May 032019
 

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

joni mitchell covers

Joni Mitchell is 75 and won’t be with us forever. She suffered an aneurysm in 2015, and she’s coping with the little-understood Morgellons disease. She has difficulty walking, and has not spoken publicly in years. But if her place on earth is tenuous, her place in the heavens is secure; millions of people already look up to her every day.

Joni Mitchell’s songs are famous for being intensely personal, a deep expression of her self that people nevertheless relate to. Those who aspire to her voice become near-slavish devotees. There’s a great New Yorker piece about a small show of Joni’s that a drunken Chrissie Hynde gets overly caught up in (“That’s a REAL singer up there!”), and Hynde’s not alone. Mitchell isn’t just a real singer, though. She’s a real songwriter, a real painter, a real guitarist, a real follower of her muse – a real artist, one of the realest of the past hundred years. That authenticity is what continues to bring people into her circle on a daily basis.

In an excellent essay for NPR, Ann Powers wrote: “Like her prime compatriots Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen and her favorite protégé Prince, no one can adequately echo her; even great singers, taking on her songbook, admit they can only hope to achieve proximity.” Indeed, a Joni Mitchell cover is never just a tribute – it’s an assertion, an artist coming forth to pick up a gauntlet she lay down decades ago.

We found 30 covers that show the artists doing an especially good job at matching their talents to Joni’s, creating new works of art that, no matter how novel or innovative they may be, never set out to eradicate the original artist’s signature. May her art continue to open eyes, whether through her own performances or those of others, for centuries to come.

Oct 312018
 
cover songs october
AJ Lambert – Lush Life (Frank Sinatra cover)

Frank Sinatra’s granddaughter covers Frank Sinatra. You think you know where this story ends: fawning nepotism. But despite familial loyalty, A.J. Lambert isn’t afraid to twist “Lush Life,” adding a Lynchian undercurrent of menace. More of an overcurrent in the crawling, nose-bleeding video.

Amy Shark – Teenage Dirtbag (Wheatus cover)

Every month, one or two of these selections invariably hail from Spotify’s terrific new cover-sessions series. My only gripe is that they came with no information, the sort a band would write in the YouTube description or press release announcing a new cover, or say on stage before performing one live. That’s now solved with Spotify’s new “Under Cover” podcast, in which the artists performing the covers talk about them. We learn that Amy Shark tried to make “Teenage Dirtbag” a Pixies song, and that she considered the song her anthem when she was young. She says: “The first time I heard ‘Teenage Dirtbag,’ I was in high school. I was crazy obsessed with it to the point where it was in my head every day all day. I would sing it in all day in school. Even teachers would say, ‘Amy, please listen to something else.'” Continue reading »

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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