Feb 072019
 
chris thile wilco cover

Sorry, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot: Wilco’s best album is 2007’s Sky Blue Sky. One of their quietest records (except when guitarist Nels Cline lets loose), and less experimental than their much-acclaimed previous efforts, it gets nowhere near the love a handful of other records too. Even the band doesn’t seem to care that much; on their most recent tour, they performed songs from YHF, A Ghost Is Born, Being There, and the two newest records more often, according to Setlist.fm (Summerteeth would have beaten it too, except they play “Impossible Germany” every night). But the album sneaks up on you, and now occasionally appears on an underrated-masterpiece list. Continue reading »

Jan 312019
 

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

best neil young covers

Neil Young released his self-titled debut solo album on January 22, 1969. Well, technically he re-released it that day. It had initially landed without much fanfare the previous November, only for Young to quickly pull it from shelves due to what he deemed a subpar mix. Even in his professional infancy, decades before Pono and the Neil Young Archives, he was a stickler for quality control.

We hope this list would pass muster with him. At 50 songs, it’s our longest to date (tied only with The Rolling Stones) and still barely scratches the surface. We could have quite easily listed the best 50 covers of “Heart of Gold” or “Like a Hurricane” alone. He gets covered about as much as any songwriter alive, and about as well too.

Neil hasn’t slowed down in his own age, and neither has the flow of new covers. Some of the covers below came out near 50 years ago themselves. Others only landed in the last year or two. No doubt another contender will arrive tomorrow. Neil never stops, and, thankfully, neither do covers of his songs. Continue reading »

Jan 312019
 
best cover songs january
Beck – Tarantula (Colourbox cover)

Few expected the movie Roma to be as big a hit as it was (it’s tied for the most Oscar nominations). Even Sony must not have, as they’re just getting around to releasing a soundtrack two months after release – and as Music Inspired By The Film Roma, i.e. must that doesn’t actually appear in the film. But Beck’s beautiful cover of 4AD group Colourbox arrives better late than never. Accompanied by an orchestra and Leslie Feist on backing vocals, he’s never sounded more like Peter Gabriel. Continue reading »

Sep 282018
 

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

I’ve been watching early episodes of Saturday Night Live recently. On the fifth episode ever – back when it bore the shorter title Saturday Night – the host was comedian Robert Klein. Two musical guests joined him: Loudon Wainwright III and ABBA.

Wainwright’s performance plays it straight, just him and his guitar on stage. With ABBA, though, the show undermines the Swedish quartet from the start. They have to perform “S.O.S.” on a sinking Titanic set, competing for screen time with Klein and some SNL writers pretending to drown in vintage dining-lounge attire. Even when the camera lands on ABBA, it waves and swoops to indicate they’re going down with the ship too.

The second performance, “Waterloo,” does them even dirtier. Before the first verse even ends, these words pop up on the screen: “Right now ABBA is lip-syncing. It’s not their fault. The tracks didn’t arrive from Sweden.” The band appears to have no idea they are being thus undermined, even as the audience titters. I’ve watched the entire first season now, and haven’t seen any other musical performer treated this way. (The individual videos sadly aren’t anywhere embeddable, but the full episode is on Hulu).

This SNL appearance neatly embodies the ABBA dichotomy. On the one hand, they were such huge stars that the show simply had to book them. On the other, they seemed so irredeemably uncool that the show felt obliged to mock them so it didn’t lose its cultural cachet. And forty-plus years on from that performance, we treat them the same way. We’ll sing and dance along to their songs – particularly after a drink or two – but only the most ardent poptimist would put ABBA anywhere but the “guilty pleasure” category.

True, the productions may be dated, and the outfits ridiculous, but at their core the songs are rock-solid. Songwriters Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus, sometimes aided by band manager Stig Anderson, penned songs that still rise above the cheese-tacular performances. And there’s no better evidence than in the thousands of genre-spanning covers. Everyone from Richard Thompson to Portishead has covered these songs – and not with a wink and a nudge either, but honestly finding timeless lyrics and melodies beneath ABBA’s very of-its-time presentation.

Cher did it too, releasing her ABBA tribute album today to piggyback on the second Mamma Mia! movie’s success (commercial success, that is, as the reviews were not kind – a true ABBA divide, there). So in honor of that, we decided to pick out the best ABBA covers ever. No, none of Cher’s make the list. But thirty other artists do. Continue reading »

Oct 062017
 
tom petty posthumous covers

Last Monday, America woke up and didn’t want to get out of bed. There was yet another senseless massacre, this time in Las Vegas. Even more traumatic for us music fans, it took place in our church, at a concert venue. Later in the afternoon, the news broke that Tom Petty had died, and, a few hours on, that Tom Petty had died a second time. It was like we were getting sucker punched over and over again.

His words made us feel better: that losing is part of life, but we should never give up hope. That the world may drag us down, but people will be there for us. And that we should be free to chase our dreams, whether it be deep within ourselves or making them part of the world. We shouldn’t back down because Tom wouldn’t. To bullies, to being ostracized, and to being anything but ourselves.

Petty was a classic rock and roll survivor, ruling radio in the 1970s, winning MTV video music awards in the ’80s, and writing the song that came back from the dead to be the only happy moment in Silence of the Lambs in the ’90s. He recorded some of America’s most anthemic and heartfelt music, and although his later output declined some, he never slowed down, collaborating in the supergroup The Traveling Wilburys and becoming Johnny Cash’s sideman with the Heartbreakers, reforming his old band Mudcrutch, and endlessly touring.

Upon the news of his death, artists starting playing tribute covers immediately, both in the studio and onstage. I’ve listened to a few dozen over the past few days. Here are my favorites. Continue reading »

Feb 212017
 

Welcome to Cover Me Q&A, where we take your questions about cover songs and answer them to the best of our ability.

jordan

Jordan Becker lives in Tarrytown, New York, a suburb of NYC where the Tappan Zee Bridge crosses the Hudson (until the new bridge is finished and they knock it down). He’s been writing for Cover Me since 2013, debuting with an essay about Mermaid Avenue by Billy Bragg and Wilco (see below). Of all his Cover Me pieces, he’s “kind of proud” of spotlighting the Grateful Dead and defending Dexys Midnight Runners.
Continue reading »