Oct 312017
 
gregg allman cover

The histories of the Grateful Dead and the Allman Brothers Band have long been intertwined. The two bands shared the stage numerous times in the 1970s. They covered some of the same songs over the years. Heck, they even shared members, with singer/guitarist Warren Haynes and bassist Oteil Burbridge both playing with the Allmans and various latter-day Dead spinoffs.

Gregg Allman adds a new chapter to this legacy with his cover of the Dead’s “Black Muddy River” on his posthumous studio album Southern Blood. Written by Jerry Garcia and Robert Hunter, the history of “Black Muddy River” runs deep through Deadhead lore. The tune is a dark elegy, filled with longing for times past, but with maybe a bit of hope in the end. In Blair Jackson’s 1995 biography Garcia: An American Life, Hunter said that the song “is about the perspective of age and making a decision about the necessity of living in spite of a rough time and the ravages of anything else that’s going to come at you.” Continue reading »

Jan 042017
 
govt mule beacon

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! Continue reading »

Dec 162016
 

Follow all our Best of 2016 coverage (along with previous year-end lists) here.

best cover songs

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…

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Jul 102015
 

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!

tmbg

It’s hard to believe, but Flood, the breakthrough third album by They Might Be Giants, was released over a quarter of a century ago. Even harder to believe: John Flansburgh and John Linnell, the founders of the band, were only just getting started. They’ve since released another three dozen albums (counting compilations and live albums), won two Grammys, performed the theme songs for both Malcolm in the Middle and The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, released the very first all-MP3 album by a major-label band (1999’s Long Tall Weekend), seen three of their children’s albums go gold, and sold more than four million records. Oh, and we can’t forget their pioneering Dial-A-Song phone line.

Yes, the two Johns know their stuff – and it shouldn’t be surprising that they know their cover songs as well. One of their signature songs is “Istanbul (Not Constantinople),” and it’s a good bet many of their fans don’t know that the Four Lads sang it first, in 1953. They’re not half bad on a few others, too…
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Mar 132015
 

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 you consider their longevity, the sheer number and variety of their live performances, and influences as diverse as bluegrass, country, soul, rock, psychedelia, blues, and jazz, it is likely that the Grateful Dead may have recorded and/or performed more covers than any other band that is best known for its original songs. (There’s probably a wedding band out there that has a bigger songbook, but that’s not really the point.) Grateful Dead fans have been trading and cataloging their favorite band’s performances since long before the idea of digital music and the Internet even existed, and now there are numerous databases available online — one of which shows 343 separate covers performed by the band (and solo projects and offshoots), including soundchecks and performances with guests.

Therefore, it is somewhat surprising that Cover Me has never turned its lovelight directly on the Grateful Dead. We have written numerous times about covers of Dead songs, but a quick review of the archives indicates that only three covers by the band have been featured—Bob Dylan’s “Desolation Row” and Merle Haggard’s “Okie From Muskogee” and “Mama Tried.” So, that leaves us a mere 340 to choose from today. To make this project (inspired in part by Phil Lesh’s 75th birthday this Sunday and by the recent announcement of the band’s 50th anniversary shows in Chicago this summer) somewhat less insane, we will limit ourselves only to recordings or performances by the Grateful Dead, proper — no solo projects or anything from after the death of Jerry Garcia.
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May 242013
 

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

Every day, more music is released. Most of it will be quickly forgotten, some of it will resonate with an audience, and a very, very small percentage will be listened to for years to come. An even smaller subset can fairly be said to embody a particular moment in time. Surrealistic Pillow, the second release by the Jefferson Airplane, is one of those special albums. Released in early 1967 by a group of hippies who also happened to be extraordinary songwriters and musicians, it is both a classic and a reflection of its era.
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