Jun 152020
 

In Memoriam pays tribute to those who have left this world, and the songs they left us to remember them by.

Ella Fitzgerald

Ella Fitzgerald, “the First Lady of Song,” the “Queen of Jazz,” or simply “Lady Ella,” got her first big break at an Amateur Night at the Apollo Theater, a place where many stars first got their start (Diana Ross & the Supremes, Aretha Franklin, and Lauryn Hill, to name but a few). She went on to have an almost 30-year-long career, recording over 200 albums and collecting many awards, including 14 Grammys (making her the woman with the fifth most overall), the National Medal of Arts (given by President Ronald Reagan), the Presidential Medal of Freedom (given by President George H. W. Bush), and internationally, admission into France’s Order of Arts and Letters. She even got her own stamp and was featured in the Google Doodle.

Fitzgerald was a trailblazer. She was the first African American woman to win a Grammy for Best Vocal Performance and Best Jazz Performance and the first woman to be nominated for Album of the Year during the first-ever Grammy awards in 1959. Eight years later, she became the first woman to win the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.

She collaborated with many others musicians throughout the course of her career (as we’ll see below), often making old songs her own. Despite her popularity and her status as a major jazz influencer, Fitzgerald still faced discrimination (she once was arrested backstage at her own show). Fitzgerald had powerful advocates though, including Marilyn Monroe, a big fan who used her popularity to advocate for Fitzgerald to perform at a popular club, Mocambo.

Today, on the anniversary of her death and in her memory, we listen to covers of some of her originals (for the cover sticklers) and covers of her own covers (although arguably she popularized these tunes). Before reading on, I encourage you to listen to Fitzgerald’s response to Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination, a song called “It’s Up to Me and You.” Her message, “let’s not hate and let’s not wait,” rings true today.

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Apr 272018
 

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

fleetwood mac covers

Lindsey Buckingham is out of Fleetwood Mac for reasons that, a few weeks later, remain as enigmatic as many of the band’s best songs. He was fired – or quit? – amid reports that he wanted to work on a solo album while everyone else wanted to tour. This after reports a couple years ago that he wanted to do a Fleetwood Mac album and Stevie didn’t. Their professional lives today are as complicated and messy as their romantic ones once were.

And let’s be honest: He’ll be back in a few years for a dramatic “reunion tour.” But why wait that long to celebrate this great band? We decided to use the excuse of the recent news to pay tribute to one of the most cover-able bands of all time. And lord knows we’ve paid tribute before, full album tributes to Rumours and Tusk and much more (a bunch of links a the bottom).

But now, just as we did with the Talking Heads last month, we’re looking at the entire catalogue, ranking the top thirty covers of Fleetwood Mac songs from any album or era. There’s no specific Lindsey-focus or anything. Though the majority of songs are from the the classic lineup (including a number from Lindsey’s passion project Tusk), a handful come from the band’s blues beginnings before he or Stevie joined. If the record sleeve said “Fleetwood Mac,” it was fair game for artists to reinterpret – and boy, have they ever. Without further ado, thirty artists who listened carefully to the sound, then played the way they felt it. Continue reading »

Mar 112016
 

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

americanbeauty

In 1970, Wally Heider’s San Francisco recording studio was the percolating epicenter of the psychedelic rock universe. The Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, David Crosby, Graham Nash, Neil Young, and Carlos Santana shared this transcendent studio space, which Phil Lesh classified as “jammer heaven.” This was where the Grateful Dead’s American Beauty was born.

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Dec 172015
 

Follow all our Best of 2015 coverage (along with previous year-end lists) here.

CoverMeBestSongs2015

I didn’t realize it until I began laying out our post, but this year’s Best Cover Songs list shares quite a few artists with last year’s. And some that showed up here the year before that. Jack White’s on his fourth appearance. And Jason Isbell and Hot Chip not only both reappear from last year, but have moved up in the rankings.

Though we’re always on the lookout for the new (and to be sure, there are plenty of first-timers here too), the number of repeat honorees illustrates how covering a song is a skill just like any other. The relative few artists who have mastered it can probably deliver worthy covers again and again.

How a great cover happens is something I’ve been thinking a lot about this year as I’ve been writing a series of articles diving deep into the creation of iconic cover songs through history (I posted two of them online, and the rest are being turned into a book). In every case the artist had just the right amount of reverence for the original song: honoring its intention without simply aping it. It’s a fine line, and one even otherwise able musicians can’t always walk. Plenty of iconic people don’t make good cover artists (I’d nominate U2 as an example: some revelatory covers of the band, but not a lot by them). Given the skill involved, perhaps it’s no surprise that someone who can do a good cover once can do it again.

So, to longtime readers, you will see some familiar names below. But you’ll also see a lot of new names, and they’re names you should remember. If the past is any guide, you may well see them again next year, and the year after that.

Click on over to page two to begin our countdown, and thanks for reading.

– Ray Padgett, Editor in Chief
(Illustration by Sarah Parkinson)

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Jul 162015
 
watkins_family_hour2

For thirteen years, siblings Sara and Sean Watkins – best known as two-thirds of Nickel Creek – have been hosting a monthly “Watkins Family Hour” concert in L.A. Frequent collaborators include Fiona Apple and the Heartbreakers’ Benmont Tench, and they and more have finally recorded a debut album due out next week. It’s all covers, and the closing track is especially timely with the Grateful Dead just wrapping things up last week: the Dead’s American Beauty classic “Brokedown Palace.” Continue reading »