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!


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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May 072012

Contemporary English folk artist Laura Marling is fresh coming off the first leg of her tour as support for Andrew Bird. She just played Coachella and has added additional U.S. West coast dates to her tour. Marling is on the road performing tracks from her latest release A Creature I Don’t Know, a bit of a heavier and more personal album then her previous. Back in the Fall of 2010, we enjoyed Marling’s work with Jack White covering Neil Young’s “The Needle and the Damage Done”. Continue reading »

Mar 142011

The Stray Cats led a rockabilly revival in the early ‘80s, infusing the ’50s genre with a punk sensibility to create a movement that persists today. Following the breakup of the Cats in 1984, bassist Lee Rocker has continued to pursue music, both as backup for musical luminaries like George Harrison, Carl Perkins and Keith Richards, and as a solo artist. For his latest release, The Cover Sessions EP, he recorded six tracks by artists like the Beatles, Elton John and the Allman Brothers.

Rocker’s result, while enjoyable, doesn’t break much ground. He gives the opening track, The Beatles “Come Together,” the biggest makeover. Stripping the song of its trademark bass riff, he powers it instead with harmonica and a quick guitar pulse over a steady shuffle beat. Together, it complements John Lennon’s proto-rap verses surprisingly well. He deconstructs the chord progression in the chorus as well, without losing the punch of the original. Continue reading »

Jan 172011

January 2011 looks to be a big month for cover albums, with big-name artists dropping new ones left and right. Perhaps everyone was waiting for the Christmas season to be over. Last month, non-holiday covers were a rare breed indeed. After umpteen “The First Noel” and “Last Christmas” covers though, some blues and rockabilly tunes prove as refreshing as a rum and coca cola. Continue reading »