Over our time tracking cover songs (13 years this month!), we’ve written about hundreds of new tribute albums, across reviews, news stories, and, when they’re good enough, our best-of-the-year lists. We also have looked back on plenty of great tribute albums from the past in our Cover Classics series. But we’ve never pulled it all together – until now.
In the Spotlight showcases a cross-section of an artist’s cover work. View past installments, then post suggestions for future picks in the comments!
When Scott Walker passed away last month, the pieces written in tribute to his work mentioned the splash he made with the Walker Brothers, the Jacques Brel influence in his first few solo records, and his move into avant-garde music. One era of his was rarely mentioned – the early ’70s, which Walker described as his “wilderness years.” Adrift with little to say, dealing with drug and alcohol issues, pressured by his label to put out product, Walker lapsed into a series of albums that focused on covers of pop songs. The albums sold poorly, the critics were unkind, and Walker was content for them to stay out of print when the CD era arrived.
Here’s the thing – when you have a voice and a talent like Walker’s, you can’t help but lift the songs you sing to a better place. Many’s the person who said they would listen to Scott Walker singing the phone book, and songs from the likes of Burt Bacharach, Gordon Lightfoot, and Bill Withers are already several steps past 202-727-9099.
With the possible exception of Martin Scorsese, no movie director has been more closely identified with his soundtracks than Wes Anderson. He has consistently selected songs by well-known artists that, through no fault of their own, have become three-quarters forgotten over the years, and reintroduced them to the world as the classics they had always been. If someone calls a song a prime candidate for the next Wes Anderson soundtrack (Guilty!), an instant and accurate picture is created. The soundtracks show a cohesion that’s rare in these days of we-want-a-hit soundtracks, where the earmarked smash doesn’t play until the final credits have started rolling, and they have become high points in the experience of watching Anderson’s movies. Now the American Laundromat Records label has collected covers of some of those high points on I Saved Latin! A Tribute to Wes Anderson, resulting in the best tribute album of the year.
The phrase “cover music video” is something of a misnomer. The fact that these songs were originally performed by other artists has, in all cases but one, nothing to do with the video. We might more accurately call this list “Best Music Videos for Songs That Just So Happen to Be Covers.” Still, the cover angle gives us a chance to look at some brilliant music videos that mostly flew somewhat under the radar.
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!
A happy 73rd birthday to Gordon Lightfoot, Canadian troubadour extraordinaire. From the age of five, when he made his performing debut in Sunday School with “I’m a Little Teapot,” he has spent his lifetime bringing music to the world, and the world has responded in kind with covers by the hundreds, from Elvis Presley on down. His songs are not generally happy songs – “Talk about your party tunes!” Dave Barry once commented about “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” – but they speak well to the human condition with a truly universal voice, and they led none other than Bob Dylan to say, “Gordon Lightfoot, every time I hear a song of his, it’s like I wish it would last forever.”
Quickies rounds up new can’t-miss covers. Download ‘em below.
• The Wooden Birds’ new single Two Matchsticks contains a couple bonus covers. They take two very disparate sources – Hall & Oates and Kenny Rogers – to an indie-folk-pop middle ground. Download “Maneater” below, then get “Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town” here.
MP3: The Wooden Birds – Maneater (Hall & Oates cover)