Perhaps Depeche Mode’s most iconic song, at least for the general public, “Personal Jesus” manages to combine singer Dave Gahan’s sex appeal with a sinister undercurrent of dominance and submission. Songwriter Martin Gore wrote the song after reading about the relationship between Priscilla Presley and Elvis, and how utterly one-sided it was. In Gahan’s delivery, though, the relationship seems considerably more appealing. The original video, set in a brothel, also emphasizes the sexual side of the relationship over its more troubling aspects.
Cover Classics takes a closer look at all-cover albums of the past, their genesis, and their legacy.
This being the time of year when we are reminded of those we have lost, the retrospective review of deaths within the last year, I have found myself returning often to the works of Neal Casal, who tragically took his own life last August. A quintessential journeyman performer, hired guitar for many a singer/band seeking some additional gravitas, he had also a productive solo career, with about a dozen albums to his name. If he is best known for his lead guitar for Ryan Adams in the Cardinals, the band that also backed Willie Nelson on 2007’s Songbird, that is understandable. From there he became right hand man to Chris Robinson, in his eponymous Brotherhood, squeezing in the same role for Todd Snider in Hard Working Americans at the same time. The title of that band was surely meant for Casal, his ongoing list of sessions inspiring awe and respect, both in the quality of those who chose him, and the added value he provided to each. In the final years of his life, he was also increasingly absorbed into the diaspora of the Grateful Dead legacy, working both with Phil Lesh and Bob Weir, as well as being commissioned to write the incidental music for the run of shows celebrating the 50 years of the Dead, the Fare Thee Well gigs of 2015. This he then toured as Circles Around the Sun, finding time as well to form and play alongside members of Beachwood Sparks as the Skiffle Players.
Prolific or what?
Five Good Covers presents five cross-genre reinterpretations of an oft-covered song.
The tale of Neil Young’s rustic and glorious “Old Man” is a pretty well-trodden one at this point, as he’s told it prior to performing the song at many, many a live show. To review: The song was inspired by conversations between Young and Louis Avila, the elderly foreman at Young’s beloved homestead, Broken Arrow Ranch (christened as such by Young). Young’s usual line regarding Avila is that “he came with the place when I bought it” in 1971. Upon meeting Young for the first time, Avila was gleefully flabbergasted at how someone so young could afford to buy such a huge piece of land. Young, inspired by his conversations with Avila, soon penned “Old Man,” musing on his own high life at the time as well as the overarching human need to be loved no matter what your physical situation, old or young, rich or poor.
The song ultimately appeared on 1972’s Harvest album and features James Taylor delicately plucking out the most memorable 6-string banjo solo in the history of pop music, as well as the legendary Linda Ronstadt on backing vocals. After almost 50 years, it’s still as wistfully perfect as the day it was born, a rousing singalong that still requires you to have a crying towel at hand.
Kid Moxie’s upcoming score for indie film Not To Be Unpleasant, But We Need To Have a Serious Talk is, as film scores typically are, mostly instrumental. But it closes with a surprising cover, as Kid Moxie aka. Elena Charbila tackles Alphaville’s ’80s synth-pop classic “Big in Japan.” Her cover keeps it synthy, but adds a wistful dreampop sheen that gives it a darker undercurrent. No surprise if it sounds vaguely Twin Peak-sy; she’s worked with David Lynch and his longtime composer Angelo Badalamenti (on a new version of Blue Velvet’s “Mysteries of Love”).
“Covering the Hits” looks at covers of a randomly-selected #1 hit from the past sixty-odd years.
Unlike most #1 hits we’ve covered so far, Three Dog Night’s 1972 chart-topper “Black and White” is itself a cover. The song, written by Earl Robinson and David Arkin (Alan Arkin’s father), was first recorded by Pete Seeger in 1956. Even in Three Dog Night’s marginally more rockin’ arrangement, it still sounds like a Seeger song, and not exactly a top-tier Seeger song at that. “A child is black, a child is white / A whole world looks upon the sight” sounds like folk music’s “Ebony and Ivory.” The fact that Three Dog Night took this well-meaning trifle to number one shows just how high the band was riding after the previous year’s “Joy to the World.”
Dom Thomas is perhaps best known for his other gig, as founder of acclaimed reissue label Finders Keepers. So no surprise that the songs he selected for his band Whyte Horses’ new covers album dig deep. With a shifting group of collaborators, he covers some real cratedigger picks by groups like Belgian music polymath Plastic Bertrand (“Ca̧ Plane Pour Moi”) and Long Island twin soft-rockers Alessi Brothers (“Seabird”).