Who but Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton can divide Americans quite like Taylor Swift? Practically anything she does gets scrutinized and overanalyzed, becoming fodder for conspiracy theorists and internet trolls. On Friday, Swift seemingly broke the internet again when she unleashed a banjo-infused, country cover of Earth, Wind & Fire’s classic “September” as a single on Spotify. Judging by the reactions of her fans and detractors, you’d think she had either discovered the Holy Grail or desecrated the Shroud of Turin.
In Defense takes a second look at a much maligned cover artist or album and asks, “Was it really as bad as all that?”
It’s clear that many people despise the erroneously titled Punk Goes cover compilation series. Much has been said and written about how awful they are. Yet, just like the emo and pop-punk genres generally, they are wildly popular with teenagers despite not getting any critical respect. Since the series began in 2000, there have been 17 volumes and over two hundred songs released in the series. In the U.S. the cover series has sold one million albums, nine million tracks, and it streams in the hundreds of millions. But most people out of high school seem to hate them.
Well, I’m here to defend some of these as great cover songs. I’m an insider, you could say – I was the Fearless Records salesperson behind nearly all of these albums. During my 13 years at the California independent label, I was the head of sales and also served as general manager. I didn’t contribute to the Punk Goes compilations as a curator or A&R. My role was to make sure the albums and tracks had the best positioning at major retailers like Target, Best Buy, iTunes, Amazon, etc.
Neil Young recently cancelled his Pearl Jam Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction speech due to illness (he’s reportedly fine now). While he takes a break though, new Neil covers keep rolling in. Two particularly great ones have surfaced in the last month, tacking a pair of Young’s loudest and most fiery songs.
First up, composer Teho Teardo and singer Blixa Bargeld (of Einstürzende Neubauten/Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds fame) cover “Hey Hey, My My” on their new EP together Fall. A weird and wonderful production, it brings together bass clarinet, musical saw, and a six-piece string section under Bargeld’s mesmerizing line readings. It’s one of the best Neil covers we’ve heard in recent years, surprising and unexpected.
If pop songs could die, this is what I imagine their souls would sound like.
Those are the only guiding words enigmatic artist Radiochaser offers on his social media pages – and with that single sentence, he perfectly encapsulates the nature of his music.
Rather than keep the blaring feel-good vibes of the tunes he covers, the NY-based musician opts for exposing the raw emotion behind each piece, expertly stripping them down and reworking them into a haunting blend of stirring guitar acoustics and serene, ghostly vocals – resulting in chilling covers of Taylor Swift, Carly Rae Jepsen and Selena Gomez in the style of a Radical Face or Bon Iver track.
Piqued your interest? Radiochaser has mine.
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Everywhere but here, the world of cover and tribute albums tends to be a sleepy one. Most years our “Best Cover Albums” list is composed of records that either flew totally under the radar or, at best, earned a few news posts on music blogs. There’s the “all star” tribute albums that make a brief mark before being largely forgotten. And there’s the big-name artists whose cover albums get seen as a side project before their next “real” albums. That’s just the lot you sign up for when you release an album of cover songs most years.
But most years don’t have Ryan Adams.
Even though they do sound similar, the thought of Ryan Adams – a guy known for intense genre-hopping, releasing albums like a song factory, and being an all around cool guy – being a Taylor Swift fan seemed unlikely.
Apparently, he’s a fan. Enough of a fan to cover her newest record, 1989, in its entirety.