The first of a couple Beatles covers this month, AURORA’s “Across the Universe” doesn’t reinvent the wheel, it just removes a few spokes. The Norwegian singer-songwriter strips everything away but keys and a bunch of voices (there’s a guitarist too, though barely audible). It’s all the song needs.Continue reading »
Two things strike me as I scan through our list this year. This first is that many of the highest-ranking covers are tributes to recently-deceased icons. No surprise there, I suppose. But none actually pay tribute to artists that died in 2018. They honor those we’ve been honoring for two or three years now – your Pettys, your Princes, your Bowies. Hundreds of covers of each of these legends appeared in the first days after their deaths, but many of the best posthumous covers took longer to emerge.
Good covers take time. That principle – the cover-song equivalent of the slow food movement, perhaps – holds true throughout the list. Sure, a few here appear to have arisen from sudden moments of brilliance, flash-arranged for some concert or radio promo session. But many more reveal months or even years of painstaking work to nail every element. Making someone else’s song one’s own isn’t easy. These 50 covers took the time to get it right.
In Memoriam pays tribute to those who have left this world, and the songs they left us to remember them by.
The world of rock lost a uniquely talented songwriter on December 6th, when Pete Shelley died of a heart attack, aged 63. He was best known as the lead singer, guitarist and principal songwriter of Buzzcocks, a late-’70s Manchester band that brought the fierceness of punk to catchy guitar pop, or possibly the other way around. Continue reading »
Al Green – Before the Next Teardrop Falls (Freddy Fender cover)
Sorry, Beyoncé; the biggest surprise release of the year might be Al Green’s sudden return after a decade away. Well, not totally away; he still conducts weekly services at his Memphis church and, when I attended, was liberally sprinkling quotes from “Love and Happiness” and “Take Me to the River” into his sermons. Best of all: This Freddy Fender cover sounds like Al hasn’t lost a step. It’s apparently a one-off, but hopefully recording it will whet his appetite to do more.Continue reading »
As we saw when we did a deep dive into his live covers, Tom Waits occasionally dips into some material that seems mildly unexpected – until you hear him sing it, when it makes perfect sense. That’s certainly true on his first recording in two years, a guest vocal on former guitarist Marc Ribot’s new album. The song is a cover of “Bella Ciao,” an Italian protest song that became a 1940s anthem in the fight against Mussolini and the fascists. Timely much?
“I played Tom a bunch of the tunes and he immediately bonded with that one,” Ribot said in the press release. “Of course, he brings a certain gravitas to everything he does – my Italian friends say he sounds exactly like an old ‘partigiano’ (resistance fighter)!”Continue reading »
In Pick Five, great artists pick five cover songs that matter to them.
In 1991, Townes Van Zandt wrote the following: “Anytime anyone asks me who my favorite music writers are, I say Mozart, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Bob Dylan, and Dave Olney. Dave Olney is one of the best songwriters I’ve ever heard — and that’s true. I mean that from my heart.”
Twenty-seven years later, Townes is gone, but Olney keeps on keepin’ on. He may not have become a household name in that time, but his reputation among his peers has only grown. Emmylou Harris has sung three of his songs. Linda Ronstadt tackled a pair herself. When Steve Earle covered Olney’s “Saturday Night and Sunday Morning,” he noted it took him four or five years of playing the song before he realized it was “so perfectly constructed that it doesn’t have a rhyme in it.” He added that Olney was “one of the best songwriters in the world.”Continue reading »