Warren Haynes’ band Gov’t Mule have made a tradition of epic New Years Eve shows at New York’s Beacon Theatre. Last year they did three full sets of covers of other artists (as “Grateful Mule”, “The AllMule Brothers,” and “The Mule” [The Band]). And for 2016, they paid tribute to the long list of musician who left us this year, covering Leonard Cohen, Prince, David Bowie, Leon Russell, Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings, Merle Haggard, The Eagles (for Glenn Frey), Parliament Funkadelic (Bernie Worrell), Earth, Wind & Fire (Maurice White), The Black Crowes (Eddie Harsch), and Emerson Lake and Palmer (Keith Emerson and Greg Lake). Whew!
Follow all our Best of 2016 coverage (along with previous year-end lists) here.
2016 in music will be most remembered for one thing: death. It seemed like an unprecedented list of major musical figures left us this year: David Bowie, Prince, Merle Haggard, Leonard Cohen. The list, sadly, goes on and on.
Prominent passings affect many aspects of the music world, but the impact is particularly clear in the world of cover songs: When an artist dies, a lot of people cover his or her songs. The world was hardly hurting for Prince covers before April 21, but afterwards, to paraphrase the man himself, we went crazy. Bruce Springsteen alone became a one-man tribute machine, covering Bowie, Prince, The Eagles’ Glenn Frey, and Suicide’s Alan Vega after they died (it’s a shame his tour ended before Cohen passed because he’d do a great “Everybody Knows”). Our list this year features a number of these tribute covers – though both the Cohen covers listed were actually released before his death, proving there’s no need to wait to honor one of the greats.
Our list also features fantastic final covers by the recently departed, brilliant song-interpreters like Sharon Jones and Allen Toussaint. The fact that they died may add extra meaning to these new songs, but they’d make the list regardless. Whether they performed wonderful covers or wrote wonderful songs for others to cover, we miss these artists because they were great. They don’t need any “death bump.”
The year wasn’t all dire though. Our list features many covers by and of artists who are alive in every sense of the word. Kendrick Lamar and Drake represent the new world of hip-hop, Kacey Musgraves and Sturgill Simpson in country, Animal Collective and Joyce Manor in indie rock, and in too many other genres to name. Jason Isbell currently holds a streak here, making his third consecutive appearance this year.
We also have plenty of artists whose names I won’t highlight here, because you probably won’t have heard of them…yet. We’re not in the business of predicting fame – the music industry is far too fickle for that – but some of our past best-cover winners have gone on to big things this year, like Chance the Rapper (2014 winner) and The Weeknd (2012 winner). Hell, Sturgill (#3 in 2014) just got an Album of the Year Grammy nomination!
Those early covers may have helped kick off such success. A revelatory cover song can help a musician attract early attention. When I interviewed Mark Mothersbaugh recently, he said no one understood what Devo was doing until they covered “Satisfaction.” A familiar song done Devo-style finally made the connection for people. “Whip It” and other original hits would not be far behind.
Maybe some of this year’s under-the-radar names will go on to Weeknd-level superstardom. But even if they don’t, all these covers, by household names and Garageband geeks alike, deserve recognition. We’ll miss all the great musicians who left us this year, but it’s gratifying to see so many promising younger artists coming in to fill their shoes.
– Ray Padgett, Editor in Chief
(Illustration by Sarah Parkinson)
PS. Last year in this space, I mentioned I’m writing a book about cover songs. Well, Cover Me (the book, that is) is finished and will be out next year! In addition to the aforementioned Mothersbaugh, I interviewed Roger Daltrey about “Summertime Blues,” David Byrne about “Take Me to the River,” and many more. Follow our Facebook for updates on preorder, etc. Now, on to the countdown…
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?
Last year we here at Cover Me said that we like our occasional long holiday weekends too. This year, it still goes. Enjoy some US of A-centric covers, and have a safe and happy Fourth of July celebration!
When we think back to this year, we might remember 2011 as the year that the whole concept of the “cover album” became more fluid, and not always for the better. Thanks to the increased prominence of sites like Bandcamp and Soundcloud, a cover album could be conceived, recorded, and shared in the space of a weekend. This didn’t necessarily lead to better cover albums, but it certainly led to more of them. They came in all formats – digital, CD, vinyl, and even cassette-only – and from all directions – labels, blogs, and even some magazines.
Which, we like to think, makes this list that much more helpful. In a year where the biggest single-artist cover album we got came from William Shatner, it proved a particular challenge to dig through the many obscure artists and assorted tributes and extract the gems. Gems there certainly were though, be they from newcomers making an impression with their favorite songs or old-timers honoring groups that influenced them decades ago. It may have taken a bit more work to find them, but the end result is as strong a selection as we’ve seen.
Continue to page 2 to read the list…
Yesterday we saw Grace Potter and Sharon Jones roar through an Otis Redding song, and last night, as promised, they returned with another cover. This time they took their duet to The Tonight Show with Jay Leno to promote a charity concert organized by Tonight Show bandleader Rickey Minor. Jones’ Daptones peer Charles Bradley joins in this time, as does the Youth Orchestra of Los Angeles.