Many musicians, unable to go on the road, have taken to performing concerts in their home in the past week. Personally, I have spent a huge amount of time watching various these live streams. The performances have been moving and powerful, an unusually intimate way to see some of your favorite musicians.
Many such shows have included covers, songs that feel right to sing right now, like John Lennon’s “Isolation” or Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” So I decided to round up some of my favorites below.
Unfortunately, many live stream platforms don’t archive the content, so if you miss it live, it’s gone (another reason to watch these streams!). But plenty of great covers have remained online. Check ’em out below, and let us know in the comments what others we shouldn’t miss.Continue reading »
In the back of Houston’s folk music club The Sand Mountain Coffee House in the late 1960s hung a mural in full view of the artists performing. It paid tribute to five of the best songwriters of the day: Townes Van Zandt, Guy Clark, Jerry Jeff Walker, Don Sanders, and Mickey Newbury. It was to this spot – where Townes lived upstairs, where Jerry Jeff wrote “Mr. Bojangles” – that Steve Earle made a pilgrimage from San Antonio in order to meet Van Zandt. Earle not only met the troubled troubadour, but began a life-long friendship that resulted in naming his firstborn son Justin Townes Earle, and, in 2009, the release of Earle’s tribute album Townes, covering many of his greatest songs.
After meeting Townes, Steve left Houston and headed for Nashville in search of another one of his idols, Guy Clark. He found him in the back room of a bar playing pool. Here, history seemed to repeat itself as the two met and became very fast friends with Earle quickly joining Guy’s band as the bass player. And now, in 2019, ten years after the release of Townes, Steve Earle is set to release a set of his favorite Guy Clark songs, simply called Guy.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.
Two of the albums on this year’s list have similar titles: This Is Not Our Music and These Are Not Mine. Clever titles for collections of cover songs, sure, but misleading. Not your music? Why not? Songs are anyone’s for the singing. Even if a song’s lyrics or chord sequence didn’t first spring from a certain performer’s brain, that doesn’t mean he or she has any less claim. The great cover performers make the songs theirs, no matter whose they were before.
The twenty records below each contain numerous examples of artists doing just that. The songs may not have started out as these artists’ – but they are theirs now.
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 »
Mick Jagger turns 75 today, three decades past his famous 1975 benchmark: “I’d rather be dead than sing ‘Satisfaction’ when I’m 45.” Mick’s still singing “Satisfaction” today – and so are a lot of other people. So what better way to celebrate his birthday than with a countdown of the best covers of Rolling Stones songs of all time?
But we’ve never pulled it all in one place until today. Just as we did for Fleetwood Mac, Pink Floyd, Beyoncé, and Talking Heads, we’re counting down the best covers of Rolling Stones songs ever. The length beats Floyd’s forty-song record; we’ve got fifty Stones covers, from A (Albert King) to Z (Zydeco, Buckwheat). The Stones have been covered in all eras, all genres, and by all sorts of people. By the time you read this, the next all-time-great Stones cover might well have landed.
You can’t always get what you want, as the man once said – but if you click on, you just might get what you need.