Feb 142017
 

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

sean

Sean Balkwill makes his home in North Carolina. He’s been writing for Cover Me since 2013, and has also served as the site’s art director. Of all his Cover Me essays, he especially likes his pieces on Glen Hansard and the Replacements, both of which feature Sean’s artwork.

When I thought of the idea of writing about the personal connection to cover songs, I thought it would be great to also extemporize on the question, “What is a cover song?” So I’ve decided to write about a list of songs that changed the way that I looked at cover music itself, both on a personal level and on a wider trek to define what a cover song is. Here’s my thoughts…
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Oct 072015
 

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).

Today’s question, from Cover Me staffer Raphael Camara: What’s a cover song you like by an artist you dislike?
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Aug 052015
 
ramonesweek

Full Albums features covers of every track off a classic album. Got an idea for a future pick? Leave a note in the comments!

rocket-to-russia

Now, this’ll be a straight walk-off, old school rules. First model walks; second model duplicates, then elaborates. – David Bowie, Zoolander

If Ramones was the Ramones setting the pace, and Leave Home was them duplicating it, then Rocket to Russia was the moment where the Ramones refined their musical approach to an absolute peak. They had perfected their loud fast rules, and were able to expand on them without abandoning them. They varied their tempos, landing hooks with their slow songs just as easily as with their fast ones. They sounded better than ever, with a production budget nearly twice as much as that of their first two albums combined. And they did two cover songs instead of their usual one.
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Jan 102012
 

D’Angelo may not be familiar to some of our youngest readers, but his neo-soul album Brown Sugar peaked at #4 in 1996 on Billboard’s Top R&B Albums. It is also listed by Rolling Stone on the “Essential Recordings of the ’90s” and in Tom Moon’s 1000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die  and Robert Dimery’s 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die. He has only released one album since then (2000’s Voodoo) and hasn’t toured or interviewed. Needless to say, his supposedly soon-to-be-released James River has many on the edge of their seats. So when a track of D’Angelo doing a “cover” of Soundgarden‘s huge alt-rock single “Black Hole Sun” leaked last week, the internet was buzzing. Continue reading »

Aug 052011
 

Johnny Cash. He was many things in life and remains many things in legacy. One of the most important figures in the history of country music; a devoutly religious rebel; a black-clad troubadour; a classical paradox of a man. Throughout his career, he was defined by songs that were, all at once, violent and mournful, steady in sound and chaotic in spirit.

Cash walked the line (pun intended) of a brilliant and tumultuous time for country music and for popular music in general – the line between standards and covers, between singers and songwriters and singer-songwriters; between rebellion and redemption. The very concept of covers emerged from the dawn of the singer-songwriters, the folks whose songs were first and foremost associated with them. Gone, in most arenas of popular music, were the songs that every artist would take on to earn their chops and pay their respects.

Country music was one of the few genres where standards held strong alongside original material and covers remained the norm, alongside blues and folk and other such tradition-based music. As the years pass, though, traditions change and musicians are faced with new challenges and questions. Does an artist keep on recording songs written by their contemporaries? Do they take on new music from musicians generations younger than them? Do they stick to the themes and styles that their reputations were built on in the first place? Many artists trembled at the challenge, many faltered; but Johnny Cash, with his American Recordings series, had one answer to all of these questions: yes.

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers served as Cash’s backing band on Unchained (American II), and Petty had this to say (from an Uncut interview) of the eclecticism that came to define the American series:

It was incredible. He was an interesting artist because he’s pictured as a country artist, but he wasn’t necessarily completely in that bag, you know. I always thought of him as a folk artist. Because he knew so much about folk music. And the country that he performed wasn’t really much like any other country that you’d heard. It was an unusual thing, his bag was pretty wide.

Released over the course of just over fifteen years, including two albums released posthumously, the American series remains a landmark not only in Cash’s career and in the history of country music, but in all popular music. All at once, it was old and new, traditional and revolutionary.

For those who aren’t altogether familiar with Cash’s music (or at least his American-era music), the distinguishing track of the series would seem to be American IV’s cover of Nine Inch Nails’ “Hurt.” While there is an inescapable accuracy to the assessment, it’s a limiting view and one that could likely cause folks to miss out on the enormous variety of the series.

While “Hurt” isn’t representative of the entire series of albums, it does indeed serve as a mark of distinction. As a whole, the albums reflect on many themes – remorse and violent anger; hopelessness and hope; loss and love and longing; fear and faith. Between the canonical series and Unearthed‘s four discs of outtakes, Cash covered everything ranging from the Beatles to Bob Marley, from Simon and Garfunkel to Neil Young to Biblical hymns and timeless ballads. With the covers in the vein of “Hurt,” however, Cash attacks his classic themes in entirely new ways. He retains his distinctive sound, both vocally and instrumentally, but he lets that sound sink its teeth deep into a different kind of source material.

Cash treats the American series with something of a slow-burning approach. As it is, “Hurt” seems like a radical cover four albums into the series, but the progression to American IV and beyond it shows the greatness of Cash’s covers to be as much a matter of timing and context as anything else. This is not a statement to diminish the covers, but rather to diminish the distinction between a Cash cover and a Cash classic. There is none.

Cash’s takes on newer music (new being relative to the vast span of his career and to the genres he takes on), fitting and transformative as they may be, are not wholly representative of the American series. They capture an aspect of his work’s progression, his consistent ability to do new things after half a century of making music, but they are not alone in doing so. He approaches the work of his contemporaries and his more direct heirs with the same care and the same familiarity as he brings to the more dramatic changes.

May 112011
 

Bob Marley died 30 years ago today. Given how thoroughly Marley’s laid-back rhythms permeate music today, it’s hard to believe it’s been that long. The reggae sound seems to creep into everything these days, from popular hip-hop to blog-friendly beach-pop to the soul revival. Continue reading »