The Band’s “Christmas Must Be Tonight” has always stood apart from the standard Christmas songs playing on the radio and in stores around this time of year. The song feels very loose and raw, a sharp contrast to the typical seasonal fare. It’s also completely free of sleigh bells or gimmicks, instead driven by all the same musical elements found in most of The Band’s best songs. Claiming “Christmas Must Be Tonight” as your favorite Christmas song is like claiming Die Hard as your favorite Christmas movie: yes, it’s technically Christmas-related, but really it’s just a great standalone product.
Full Albums features covers of every track off a classic album. Got an idea for a future pick? Leave a note in the comments!
One thing I’ve noticed since Tom Petty’s death, one year ago today, is that he’s been re-appreciated as an album artist. Unlike many of his peers, he never had a world-conquering Born in the U.S.A. or Rumours. His best-selling album – by far – is 1993’s Greatest Hits. But when icons pass, their catalogs get re-assessed.
Some have made the case for Damn the Torpedoes or Full Moon Fever as the best Petty album, and those two – one recorded with the Heartbreakers, one sounding like it might as well have been – certainly offer quintessential Petty-brand rock. But as a complete album statement, Wildflowers tops the list for me. It had a few radio-ready hits – didn’t they all? – but on the whole it presented a softer singer-songwriter side of Petty, harmonies and strummed acoustics subbing in for the big arena-rock choruses.
So, though we’ve paid tribute to Petty before, on the one-year anniversary of his death we wanted to complete a project that we’ve been working on for a while: giving Wildflowers the Full-Album treatment. One roadblock that previously kept us from completing this was that, as in so much of Petty’s career, the hits loomed large. We found ourselves with hundreds of “You Don’t Know How It Feels” covers to choose from, but nothing for some deeper cuts.
So, to quote a band Petty revered as much as any musician, we got by with a little help from our friends. Two of the below songs are exclusives recorded just for this, the first covers – the first good covers, at any rate – of several lesser-known gems. Having songs like this sneaking under the mainstream radar is proof that Petty was, in the end, an album artist as good as they come.
They Say It’s Your Birthday celebrates an artist’s special day with covers of his or her songs. Let someone else do the work for a while. Happy birthday!
Steve Earle turns 63 today. He’s one of the all-time great Americana/roots-rock/alt-country/whatever-you-want-to-call-it songwriters, and one who has successfully stepped out of the Nashville hit machine grind he started in to one of those “distinguished statesman” careers many of his Guitar Town-era peers no doubt envy.
In addition to his own songwriting, he records fantastic covers. His tribute album to early mentor Townes Van Zandt was quite moving, and the early-rock covers on his album with Shawn Colvin in 2016 were terrific (check out “You Were On My Mind”). He gave The Wire a season’s theme song covering Tom Waits’ “Way Down in the Hole” while acting on the show too as a recovering addict (hardly a stretch). And, my personal two favorites, he delivers arguably the definitive versions of Warren Zevon’s “Reconsider Me” and Randy Newman’s “Rednecks.”
But it’s his birthday, so we’ll let him take a well-earned break. Instead, we’ve rounded up our favorite covers of other people doing his songs. His recordings make ideal cover sources in the same way Bob Dylan’s or Tom Waits’ do: brilliant songs delivered by limited-appeal voices. It’s no surprise that “better” (or at least less divisive) country singers cover Earle constantly; Emmylou Harris alone has covered a half dozen of his songs. So we’ll start there.
Five Good Covers presents five cross-genre reinterpretations of an oft-covered song.
The closing track of Bob Dylan‘s (greatest?) album Blood on the Tracks, “Buckets of Rain” has little of the invective that colored other songs on the album; it’s a long way from the “idiot babe” in “Idiot Wind” to the “honey baby” found here. Dylan’s saddened, but he’s also very tender to the one he’s addressing. They’ve swept up the ashes of their relationship, and now they’re looking at each other with rueful smiles, permitting themselves to feel both the love they still have and the pain it still brings. It’s no fun, but they do what they must do, and they do it well.