Oct 232019
 

Some covers are more equal than others. Good, Better, Best looks at three covers and decides who takes home the gold, the silver, and the bronze.

Roadhouse Blues covers

For a song that began its life as a B-side and never charted higher than halfway up Billboard’s Hot 100 chart, the Doors’ “Roadhouse Blues” has made a significant impact on popular culture since its debut in 1970. It’s been covered more than 35 times, by artists ranging from Bon Jovi to Lana Del Rey to Frankie Goes to Hollywood. Speaking of Hollywood, the song was featured prominently in the Winona Ryder movie Girl, Interrupted and the Patrick Swayze movie Road House, and it even inspired the title for Season 2, Episode 1 of the Netflix series The Punisher.

Contrast that with the A-side, “You Make Me Real,” which isn’t even listed on secondhandsongs.com. While similar in feel, but with more of a honky-tonk sound and brighter vibe, the A-side has garnered no movie, way fewer covers, and no series episode titles. That’s because “Roadhouse Blues” is quintessential Doors: more congruent with Jim Morrison’s dark and brooding persona, hinting at danger with a pretty stern admonition to “keep your eyes on the road, your hands upon the wheel” right out of the gate, and the implicit promise that what lies beyond the danger will be well worth the risk.

With that sort of appeal, it’s no wonder that “Roadhouse Blues” eclipsed its flipside and became the more popular choice to cover. Many covers are faithful to the original, often bordering on straight-up re-creations. Other artists manage to find the means to adapt the song to their own styles. Of these versions…
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Sep 172019
 
cover songs 1969

This marks the fourth year I’ve done a big anniversary countdown (after 1996, 1987, and 1978). It also proved to be the most challenging. There were a lot of covers released in 1969. In fact, according to covers-and-samples database WhoSampled, there were more than in any of the other years we’ve done. Their database lists 3,110 covers, which is surely still a small fraction.

The reason for the cover song’s proliferation seems clear to me after going through them all: Popular bands released a lot more music back then. Aretha Franklin released two albums in 1969. So did The Byrds, Elvis Presley, Joe Cocker, Johnny Cash, Johnny Winter, and Nina Simone. Creedence Clearwater Revival and Merle Haggard released three albums apiece. James Brown topped them all with four. To get that kind of output, artists would pad their albums with covers. Every 1969 album by every artist I just mentioned includes at least one cover. Many include several. A few are all covers. It adds up.

Impressively, many of those covers reinterpreted songs that had come out within the previous year. This entire list could easily have been “Hey Jude” covers. “Wichita Lineman” and “Light My Fire” came up constantly too (the latter song slightly older, but it had hit the charts again in 1968). Even songs from 1968’s soundtrack to Hair got covered endlessly in 1969.

Even beyond “Hey Jude,” Beatles covers dominated the year. I’m not going to go back through the entire 3,110 covers and count, but if you told me Beatles covers made up a full half of those, I wouldn’t be shocked. Add Bob Dylan covers to that side of the scale and it’s probably true. Beatles songs got covered in every conceivable genre for every conceivable audience. Jazz and swing and folk and proto-metal Beatles covers everywhere the eye can see. Plenty of people cover the Beatles these days, sure, but trust me: It’s nothing like it was in 1969.

So wheedling all those down to the top 50 proved incredibly difficult. But it means this is maybe the top-to-bottom strongest set thus far, and it killed me to leave some off (that’s why our Patreon supporters will get a set of 69 bonus tracks – so join now).

One note: I left off Woodstock performances. For one, we counted down the 50 best covers performed there last month. But more importantly, most people did not actually hear those covers until the movie and soundtrack came out in 1970. Jimi Hendrix performed his iconic Star-Spangled Banner – pretty much everyone’s top cover of the weekend – to a nearly empty field. Most of the audience had left before he punched in at 9 AM that Monday morning. That said, several of the classic covers performed at Woodstock were released as singles or on albums the same year – including Joe Cocker’s “With a Little Help from My Friends” – and those studio versions make this list.

Now, let the sunshine in with the 50 best covers of 1969.

The countdown begins on page 2…

May 112018
 

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

doors la woman covers

I was 14 in 1971 but I was already forging my interests in music around the UK chart show Top of the Pops and the bigger cooler boys at school. The Doors seemed to cut across both of these parameters and now, some 47 years on, I cannot believe my luck that a record I bought and loved then is still one I play and love now. Oh that all my then purchases were so prescient!

Their sixth and final studio outing, L.A. Woman found the Doors pulling back to basics after some significant setbacks. Having been blacklisted from radio and from many live venues – due to Jim Morrison either swearing on stage or showing his dick (often both) – this was a last-ditch attempt to bring the band back from the brink of dwindling returns. The fact that Morrison was by then hoovering up industrial quantities of booze did not bode well. Nor did erstwhile producer Paul Rothchild walking out mid rehearsals, dismissing the band as “cocktail music.” Continue reading »

Apr 122018
 

In Pick Five, great artists pick five cover songs that matter to them.

juliana hatfield covers

Juliana Hatfield is an old hat at making an unlikely song her own. Earlier this year, she made both our Best Cover Songs of January and March roundups. A couple years before that, her version of “Needle in the Hay” was a high point of a Wes Anderson tribute album. A couple years before that, she released a terrific self-titled covers album of her own. I mean, how far back do we want to go here? Hell, she even made our Best Cover Songs of 1996 list! Suffice to say, she knows how to crush a great cover.

That’s why we were so excited to hear about Juliana Hatfield Sings Olivia Newton-John, which comes out tomorrow. It more than lives up to our high expectations. Hatfield takes on hits like “Physical” alongside plenty of deep cuts that prove this is not some gimmick; she’s a genuine fan. Continue reading »

Jan 262018
 

In the Spotlight showcases a cross-section of a famous musician’s cover work.

joe perry covers

Aerosmith’s Joe Perry is no stranger to covers. During his 47-year run as lead guitarist for “America’s Greatest Rock and Roll Band,” Perry and his Aerosmith mates have taken on dozens. Not surprisingly, most, like the band itself, are rooted in R&B with a few Beatles tracks thrown in for good measure. Their long list of covers can be seen here.

For the most part, Joe’s been consistent with a similar formula both as leader of The Joe Perry Project (during two separate stints) and as a solo artist. But as we’ll see, up to and including his latest album, Sweetzerland Manifesto – released last week – one could argue that his personal choices have been a bit more adventurous… Continue reading »

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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