At the end of every year, we work for weeks curating our annual Best of the Year list (here’s last year’s). We’re monitoring what comes out all year though, so this month I thought: why wait? Here’s a more impulsive and spontaneous list, some songs we’ve written about already and others we didn’t get to. Just some great covers that stood out as the month comes to a close.
On our recent 25-track tenth birthday album, there was only one artist that two different musicians covered. It wasn’t the Beatles. It wasn’t Bob Dylan. It was Tommy James and the Shondells. Though, in terms of overall influence, I think many would put them in the second tier of 1960s pop bands, the songs they recorded during their initial five-year run just keep getting covered. In 1987, Tiffany went to #1 with a cover of “I Think We’re Alone Now.” She was then bumped from the top spot – by Billy Idol’s cover of “Mony Mony.” And this is twenty years past the Shondells’ heyday!
Now we’re thirty more years on, and the covers just keep coming. The latest comes from erstwhile Gossip frontwoman Beth Ditto, who roars through relatively lesser-known cut “I’m Alive” on a new single. Though written by James, the song was first recorded by 1960s R&B singer Johnny Thunder (not to be confused with 1970s punk Johnny Thunders) before James’ own Shondells got to it. In 1969, Bob Dylan called the Thunder performance “one of the most powerful records I’ve ever heard.”
Ten years ago today, I had a whim.
I was studying abroad one semester and found myself with a lot of free time – school work was light, and a college student’s budget limited my international explorations – so I decided to start a blog. A second blog actually, since for several years I had run a personal blog of concert reviews and bootleg downloads called Dylan, Etc (it had more “Dylan” than it did “Etc”). I’d fallen in love with the cover song after hearing Bob Dylan (who else) play a revelatory cover of “Summertime” on his short-lived radio show. I’d already hosted a Cover Me college radio show, and decided to expand us to the World Wide Web.
These were the days of the so-called “MP3 blog,” which included a vibrant subgenre of cover-songs blogs. That’s right, I’d like to claim credit for inventing the category, but I didn’t – not even close. RIP to Copy Right?, Cover Freak, Fong Songs, and the rest of the pioneers – and shoutout to our fellow survivors from that era, Coverville, which was releasing podcasts before most people knew what that word meant, and the folk blog Cover Lay Down, which began around the same time as us.
A lot has changed over the past decade. We’ve published 3,564 posts as of this one. Oh, and did you notice the pronoun change there? Cover Me is no longer an “I” – it’s a “we”, with over 60 writers contributing over the years. We’ve grown from an ugly Blogspot to our spiffy own domain (which is overdue for a redesign itself, frankly). And in case the large banner ads all over the site weren’t clue enough, I just released a book also called Cover Me, which – back-patting alert – Variety called “one of the best multi-subject music books to come down the pike in years.”
We wanted to do something special to celebrate our tenth birthday. And we wanted to celebrate not just ourselves, but celebrate the cover song itself. So we put together this little album Cover Me Turns 10: A Covers Tribute to Covers as a gift to our readers. We contacted several dozen of our musician friends and asked them to cover a cover. That is, to honor the many great songs we might not even know without an iconic cover – Aretha Franklin reinventing Otis Redding’s “Respect,” Quiet Riot amplifying Slade’s call to feel the noize, Prince learning that nothing compares 2 Sinéad O’Connor.
We’re honored that so many of our favorite musicians contributed, and frankly speechless at how great a job they did. So speechless, in fact, that we asked them all to introduce their own work with a few sentences. A million thanks to all of them, and also to Cover Me writer and art whiz Sean Balkwill for designing the lovely – ahem – cover. The whole thing is free to download at Bandcamp until downloads run out, and free to stream forever.
Enough chatter from me. For ten years this blog has been all about celebrating the music and we’re not going to stop now. Thanks for taking this journey with us.
– Ray Padgett
Cover Me Founder
Welcome to Cover Me Q&A, where we take your questions about cover songs and answer them to the best of our ability.
Matthew Vadnais lives in Beloit, Wisconsin. He’s been writing for Cover Me since 2015. Of all his Cover Me essays, he especially likes his reviews of the albums paying tribute to Blind Willie Johnson, Uncle Tupelo’s No Depression, and Jason Molina.
This Week on Bandcamp rounds up our favorite covers to hit the site in the past seven days.
It’s Oldies Day on this week’s edition, serving you covers of the hottest hits of yesteryear. Yeah, we’ve got Dylan and the Beatles, but we also dig up some one- or two-hit wonders like Tommy James and the Shondells and the Stoney Poneys. Get nostalgic below.