Nov 262021
 

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

Harvest

Harvest is the one Neil Young album that everybody knows of. The reason? Almost undoubtedly “Heart of Gold,” that era-defining song of the early ’70s, all acoustic whimsy, swaying on a stool. Of course it is a terrific song, if a little diminished by ubiquity, but not hugely typical of, at least, Young’s latter-day work, especially when he saddles up with Crazy Horse.

But, by golly, that sweet acoustic ditty has done ol’ Shakey well. At last count there were over a hundred “Heart of Gold” covers, some of them good enough to warrant a yearly check of no small size passing through his mail slot. It did pretty well in its author’s iteration too, mind, hitting the coveted number one spot in the US singles chart (Young’s only sojourn there) and top ten in many other territories. Considering Young had only started dabbling with acoustic songs in response to a back injury, necessitating his sitting to play, how serendipitous must that fall have been? Mind you, his own comments as to where it took him were less than generous: “This song put me in the middle of the road. Traveling there soon became a bore so I headed for the ditch.”

On the back of the single, so too did Harvest flourish, likewise becoming a chart topper with Young’s biggest LP sales to date. Characteristically, given the sheer cussedness of the man, it contains a number of styles, some harking back to previous album After the Gold Rush, some more akin to future more country-inflected excursions. This reflected the musicians recruited, largely country session men making their first outing as the Stray Gators. Pedal steel player Ben Keith, bassist Tim Drummond, and drummer Kenny Buttrey helped shape Harvest‘s sound. So did Jack Nitzsche, the producer and pianist who also played a part with Crazy Horse. Nitzsche decided to orchestrate a couple of the songs as well, an odd move at the time for an artist in other than easy-listening territory. And then there was the stark and bleak beauty of “The Needle and the Damage Done,” gaunt in its unadorned voice and guitar, a song as chilling as Bert Jansch’s clearly influential “Needle of Death.”

A year shy of its half century, how, then, has Harvest fared? How well have the songs lasted? How do they fit into the differing tastes of this century? These more recent interpretations help reveal the answer: better than expected. The original Harvest is an album I listen to for a wallow in nostalgia; these ten covers stand on wholly different ground.
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Nov 222021
 
rise against fortunate son

As a part of their new EP Nowhere Sessions, Chicago punk rockers Rise Against have covered the Creedance Clearwater Revival classic, “Fortunate Son.” Released in time for Veterans Day, the track has a special meaning for the band. Said lead singer Tim McIlrath: “We actually used to cover ‘Fortunate Son’ in our early basement days. To me, the song represents one of the best examples of mixing music and politics together so seamlessly that nobody questions it.” Continue reading »

Nov 192021
 

In the Spotlight showcases a cross-section of an artist’s cover work. View past installments, then post suggestions for future picks in the comments!

John Mellencamp

I wanted to put this in the Under the Radar category. Then it hit me: whose radar could John Mellencamp possibly be under? It’s true, but, equally, his spotlight has always veered from mass appeal towards the niche, albeit to different niche audiences at different times, encompassing different genres and different tastes. How much traction, for instance, is there between the effervescent Johnny Cougar in his sequined satins, and the grizzled dustbowl road warrior of only a few years later, let alone the renaissance man of musician, artist and actor he is seen as now? Today’s answer: Precious little, yet more than you may think.
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Nov 192021
 
verite teenage dream

What do Sufjan Stevens and Katy Perry have in common? Well, they both have their roots in the Christian music world for one (Danielson Famile, “Katy Hudson”). And now a second: They’ve both been given terrific covers by Brooklyn singer-songwriter Kelsey Byrne aka VÉRITÉ. When we last heard from her, she was covering Sufjan’s “John, My Beloved” – it made our Best of 2018 list – and now she’s back tackling Perry’s “Teenage Dream.” Continue reading »

Nov 182021
 
Lake Street Dive Hall & Oates

Lake Street Dive‘s annual Halloween cover videos have grown increasingly elaborate with each passing year. Past covers have included “Bohemian Rhapsody” and last year’s “Don’t Let Me Down,” played outdoors in Brooklyn as a full-on recreation of the Beatles’ rooftop concert. That video’s homespun goofiness offered a bit of welcome respite in the throes of deep COVID (and the 2020 election season), with a stellar performance that gave the band a chance to channel their pop forebears while also putting their own signature stamp on the classic tune. For Halloween 2021, Lake Street Dive continued the trend of outsized musical stunts with a hammy cover of Hall & Oates’ “You Make My Dreams (Come True).” Continue reading »

Nov 172021
 
lola young john lewis ad

In the UK, the John Lewis Christmas TV ad is kind of a big deal. The ads are known for being very well made, with a story and soundtrack with a strong emotional resonance – reducing some viewers to tears. For the 2021 ad, John Lewis tapped young singer-songwriter Lola Young to provide a version of the Philip Oakey and Giorgio Moroder classic “Together in Electric Dreams.” Continue reading »