didn’t arrive from Sweden.” The band appears to have no idea they are being thus undermined, even as the audience titters. I’ve watched the entire first season now, and haven’t seen any other musical performer treated this way. (The individual videos sadly aren’t anywhere embeddable, but the full episode is on Hulu).

This SNL appearance neatly embodies the ABBA dichotomy. On the one hand, they were such huge stars that the show simply had to book them. On the other, they seemed so irredeemably uncool that the show felt obliged to mock them so it didn’t lose its cultural cachet. And forty-plus years on from that performance, we treat them the same way. We’ll sing and dance along to their songs – particularly after a drink or two – but only the most ardent poptimist would put ABBA anywhere but the “guilty pleasure” category.

True, the productions may be dated, and the outfits ridiculous, but at their core the songs are rock-solid. Songwriters Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus, sometimes aided by band manager Stig Anderson, penned songs that still rise above the cheese-tacular performances. And there’s no better evidence than in the thousands of genre-spanning covers. Everyone from Richard Thompson to Portishead has covered these songs – and not with a wink and a nudge either, but honestly finding timeless lyrics and melodies beneath ABBA’s very of-its-time presentation.

Cher did it too, releasing her ABBA tribute album today to piggyback on the second Mamma Mia! movie’s success (commercial success, that is, as the reviews were not kind – a true ABBA divide, there). So in honor of that, we decided to pick out the best ABBA covers ever. No, none of Cher’s make the list. But thirty other artists do. Continue reading »

Jan 302018
 

mark erelli mixtapeMark Erelli seems one of the good guys: prolific in the often solitary and lonely furrow of singer-songwritery, under the radar of most observers, weaving his nuanced mix of country and folk that never fails to beguile my ears. Lord knows how he makes a living. Along with others like Jeffrey Foucoult (with whom he has collaborated) Damien Jurado and the Joshes Rouse and Ritter (another collaborator) he seems always there in the background, a reliable source of well-crafted songs, never troubling the mainstream nor stealing the show.

Although he has a healthy and extensive repertoire of his own songs, covers are very much also his stock in trade, as a visit to his website soon reveals, with a monthly free download of the month – often a cover – unavailable elsewhere. (As I write his excellent version of “Midnight Rider” is serenading me, the January freebie.) He also performs an annual series of shows entitled ‘Under the Covers’ – sadly in the wrong continent for this writer to ever catch. Continue reading »

Feb 212017
 

Welcome to Cover Me Q&A, where we take your questions about cover songs and answer them to the best of our ability.

jordan

Jordan Becker lives in Tarrytown, New York, a suburb of NYC where the Tappan Zee Bridge crosses the Hudson (until the new bridge is finished and they knock it down). He’s been writing for Cover Me since 2013, debuting with an essay about Mermaid Avenue by Billy Bragg and Wilco (see below). Of all his Cover Me pieces, he’s “kind of proud” of spotlighting the Grateful Dead and defending Dexys Midnight Runners.
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Feb 162017
 

Welcome to Cover Me Q&A, where we take your questions about cover songs and answer them to the best of our ability.

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Seuras Og is 59 and ought to know better. Tipped toward journalism by his careers teacher, he instead opted for a career in Family Medicine. He lives in Lichfield, England. His Gaelic mother would be proud to see his nom de plume, a direct translation. Less proud that he is still talking about pop music in his 60th year. This is his 3rd year of writing his essays for Cover Me. He particularly enjoys drafting whole album covers like Legend or Hunky Dory.
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Jan 252017
 
leonard cohen tribute

Last night, Brooklyn’s Music Hall of Williamsburg held an epic Leonard Cohen tribute show, bringing together Cohen’s peers and younger admirers for a 22-song blowout of tribute covers. From a killer instrumental opener of “Hallelujah” by Delicate Steve – a smart move, getting that out of the way up front with a left-field guitar version that doesn’t attempt to compete with Jeff Buckley – the sold-out crowd sang along to Cohen many profound lyrics, and a few of his profound ones too (Lenny Kaye of the Patti Smith Group led a rousing holler through Cohen’s dumbest song, “Don’t Go Home with Your Hard-On”).

Many of performers had personal Cohen stories to share. “I met Leonard Cohen at a BBC session in 1967 – but I can’t remember anything about it,” Richard Thompson quipped, while Josh Ritter told a yarn about chasing Cohen down an alley backstage only to run headfirst into a truck and miss his once chance. Richard’s son Teddy Thompson recalled Cohen once asking him what he was working on. When he replied that he was making a country album, Cohen said cryptically, “I went country myself, once…” Thompson then covered one of Cohen’s most country songs, “Ballad of the Absent Mare.” Continue reading »

Apr 272016
 

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).

As you know, Prince unexpectedly passed away last week. As you may also know, in the last decade or so before he passed, he had a contentious relationship with cover songs. He was famously litigious about getting covers of his songs pulled off blogs and YouTube, and regularly questioned in interviews whether an artist should be allowed to cover another artist’s song without getting the original artist’s permissions. We even wrote a defense of covers to Prince five years to the day before his death (spooky). We loved Prince, but Prince didn’t necessarily love us – or anyone else who recorded or shared covers of his songs.

So today’s staff/reader question arises from that same debate, what specific cover might be the one to convince Prince that covers of his songs were a good thing. Our picks are below, add your own in the comments.

Today’s Question: If you could have introduced Prince to a Prince cover, what would it be?

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