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.
A newly elected, telegenic-but-polarizing, anti-establishment Republican president. A charged political climate on both sides of the Atlantic. A backlash from progressives in the music and entertainment community. Sound familiar? Yes, folks, we’ve seen this before!
As Ronald Reagan stepped on to the world stage in 1981, Martyn Ware, Ian Craig Marsh, and Glenn Gregory were readying their eventual UK gold-selling debut album Penthouse and Pavement. Keyboardists Ware and Marsh, recently split co-founders of the Human League, joined with fellow Sheffield native and vocalist Gregory to form a new synth-pop outfit named for a fictional band from the novel A Clockwork Orange. Their first single, the frenetic “(We Don’t Need This) Fascist Groove Thang,” became a Top 30 US dance club hit in 1981, but not before being banned by the BBC in the UK over concerns of libel, in particular for the line “Reagan’s president-elect/Fascist god in motion.”
The classic track features Gregory’s velvety vocals over high beats-per-minute electronic percussion, combined with funky guitar, “slap” bass, sax, and synth effects. The still-active band’s website tells us that the song became NME’s record of the week while happening to mention, albeit as comic denunciations, the words “fascist,” “Hitler,” and “racist.”
Time has inspired a handful of musically evolved cover versions. The more recent attempts, if not (ironically) from Germany, do include some updated political sentiments. As it stands…
Follow all our Best of 2016 coverage (along with previous year-end lists) here.
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…
Our resident Gleek Eric Garneau looks back at a season of covers. If you didn’t watch the show, see what you missed; if you did, relive the high points.
If you’re like me (and I know some of you are), you might have thought Glee floundered for most of its second season. As one of my friends put it, most of the episodes were like “the first season on steroids” in that all of the characters and plots were taken to their ridiculous extremes. In perhaps the most egregious example, the season opener “Audition” had Rachel act on her jealousy by tricking her rival into going to a crack house, presumably so she’d get roughed up by junkies. That’s a pretty embarrassing event on which to hinge a plot.Continue reading »
Every Wednesday, our resident Gleek Eric Garneau gives his take on last night’s Glee covers.
Last night’s Glee would fall into the category of “a very special episode,” except that the show often takes on issues typically relegated to after-school specials. Still, as the title promises, “Blame it on the Alcohol” features the glee club from McKinley High dealing with that particular temptation in exaggerated ways. Responding to increased incidents of public drunkenness from students, Principal Figgins assigns the club to perform an anti-drinking number during a school assembly. Meanwhile, Rachel’s parents leave town and, looking to “live a little,” she throws one of those wild teenage parties that usually only happens in TV shows (and where most of the actors are well past their teenage years).Continue reading »
Live Collection brings together every live cover we can find from an artist. And we find a lot.
Hailing from Chicago, IL, the Smashing Pumpkins helped blaze a trail for the wave of apathy that infected most ’90s alternative rock. They also gave hip kids from the Midwest the first nationally-recognizable band they could take pride in since Cheap Trick. Formed in 1988, the Pumpkins enjoyed over a decade of fame and influence until noted in-fighting brought about their dissolution at the turn of the millennium. After numerous side-projects and member-shuffling, the Pumpkins have once again taken to the stage under the leadership of Billy Corgan, perhaps one of rock music’s true auteurs.
The Pumpkins have celebrated their diverse influences via cover songs throughout their career. A quick scan of their recorded catalog reveals studio takes of tracks originally by acts like the Cars, Van Halen, Alice Cooper, the Cure and Missing Persons. Their live shows are similarly peppered with covers that one might not expect to hear from these iconic slackers. Some of these do seem like a natural fit though: it’s not too hard to draw a line to the Pumpkins from Neil Young, Depeche Mode or Pink Floyd, for instance.Continue reading »