Sep 092020
 

Under the Radar shines a light on lesser-known cover artists. If you’re not listening to these folks, you should. Catch up on past installments here.

Mathilde Santing

As a teen back  in the ’80s, I was completely, 100% besotted with the music magazines coming out of the UK. I loved the glossies like Smash Hits, No.1, and Record Mirror, as well as the weeklies, specifically NME and Melody Maker. I would read them cover to cover, simultaneously ogling the heartthrobs and making lists of what I wanted to buy based on the reviews (or, okay, someone’s haircut). It was through these endless piles of paper that I first got wind of The Associates, The Smiths, and Kate Bush, all of whom I ended up maniacally worshipping (and writing still-unanswered fan letters to). And of course, as there was no such thing as streaming at that point, the reviews in these mags were often the determining factor as to whether or not I would buy a record. My teen funds were meager, so there was often a lot riding on how convincing the review was. It was in one of these magazine reviews that I first stumbled upon Dutch singer Mathilde Santing.

Santing began her solo career in 1982 with the release of a self-titled album featuring an eclectic mix of standards, Rodgers and Hammerstein amongst them, and pop tracks by the likes of the Beach Boys and mad genius Todd Rundgren (hold that last thought, it will be important later!). As quietly adventurous as the track listing was, there was no question as to what the album’s real strength was — Mathilde Santing’s extraordinarily warm, elastic, gorgeous voice.

Santing’s next album, 1984’s Water Under the Bridge, marked something of a turning point in her career, though it wasn’t clear-cut at the time. Gone were the covers, replaced instead by original material of the jazzy, intermittently quirky, ’80s indie pop variety. While focusing on originals was the standard move for a young pop singer, the album turned out to be something of a swan song for Santing; it ended up being her last consisting solely of original material. With a handful of exceptions, from this point forward, it was all about the covers.

It was over a review of her next album that Santing first caught my eye and subsequently hooked me for the foreseeable future. While 1987’s Out of this Dream sported a small cluster of really fine originals, more than half the songs on the album were covers. Upon seeing the track list, I instantly recognized her as a kindred spirit, a total music nerd soul sister. There were songs by Squeeze and Tom Waits. There was a Dionne Warwick deep cut. The album opened with, yes, a Todd Rundgren track. It was a very “wait a second, I love these artists and songs too ” moment, and from that point on (though she didn’t know it), we were officially pop music nerd-bonded. I bought the record and was instantly impressed with her exquisite vocal performances, how she sang these majestic and melodic tunes with such reverence and passion. And maybe most thrillingly, it was unerringly cool to hear a girl so convincingly singing these songs written by boys.

To date, Santing has released 21 albums and counting (a mix of studio, live sets and compilations), and between those and her innumerable live performances, she’s covered upwards of 150 songs. She’s offered up stellar versions of tracks by everyone from ’80s pop auteurs and thinking girl faves like Scritti Politti and Aztec Camera to melodic maestros like Nilsson and Randy Newman, as well as those of evergreen legends like Joni Mitchell. It should be noted that she is especially fond of Todd Rundgren and is in league of her own as far as covering his catalog which is to say, in terms of quality Todd covers, no one on the planet does it better.

To this day I remain both awestruck and impressed by her song choices as well as just plain psyched that there’s another girl on the planet who is as infatuated with these specific artists, these one-man-band, post-pop weirdos and cult heroes with their very particular melodic sensibilities.

And now please enjoy this handful of highlights spotlighting some of the finest and coolest covers by master interpreter and unabashed pop fan Mathilde Santing.
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Jun 192020
 

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!

