Dec 062016
 
best cover songs

Over the past few months, we’ve been hard at work making our list of The Best Cover Songs of 2016. Narrowing it down to 50 caused some excruciating choices, that’s how many great covers there were this year.

We’ll be posting the full list next week (and “Best Cover Albums” this Thursday), but as a little appetizer, here are our Honorable Mentions, covers we loved and still wanted to spotlight as among the best 2016 had to offer. Continue reading »

Oct 042016
 
VanMorrison

Van Morrison earned his first record deal by covering Bobby “Blue” Bland’s “Turn On Your Love Light” with his band Them, and ever since Bland’s music has been important to him. He covered Bland’s “Ain’t Nothin’ You Can Do” on seminal live album It’s Too Late To Stop Now, and even dueted with Bland in 2007 on a new version of “Tupelo Honey.” “I can’t put into words the phrasing and the way he interprets a song,” Morrison said upon Bland’s death in 2013. Continue reading »

Aug 082016
 
DSC_9327-980x654

This year marks the 40th anniversary of The Band’s legendary The Last Waltz final concert and to celebrate, NYC’s Lincoln Center hosted an all-star tribute concert Saturday night. Held down by Levon Helm’s longstanding Midnight Ramble Band, special guests included Bob Weir of the Grateful Dead, Lucinda Williams, Patty Griffin, and even Dr. John, reprising the song he sang at the original Last Waltz. Continue reading »

May 152015
 

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

Maybe it is too facile to say that Van Morrison’s second solo album, Astral Weeks, is respected, while its follow up, Moondance, is loved. We looked at Astral Weeks about a year ago, so there’s no reason to repeat that here, but it’s clear that Morrison took a very different approach with the two albums, both of which have entered the rock pantheon as classics (for example, both albums were inducted in the Grammy Hall of Fame and Astral Weeks is 19 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Albums of all time; Moondance was ranked 66.) But while the older album is revered as a work of art, you actually heard (and still hear) songs from Moondance on the radio. Astral Weeks failed to chart, and no singles from the album were released, but Moondance reached 29 on the Billboard Pop Album chart, and had three singles released.

Astral Weeks is considered to be a unified song cycle or a concept album, filled with stream of consciousness lyrics. The musicians that were recruited mostly had jazz backgrounds, and Morrison encouraged them to improvise after hearing Morrison play the songs on an acoustic guitar. Despite critical acclaim, it received little commercial airplay and limited support from the label, Warner Bros.

After recording Astral Weeks, Morrison and his wife moved into a mountaintop house near Woodstock, in upstate New York. He began to write the songs for Moondance and recruited local musicians for the recording sessions. Although, like with his previous album, there were no formal written charts, Morrison focused this time on shorter, more upbeat and optimistic songs with accessible song structures, in part influenced by another group of Woodstock area residents, The Band. It also was greeted with great reviews, but garnered significantly more radio airplay and immediate sales than its predecessor. And, I would argue, few albums have a stronger first side (when that mattered) than Moondance (“And It Stoned Me”/”Moondance”/”Crazy Love”/”Caravan”/”Into The Mystic”), and side 2 isn’t shabby, either.
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Aug 042014
 

An expanded version of this article – with a new Lenny Kaye interview! – appears in my new book ‘Cover Me: The Stories Behind the Greatest Cover Songs of All Time’. Buy it at Amazon.

Before there was a song called “Gloria,” there was a poem called “Oath.” And the transition from one to the other might never have happened without forty bucks and one loud bass note.
Continue reading »

Jun 202014
 

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

Astral Weeks, insofar as it can be pinned down, is a record about people stunned by life, completely overwhelmed, stalled in their skins, their ages and selves, paralyzed by the enormity of what in one moment of vision they can comprehend. — Lester Bangs, 1979

I was so shocked when I was teaching a seminar at Princeton just a couple years ago, and out of 16 students, four of them said their favorite album was Astral Weeks. Now, how did it enter their lives? We’re talking about an album that was recorded well before they were born, and yet it spoke to them. They understood its language as soon as they heard it. — Greil Marcus, 2009

To paraphrase the singer of “Sweet Thing,” Astral Weeks is dynamite and we don’t know why. The album Van Morrison created in his early twenties has detonated in more psyches than thousands of better known works, but when its biggest fans try to explain its greatness, more often than not, their tongues get tied every time they try to speak.
Continue reading »