This year’s cover albums offered ambition on a scale we’ve never seen before. Moving beyond the normal “cover a bunch of random songs we like” tossoff, 2012 offered deeply thought-out conceptual collections. One updated kiddie folk songs for raved-out rockers, others reworked complete albums to their own ends. Even the all-star tributes that pop up every year aimed higher – one of the year’s most high-profile had 70+ tracks! So today we count down the best of the bunch, the ones that swung for the fences and got there. With every passing year there seems to be less sigma attached to the phrase “cover album,” and these sets move that needle even farther forward.
A little less than a year ago, we over here at Cover Me couldn’t help but gush over Catherine A.D.’s delicate, weep-inducing take on Bon Iver‘s “The Wolves (Act I and II).” Since then, Cover Me has stalked her page and covered five of her covers. Needless to say we’re fans and couldn’t be more excited for her next covers release. Between finishing up at university and her debut full length album that’s due out this winter, Catherine A.D. found some time to put together all of her reworkings and covers for her album Reprise.
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!
In some respects, KISS embodies the quintessential American band, or at least the quintessential American four-piece rock group. You can take that assertion a number of ways, depending on how cynical you’re feeling. Perhaps if you’re not particularly a fan of the group – like many critics these days, one might guess – you could argue that their crass and unending commercialism speaks to American values in a way that no other act has mastered so purely. But that would miss two important points about this New York City foursome: one, that they’re a seriously important group that had a huge effect on the music industry and culture in general, and two, that a lot of their music rocks really, really hard.
Download This scours the web’s dark corners for cool cover freebies. View past installments.
Originally a solo project of frontman Chris Chu, The Morning Benders quickly evolved into a full-fledged quartet. They relocated from Berkeley to Brooklyn a couple of years ago and, with the assistance of Grizzly Bear’s Chris Taylor, recorded their critically acclaimed second album, Big Echo. Even the notoriously fickle folks over at Pitchfork loved the bright, atmospheric pop of the album, adding it to their “Best New Music” list.
Never ones to hide their influences, the band recorded a collection of covers shortly before their departure from the West Coast and posted it as a free download on their blog. The Bedroom Covers features, suitably, a collection of lo-fi, low-key acoustic versions of a cross-section of pop tunes. The song selection won’t surprise you, but there’s something refreshing about seeing a young band that has an appreciation for musical history.
This year marks the 20th anniversary of the release of the Phil Spector collection Back to Mono (1958–1969), the landmark set that compiles all of the early productions by the one-in-a-million wunderkind. Phil Spector’s abhorrent personal life and criminal history notwithstanding, the man’s influence on American music is indisputable.
So much in music circles back to this now-infamous sociopath. Music seems to channel Spector now more than ever: She and Him spearhead a resurgence of doo-wop sounds; Best Coast rebuild the Wall of Sound in fuzzier, shoegaze form; and, while it is no longer 1999, there are still millions of teenage generations to come that will have to see Top Gun and download the song all over again. So let’s celebrate the music that defined a generation and changed the landscape of popular American music forever. Here are five of the most well-known and oft-cited covers of classic Phil Spector productions. Old and new, these tracks have contributed to the ongoing resurrection of the Wall of Sound.
You’ve probably heard that last week Phil Spector was finally sentenced for second-degree murder in a verdict that surprised no one. Now sure, it’s easy to make fun of his eccentric courtroom hairstyles, but that makes it no less sad that such a man has sunk so far. Arguably the most favorite producer ever, Spector built an empire with his “Wall of Sound,” churning out hit after hit. The stories of his obsessive need for perfection in the studio are the stuff of legend, him driving artists to the brink of exhaustion to reproduce what he had in his head. Many of his classic girl group tracks are given new interpretations below, as well as some of his more surprising work doing albums like Let It Be.
