Mar 192020
 

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

violator

You Want it Darker, the title of Leonard Cohen’s farewell album of 2016, might also have made an appropriate moniker for Depeche Mode’s 1990 release, Violator. The British synthpop group had grown steadily in popularity since signing to the independent Mute label in 1980, even to the point of selling out the Rose Bowl Stadium in Pasadena (over 90,000 seats) in 1988. Yet it was when they took a more direct approach to the subjects of guilt, sin, sexual obsession, and inner torment on their seventh LP that they truly achieved a mass audience. This involved selling three million copies in the US and 15 million worldwide, in the glow of the indomitable hit singles “Personal Jesus” and “Enjoy the Silence.”

Today marks 30 years since the release of Depeche Mode’s bleak, unit-shifting masterpiece, one of the most influential records of the ’90s, and one that made #342 on Rolling Stone‘s 500 Greatest Albums of all Time in 2012. The breadth of artists who’ve covered its songs is testimony to the album’s impact. These artists span an unimaginable variety of genres on an international scale, and they provide ample justification for the band’s induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this year.
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Feb 212020
 

Cover Classics takes a closer look at all-cover albums of the past, their genesis, and their legacy.

Strange Little Girls

Wham, Steely Dan, Bette Midler, Bill Withers, Rihanna, Led Zeppelin, Madonna, Eagles, the Stones – Tori Amos has covered ’em all, and anyone and everyone left in between. (OK, maybe except maybe boybands – it wouldn’t surprise me if she tackled, say, “Back For Good” at least somewhere live, but I couldn’t find it in the pages and pages and pages of YouTube Tori Covers links.) Not necessarily successfully every time, it’s true, but always challengingly and usually well worth the ride.

Despite this evident love for the songs of others, Amos has officially issued only the one covers project, such is her own prolific muse, with well over a dozen discs of her own. (There’s also Midwinter Graces, a festive album with several traditional songs, and Night of Hunters, reimagining several classical pieces of inspiration to her over her years, but they don’t really count as cover albums.) Strange Little Girls, which came out in 2001, had a specific intent. Rather than a outpouring of personal favorites, this was a procession of songs delineating a masculine view of the world. By men and about men. With Amos’s acknowledged feminist opinions and activism, this was a deliberate stance, with the aim of subverting them and offering a female perspective thereto.
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Nov 192019
 

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

livin on a prayer covers

“Once upon a time, not so long ago,” Bon Jovi followed up their first Billboard Hot 100 single, the #1 smash “You Give Love a Bad Name,” with another number one hit: “Livin’ On a Prayer.” The second single off of Slippery When Wet , Bon Jovi’s breakthrough third album, “Prayer” is number one in many people’s hearts, including voters for VH1’s 2006 list of the Greatest Songs of the ’80s and readers of this blog.

Bon Jovi has evolved over time, continuing to produce music consistently since the ’80s and unafraid to tour through different genres, even going country and teaming up with Jennifer Nettles and LeAnn Rimes (though, to be fair, Jon Bon Jovi has been a cowboy from early on). The band just doesn’t quit; they even released a thank-you song to veterans earlier this month.

But “Livin’ On A Prayer” remains a classic. You’ve belted it at karaoke; you’ve pumped your fist to it at a wedding reception. The song speaks to the masses, and we need the song’s message just as much now as we did when it was released in 1986. A good cover of this song will channel the original’s spirited perseverance, hope in the face of adversity, and faith in the power of love to overcome all. It’s a tall order, but these five artists “give it a shot.”

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Jul 032019
 

Some covers are more equal than others. Good, Better, Best looks at three covers and decides who takes home the gold, the silver, and the bronze.

With its distinctive mandolin intro, “Losing My Relgion” is arguably R.E.M.’s most instantly recognizable song, certainly the most recognizable ahead of needing the never-more-idiosyncratic vocal of Michael Stipe to nail the ID-ing. It’s also their most successful, marking the band’s only visit into the hallowed Top Five of Billboard‘s Hot 100. My only disappointment with the song is that I find I cannot frame a Five Good Covers piece around it.

Oh, it has certainly been covered enough – upward of 77 chronicled in the covers bible, Second Hand Songs – but sadly, tragically even, most are poor anodyne recreations of the original, to my mind lacking the charisma and charm that make the original by these four Athenians such an iconic piece of work. And then there are a few that try to imbue a whole different ambience, failing pyrrhically in the process. (Yes, that’s you, Rozalla.) Throat singing death metal, anyone? Gregorian chant?

But here are three that take some liberties, yet manage to add rather than subtract from the joy inherent in the melody.
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Nov 012018
 

‘The Best Ever’ series counts down our favorite covers of great artists.

best nirvana covers

Nirvana released its first single 30 years ago today. Well, today-ish. That single was the first installment in the now-legendary Sub Pop Singles Club, so I imagine its “release date” was whatever day it landed in the mailbox for the 1,000 lucky people who got it (you can get it too, but you’ll have to drop $3,300 on Discogs).

And what was that very first Nirvana single? Whaddya know, it was a cover! The band launched their recording careers with “Love Buzz,” originally by Dutch psychedelic-rockers Shocking Blue. Not the most obvious start for the most iconic band of the ’90s (apparently it was Krist’s idea). Already a staple of their raucous live show, “Love Buzz” did represent, according to Sub Pop founder Bruce Pavitt, “an indicator of some of their direction in songwriting.”

Three decades on, that songwriting has generated a few covers of its own. “Smells Like Teen Spirit” has of course been covered thousands of times, but some other Nirvana songs aren’t as far behind as you might think. “Lithium,” “Come As You Are,” and “In Bloom” remain perennial cover selections, and “Territorial Pissings” seems surprisingly popular. (“Rape Me,” not so much.) Heck, half the artists we hear covering David Bowie’s “The Man Who Sold the World” or Leadbelly’s “In the Pines” seem to really be covering Nirvana’s MTV Unplugged versions.

So today, we continue our Best Covers Ever series by whittling down the moshing masses of Nirvana covers to the best thirty. Here we are now. Entertain us!

Honorable Mention: Nirvana – Lithium

No, not that Nirvana. The 1960s British band of the same name covered “Lithium” when they reunited in the 1990s. A cute nod, made less cute when you realize this older group had sued over the grunge band’s use of the name only a few years prior (Sub Pop reportedly had to pay them $100,000). At any rate, this Nirvana’s cover is not that good, but this psych-pop spin on “Lithium” perhaps paved the way for a much better version in the same vein a few years later. But we’ll get there… Continue reading »

Oct 012018
 
best cover songs september
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 »