Though Dolly Parton originally wrote and recorded “I Will Always Love You” as a country song, Whitney Houston’s R&B-blast cover has become the gold standard (there’s a chapter about it in my new book about covers). It’s become a staple of American Idol contestants and overly ambitious karaoke singers. The bigger, the belt-ier, the better. No one can top Whitney, but everyone seems to try.
In a refreshing change, Efya takes the song in an entirely different direction. A star in her native Ghana, she actually also got her start in a televised talent show, but you wouldn’t know it from the subtlety and taste she shows here. Accompanied by only a keyboard and African “talking drum,” she strips the song way back in a new live recording for Okayafrica. By tweaking the melody and rhythm, she transform the song into something dark and mournful. When she finally does open up at the end, the vocal power feels totally earned.Continue reading »
Ever since I started this site, friends and readers have suggested that I should write a book about cover songs (surprisingly, a comprehensive book doesn’t really exist). For years, I resisted. “That’s like saying ‘I’m going to write a book about original songs’,” I’d snarkily reply – i.e., that’s a stupid idea. Cover songs seemed too broad a category. There’s no grand unifying theory of cover songs to fit tidily between two book covers; it’s too big and messy and wonderful a tent for that.
After years of saying no, I finally came up with the solution. I wouldn’t write a book about cover songs – instead, I would write a book about twenty specific cover songs, and through those twenty covers, a broader narrative would emerge.
The story of covers as traced in Cover Me involves artistic triumphs and music-industry shenanigans. It touches on trends in record-making, music videos, and the internet’s impact on music (did you know the first viral song was a cover?). There are beautiful moments of unlikely artists coming together, and some uglier instances of exploitation and racism. Every major change in the music industry since the advent of rock and roll finds some expression in the world of cover songs.Continue reading »
It’s an uneasy feeling knowing that one of the most powerful voices of your generation is now gone. Listening to Chris Cornell’s music, just a day after his death, and realizing that the living soul behind some of the most heavenly music we will ever hear on earth is gone leaves a major void in all of our souls. There are so few artists who create and perform with the talent, ingenuity, and depth of feeling that Cornell possessed. Losing someone who has had so much impact on generation upon generation, and especially knowing that he could have had many years of creating and performing left to gift to us, is heartbreaking to say the least.
Going back through the immense library of covers Cornell has performed throughout the years is like listening to the soundtrack of a movie starring every major artist and group in music history. Few singers could equally convincingly cover the Beatles, Whitney Houston, and Michael Jackson – let alone sway us into favoring the cover over the original in some cases. Cornell could. Cornell even graced our top covers of 2015 with his rendition of Sinead O’Connor’s “Nothing Compares to You.”Continue reading »
Back in 2012, when news of Whitney Houston‘s death came out, there was a massive outpouring of love for her work. Her legendary career and persona had an effect on music fans of all ages and backgrounds. There were tributes, vigils, and in at least one case, an impromptu dance party.
Justin Keller, the artist behind the band Land of Leland, recently recorded his version of Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)” but the story behind the song goes all the way back to the day the news of Houston’s death broke.Continue reading »
Follow all our Best of 2014 coverage (along with previous year-end lists) here.
A few months ago, I read an interesting interview with an artist named Nouela. You probably haven’t heard of her, but you may have heard her music. She’s become a specialist in a weird but growing niche: covers recorded for movie and television trailers. Whether doing a piano “Sound of Silence” to promote a new HBO show or a brooding “Black Hole Sun” to promote Liam Neeson punching people, she’s found a quickly-growing way of getting her covers out there.
It struck me as part of a growing trend we’ve seen. More and more great covers seem to come from unexpected places. Sure, you’ve got still your standby sources, your b-sides, tribute albums, and radio shows. But new avenues for covers have increasingly crept in. This year saw a Sam Smith cover that is only available to hear under Grey’s Anatomy dialog (thankfully he’s recorded a few live versions too) and a whole covers album recorded to plug a Canadian TV show. Brands have fully embraced covers too, most recently My Morning Jacket’s “This Land Is Your Land” recorded for North Face ads, or Charli XCX and Bleachers trading covers for Kia.
We don’t care where they originated when we make our year-end lists, though, and we would up with some of everything. In our top five alone, we’ve got a live radio session, a deluxe-edition bonus track, and a cover hiding in plain sight on one of the most acclaimed country records of the year. You have to keep an eye on more places than ever to spot the best covers these days. Wherever they come from, we’re glad to have ’em.
Click on over to page two to begin our countdown, and thanks for reading.