Jul 162013
 

Five Good Covers presents five cross-genre reinterpretations of an oft-covered song.

King Crimson’s debut album, In the Court of the Crimson King, is iconic. The cover, a painting of a screaming creature (reportedly the only painting ever by computer programmer Barry Godber, who passed away shortly after the album’s release at the age of 24), is instantly recognizable and unforgettable. Although it was not the first prog-rock album, In the Court raised the bar and in many ways created the road map for the successes and excesses of the style. Nearly 44 years after the album’s release, it was discussed on, of all places, a New York Mets broadcast, and not because Mets fans so often have the same look on their faces.

Crimson leader Robert Fripp has described the first song on the record, “21st Century Schizoid Man,” as the first heavy metal song. That’s a claim that’s far from settled, but the crunching riff and distorted vocals and music displayed here would in fact become mandatory in the metal songs that followed in its wake. (Still, it is amusing to think of vocalist Greg Lake as a heavy metal godfather.) But the song also has a jazzy middle section, some virtuoso guitar soloing, and a free-time ending. Lyrically, the song is typical Peter Sinfield, filled with bizarre and obscure allusions and dystopian imagery which many have related to the Vietnam War. Fripp, at least once, dedicated “21st Century Schizoid Man” to Spiro Agnew.

The song has often been covered, more often than not in a metal style. As we will see, other covers pick up on the various styles included in the original. But not always.
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May 262011
 

Dylan Covers A-Z presents covers of every single Bob Dylan song. View the full series here.

An excerpt from Bob Dylan’s Chronicles: Volume One (Simon & Schuster, 2004):

When I finally did arrive in California, my songs and my reputation had preceded me. I had records out on Columbia and I’d be playing at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium and meeting all the performers who had recorded my songs-artists like The Byrds, who’d recorded “Mr. Tambourine Man,” Sonny and Cher, who’d done “All I Really Want to Do,” The Turtles, who recorded “It Ain’t Me, Babe,” Glen Campbell, who had released “Don’t Think Twice,” and Johnny Rivers, who had recorded “Positively 4th Street.”

Of all the versions of my recorded songs, the Johnny Rivers one was my favorite. It was obvious that we were from the same side of town, had been read the same citations, came from the same musical family and were cut from the same cloth. When I listened to Johnny’s version of “Positively 4th Street,” I liked his version better than mine. I listened to it over and over again. Most of the cover versions of my songs seemed to take them out into left field somewhere, but Rivers’s version had the mandate down-the attitude and melodic sense to complete and surpass even the feeling that I had put into it. It shouldn’t have surprised me, though. He had done the same thing with “Maybellene” and “Memphis,” two Chuck Berry songs. When I heard Johnny sing my song, it was obvious that life had the same external grip on him as it did on me.

Yes, today’s installment boasts a special distinction: It contain Dylan’s favorite cover of his own work. Rivers’ “Positively 4th Street” is indeed spellbinding. We’d venture that if Bob heard some of these other covers, though, he might have to reconsider. The Ghosts of Electricity’s 11-minute “Standing in a Doorway” takes a live jam to the stratosphere. Guy Davis’ “Sweetheart Like You” is so beautiful it redeems all of Dylan’s output in the ’80s (well, almost). If nothing else, John Doe (of X)’s soaring “Pressing On” from the I’m Not There film would surely be a contender.

We’ve also got a few of those “left field” covers he apparently disdains. Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Subterranean Homesick Blues” roars even harder than he ever intended. World Wide Message Tribe’s “Precious Angel” takes the holy message to the club floor. Cheap Trick’s 10-minutes “Please Mrs. Henry” doesn’t sound much like it did with the Band in that Woodstock basement. Check out these and dozens more on the next few pages and see if you agree with Dylan that Rivers tops the lot.

P.S. After you’ve reached your verdict, you might also compare it to the 170 covers we’ve presented in previous installments, linked here:
Part 1: “Absolutely Sweet Marie” – “Everything Is Broken”
Part 2: “Father of Night” – “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues”
Part 3: “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” – “Oxford Town”
Part 4: “Peggy Day” – “Sweetheart Like You”
Part 5: “T.V Talkin’ Song” – “4th Time Around” [Coming Friday]

Continued on Page 2…