Glasvegas – Be My Baby (The Ronettes)
Perhaps the quintessential Spector production, the original is a pop masterpiece. It’s been covered from everyone from John Lennon to We Are Scientists (which you can get at this Girl Groups post, with many other Spector covers), and here Scottish foursome drenches the pep in reverb, sounding like a pleading breakdown. [Buy]
Bruce Springsteen – Then She Kissed Me (The Crystals)
For the opener of one of the final shows on last year’s Magic tour, Bruce surprised everyone by doing a cover he hadn’t done since ’75, a slightly gender-altered take on the Crystals classic. Check out the stadium-sized roar when he starts singing and the crowd realizes what it is. Thirty-four years later, it hasn’t aged a bit. Speaking of Springsteen, I’m seeing him in Boston tomorrow and Wednesday. Here are two Bruce posts to celebrate. [Buy]
Frurk – Rock ‘n’ Roll High School (The Ramones)
The fact that the Ramones picked Spector to produce them for End of the Century is bizarre, and one wonders how they put up with his famous eccentricity. This song in particularly is noteworthy for the eight hours Spector had Johnny Ramone play the opening chord to get it perfect. One chord, eight hours. Listen to the original and see if it was worth it, then come back for this slowed-down lo-fi take. [Buy]
The Ramones – Baby I Love You (The Ronettes)
In a tribute to Phil Spector’s production, it’s nice to actually post a track that was produced by Spector. When Spector produced the Ramones, it seems he couldn’t resist throwing a track he produced twenty years prior at ‘em. Here he tries to navigate the difference between punk and girl groups, bringing out Joey Ramone as a real singer in the process. [Buy]
The Morning Benders – He’s a Rebel (The Crystals)
A strange fact about many of Spectors’ groups is that he held the rights to their name, so he could have recorded Donovan and called it “The Crystals” if he wanted. While he never went that far, guess who wasn’t on the Crystals’ only number one hit…the Crystals! Not wanting to wait for the group to return from touring to record this new song, Spector used Darlene Love and the Blossoms on this track. Word has it that the Crystals heard their hit on the radio one day and, needless to say, were quite confused. [Buy]
Gladys Knight and the Pips – Let It Be (The Beatles)
Trying to cover the Beatles is an idea best avoided. Unless you’re Gladys Knight, in which case you can bust the hell out of any song you please. When it begins, you might think you’re in for a reasonably by-the-numbers cover. And you would be wrong. Hold on to your eardrums, cause voices like this don’t come along every day. [Buy]
Jeff Mangum – I Love How You Love Me (The Paris Sisters)
The man behind indie legends Neutral Milk Hotel released Live at Jittery Joe’s a few years back, showcasing a concert from 1997 where through audience requests he worked through early versions of songs that would end up on In the Aeroplane Over the Sea. [Buy]
David McComb & Adam Peters – Don’t Go Home With Your Hard-On (Leonard Cohen)
Leonard Cohen doesn’t write many stupid songs, but I guess even poet gods need to let lose sometime. So enter this little instructional ditty from the Spector-produced Death of a Ladies’ Man to remind you, “You can’t melt it down in the rain.” Because apparently that’s something you might want to do. [Buy]
The Saints – River Deep Mountain High (Ike & Tina Turner)
Spector caused a stir in 2007 when during his euology for wife-beater Ike he said “Ike made Tina the jewel she was. When I went to see Ike play at the Cinegrill in the 90s…there were at least five Tina Turners on the stage performing that night, any one of them could have been Tina Turner.” He then continued by attacking Oprah for promoting Tina’s autobiography. Another sign that Phil Spector may not be the authority on how a man should treat a woman. All Covered in Punk features vintage groups covering everything from Blondie to Frank Sinatra. Here we find a brawling Saint’s b-side from ’77 resurrected in all its fuck-you glory. [Buy]
Phosphorescent – You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’ (The Righteous Brothers)
A heartbreaking live one here, the slide acoustic cracks in the voice. The mood is apparently lost on the asshole laughing in the background and I’m not sure the sing-along chorus helps the vibe. If there’s ever a studio version released of this, I want to be the first to know. [Buy]