Dec 122014

Follow all our Best of 2014 coverage (along with previous year-end lists) here.

Back when we redesigned the site in 2010, we created basic star icons to represent the ratings we’d give an album when we reviewed it. 2 stars, 3.5 stars, etc. When we posted an album review, we’d find the corresponding icon where we last uploaded it. However, earlier this year we couldn’t find one of the icons we were looking for. Why? It turns out we’d never used it. We’d never before given an album a perfect five stars.

This year, for the first time, we did. Which should suffice to say it’s been an excellent year for cover albums. True, a few of the marquee tributes we most eagerly anticipated fell flat, either too formulaic (The Art of McCartney) or too out-there (that Flaming Lips’ Sgt. Peppers tribute we’ll never speak of again). But in the cracks and under the radar, cover and tribute albums thrived.

In our list of the twenty best, we’ve got everything from big names on major labels to DIY projects thrown up on Bandcamp. We’ve got New Orleans jazz, Parisian dub reggae, and songs that were popular when your great-great-great-great grandfather was calling town dances. Something for everyone, I guess. Something for all our fwends (sorry, that was the last time, promise).

Start the countdown on Page 2…

Welcome to Cover Me Q&A, where we take your questions about cover songs and answer them to the best of our ability.

Here at Cover Me Q&A, we’ll be taking questions about cover songs and giving as many different answers as we can. This will give us a chance to hold forth on covers we might not otherwise get to talk about, to give Cover Me readers a chance to learn more about individual staffers’ tastes and writing styles, and to provide an opportunity for some back-and-forth, as we’ll be taking requests (learn how to do so at feature’s end).

Today’s question: What’s a song you didn’t know was a cover song?
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With the possible exception of Martin Scorsese, no movie director has been more closely identified with his soundtracks than Wes Anderson. He has consistently selected songs by well-known artists that, through no fault of their own, have become three-quarters forgotten over the years, and reintroduced them to the world as the classics they had always been. If someone calls a song a prime candidate for the next Wes Anderson soundtrack (Guilty!), an instant and accurate picture is created. The soundtracks show a cohesion that’s rare in these days of we-want-a-hit soundtracks, where the earmarked smash doesn’t play until the final credits have started rolling, and they have become high points in the experience of watching Anderson’s movies. Now the American Laundromat Records label has collected covers of some of those high points on I Saved Latin! A Tribute to Wes Anderson, resulting in the best tribute album of the year.
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Cover Classics takes a closer look at all-cover albums of the past, their genesis, and their legacy.

I heard the music as if for the first time. I listened all the way through in one sitting and was struck by how beautiful a lot of the music was. Petra’s approach is so tender and generous. I adore it. – Pete Townshend

It’s unlikely that the ringing in Pete Townshend’s ears was ever louder than the ringing endorsement he gave Petra Haden Sings: The Who Sell Out. An a cappella recreation of the entire 1967 album, it features Haden’s vocals and more of Haden’s vocals, not only singing the lyrics, not only the between-song jingles, but all the instrumental passages. What can’t be perfectly duplicated (people have enough trouble capturing Keith Moon’s sound with a full drum kit) is suggested; Haden gets the feel of the album and gets it across to the listener. The masterful result brought plaudits from Townshend (“I felt like I’d received something better than a Grammy”) and critics alike. Not bad for someone who’d never heard the album before she began recording it. Continue reading »

Five Good Covers presents five cross-genre reinterpretations of an oft-covered song.

Dun. Duh-nuh. Dahn. Dah-nah. With that fanfare for the common mod, four lads from London announced their arrival on the music scene, asserting themselves as a powerful voice even as they admitted to not knowing how to say what they wanted to say.

When the Who released “I Can’t Explain,” Pete Townshend may not have achieved the levels of self-expression he would find, but his ability to connect with his audience was already fully formed – there were thousands of listeners who knew exactly what it meant to feel hot and cold down in their souls. And if that opening Kinks-ian riff didn’t drive the message home, the drumming of a still-teenaged Keith Moon did the trick, in a way that had never been heard on the radio before. “I Can’t Explain” would have been a tremendous explosion for any other group; for the Who, it was simply the lighting of the fuse. Continue reading »

This week, Cover Me celebrates Freddie Mercury 20 years after his passing. Read Part 1 here.

On April 20, 1992, one of the most impressive collections of musicians ever assembled for one show gathered together to pay tribute to Farrokh Bulsara, better known to the world as Queen frontman Freddie Mercury, who had passed away due to complications from AIDS some six months before. Today, as we approach the 20th anniversary of his passing, Cover Me looks back at this monumental concert event, a celebration of covers and of one of the most unique talents ever to grace the performing arts. Continue reading »

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!

Eclipsed by Elvis Costello in the late 1970s and relegated to the cut-out bins by the late 1980s, Graham Parker probably ranks as one of the most overlooked and unappreciated singer-songwriters of his era. It’s impossible to review Parker’s career without repeatedly stumbling over the same adjectives: passionate, bitter and sarcastic are common; or the same clichés: “angry young man”, “Mercury poisoning”, or even “own worst enemy.” Apparently radio only had room for one quirky, bespectacled, British pub rocker (Costello) and Parker probably was correct in his summation regarding his label, “their promotion’s so lame, they could never take it to the real ball game.” There were seemingly many factors conspiring to keep Graham Parker stuck in his cult status. Continue reading »

When we last spoke about the Gaslight Anthem’s mostly-covers iTunes Sessions EP, it was slated to drop in December. An early leak has since caused the label to push up the release to next week though. In advance of that, you can hear their cover of Tom Petty’s “Refugee.” Continue reading »

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