Cover Classics takes a closer look at all-cover albums of the past, their genesis, and their legacy.
People frequently think of the Ramones as being goofball one-trick ponies, fit more for T-shirts than turntables. This grossly misrepresents their point and their purpose, never mind the debt they pay to whole swathes of earlier, largely ’60s music. Like no other punk band, the Ramones brought back the energy and the intuition up into a future (now the past) that both honors and updates those motifs. And this never became clearer than on 1993’s Acid Eaters, where many of the songs sound like they were originals that “da brudderz” wrote. Even if you know the originals forwards and backwards.
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.
You know the story – on August 15, 1969, an estimated 400,000 people coalesced on Max Yasgur’s dairy farm in upstate Bethel, New York, for “3 days of Peace & Music” at a music and art fair that ultimately defined a generation. Today marks the golden fiftieth anniversary of Woodstock, and to celebrate the occasion, the staff at Cover Me are going “back to the garden” to wrap you in the Top 50 covers performed by the legendary artists who graced the stage during that long weekend.
The first big film to to emerge in the post-Bohemian Rhapsody biopic boom is Rocketman. Compared to the Queen movie, critics like Rocketman better (somewhat), fact-checkers call it more accurate (somewhat), and LGBT advocates praise it for more honestly addressing the star’s sexuality (somewhat). Also – and hopefully this is unrelated – it has fared worse at the box office. Again, somewhat worse; it’s done fine, but does not seem to be the smash Bohemian Rhapsody was.
Unlike Queen, though, Elton John didn’t really need a mega-blockbuster to return to the public eye. He never left (after all, it’s hard to look away from clothes that sparkly). The farewell tour he launched last year will take him through 2020, and 2018 also saw two tribute albums featuring megawatt performers: from Lady Gaga to Ed Sheeran on the pop one, Miranda Lambert to Willie Nelson on the country one. For Elton, the Rocketman biopic is just the latest tribute in a career full of them.
And nowhere has tribute been paid more often than in the world of cover songs. From his second, self-titled album onward (no one covers songs off his 1969 debut), Elton’s songs have been covered constantly. Hell, Three Dog Night released their cover of that second album’s “Your Song” a month before John’s original even came out. Though artists inevitably gravitate towards the huge hits, John’s songbook boasts a long tail, with even some relative deep cuts generating classic covers. So this month we count down the thirty best Elton John covers ever.
Best so far, at least. At the rate he earns tributes, it won’t be long before the next batch lands.
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!
A band that’s been in business for more than two decades can be expected to change their sound a few times. With Of Montreal, though, it’s about more than sounding different. It’s about seeing the world a whole new way. Kevin Barnes founded the band, and over the years has led a score of other musicians. Together, they’ve explored worlds of folk and psychedelia, theatrical and celestial, amusement and misery. They’ve done so with such purpose that it’s become a part of what draws their fans.Continue reading »
The Strokes’ Is This It songs have been covered to death, so musicians are digging deeper. We heard a killer Angles cover in April from Billie Eilish (more on her in a minute), and now singer-songwriter Andrew Combs takes on this Room on Fire track. His own music leans Nashville Americana, but from the crazy horns here, sounds like he’s been spending time in New Orleans.Continue reading »