While The Isley Brothers are commonly filed under Soul or R&B, that categorization only partially reflects what they have delivered soundwise since the release of their first album way back in 1959. We all know how this works: basically, whatever genre your biggest hits fall into will then by default define who you are to the world forevermore. And because their most popular songs are of the soul shouter-disco/funk-quiet storm variety, they have been conveniently stuffed into the singular genre of Soul/R&B. But in the case of the Isleys, this cut-and-dried categorization is exceptionally misleading. Which is to say, while their ’60s hits “This Old Heart of Mine (Is Weak For You) and “Shout Pts. & 2” remain their highest ranking tracks in terms of Spotify plays, they are hardly reflective of the true, signature Isley sound, a perfect melding of topical Rock & Soul that remains unmatched to this day. Make no mistake (and with all due respect to their former Motown label mates, The Temptations and The Four Tops), The Isley Brothers were a proper band. Like The Beatles or The Stones. A classic old school, turn the amp up to 11, self-contained, smokin’, genre-defying band.

This is just a roundabout way of saying  if you want to know what the Isleys are really about sonically and philosophically, it’s best to avoid the greatest hits playlists and head straight for the string of positively seminal studio albums the band released from 1971-1976. There were 6 in total over that time, beginning with Givin’ It Back and running on through to 1976’s Harvest For The World. It is there you will meet O’Kelly, Rudolph, Ronald, Ernie, Marvin and Chris Jasper, the real Isley Brothers.
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Apr 142020
 

a tribute to keith emerson and greg lakeI confess to hovering over this one a while, ahead of taking a bullet for the team. Don’t get me wrong, I am a huge fan of Emerson, Lake & Palmer. Or rather, I was, and therein lies the problem.

It was nigh half a century ago that I made my first purchase of an LP record; that was none other than Pictures at an Exhibition, and boy oh boy, was I keen on the energetic bombast. It wasn’t then long before four of my first ten vinyl records were by ELP — I snapped up the eponymous debut and, then, on their release, Tarkus and Trilogy. I lapped up every inky page I could about them, relishing in my membership of an elite. Those Yes acolytes could take a jump, Emmo was king and that was that. And Lake, well, he was in the band, so, clearly, he was the tops too. How could 100,000 spotty boys be wrong? As for John Peel, custodian of the nation’s counter culture tastes: “a waste of electricity”, huh, what did he know? I even went to see them, cramming into the dismal aircraft hangar of Earls Court in London with innumerable facsimiles of myself, enduring the dire acoustics and excessive volume, telling myself, and anyone else in earshot, just how good was this.
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Feb 122020
 

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!

Michael McDonald

When it comes to cover versions, blue-eyed soul man extraordinaire and erstwhile Doobie Brother Michael McDonald (who turns 68 years old today) has primarily focused on the beautiful, ineffably perfect Motown canon, recording two albums solely dedicated to the label, Motown and Motown Two. Both were enormously successful and reignited a career which had pretty much flatlined through the entirety of the nineties. After the success of those two albums, he decided to push the boat out a little further and so in 2008 released Soul Speak, an odd mix of old rock classics and Stevie Wonder tunes with a few new originals added in for good measure. It could best be likened to one of the Rod Stewart standards albums, but for cooler people (Sorry, Rod, but… yeah).

Conversation regarding McDonald’s performances on these three albums has been well-trod at this point, and while they undeniably feature some real highlights, facts are facts: some of McDonald’s best and most eclectic covers have been of the one-off variety. The selections below run the gamut from traditional reverence to joyfully weird and are all 100% McDonald.
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Nov 202019
 

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

song at your funeral

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 your favorite cover song of the 2010s?
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Oct 162015
 

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

XTC is a difficult band to wrap your head around. Known initially, if at all, for quirky, jerky syncopated new wave songs, they slowly began to change into a band known for lush, intelligent pop songs heavily influenced by the Beatles’ psychedelic period. And, like the Beatles, XTC stopped performing live at what was, to that point, the height of their popularity. Having seen them in action just about a year before they quit touring in 1982, I can attest to the fact that they were an excellent live band. XTC has a devoted and creative fanbase, with exhaustive fan sites and a remarkable number of fan-generated tribute releases, which we will delve into in great detail below.
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