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 »

Sep 302016
 
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They say nostalgia works in 20-year cycles, and this year the music of 1996 has been in the media a lot. And if you believe the music blogs, it turns out 1996 was a truly groundbreaking year for every possible genre. Over at SPIN: “The 96 Best Alternative Rock Songs Of 1996.” Complex: “Best Rap Songs of 1996.” Junkee: “Ten reasons 1996 was a great year for dance music”. Loudwire: “10 Best Metal Albums of 1996.” Red Bull Music: “1996: Why it was a great year for pop”. Suck it, 1995! (Kidding; similar articles were of course written last year too.)

We’ll be honest: 1996 was not some magical, pioneering year for cover songs. It was also not a terrible year. It was just, you know, another year. There’s no overarching theorem of 1996’s cover songs that wasn’t true in ’95 or ’97. But even so, Cover Me wasn’t around in 1996, so we never made a Best Cover Songs of 1996 list (our first year-end list came in 2009, with the Kings of Convenience’s “It’s My Party” topping it, and you can catch up on all the lists here). So we decided, before the year ends and we take our look at the best covers songs this year, why not take a nostalgic rewind and do 1996 just for fun, twenty years too late. Continue reading »

Dec 312015
 
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We’ve already finished the big year-end stories – Best Cover Songs and Best Cover Albums – but here’s a little postscript to take us into the new year. Maybe there’s something here you missed: covers of every song on a classic record in our “Full Albums” series, a deep dive into unusual reinterpretations of a particular hit in our “Five Good Covers” series, or just a bunch of MP3s of Dylan covering Sinatra over forty years.

Cover Me’s Most Popular Posts of 2015
1. Full Albums: Bob Marley & the Wailers’ ‘Legend’
2. Download Four Decades of Bob Dylan’s Frank Sinatra Covers
3. Full Albums: The Rolling Stones’ ‘Sticky Fingers’
4. Five Good Covers: Everybody Wants to Rule the World (Tears for Fears)
5. Full Albums: Wilco’s ‘Yankee Hotel Foxtrot’
6. Five Good Covers: The Logical Song (Supertramp)
7. Full Albums: ‘Led Zeppelin III’
8. The Best Cover Songs of 2015
9. Five Good Covers: Rocket Man (Elton John)
10. Full Albums: XTC’s ‘Skylarking’

See you in 2016!

Feb 272015
 

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

Writing about Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot seems a little like eating at a buffet right before closing. There may be a few good things left, but it is pretty well picked over, and what’s left has lost its flavor. Few rock albums of the past 20 years have been discussed and analyzed as much as YHF. Yet we proceed, undaunted, because what we do is different. And maybe, just maybe, listening to a full set of covers of each song of this great album will allow you to hear it anew. Because you never know when the buffet is going to get restocked with something fresh.
Continue reading »