Under the Radar shines a light on lesser-known cover artists. If you’re not listening to these folks, you should. Catch up on past installments here.
Here’s a great example of how internet rabbit holes work. I wanted to find out if the Broccoli family that produced the James Bond movies was named after the vegetable or the other way around (answer: inconclusive but leaning toward the former). I learned that broccoli was considered a delicacy in America in the early 20th century. Then I remembered the famous New Yorker cartoon. Well, I thought, that explains that, and went to learn more about that. This was where I learned that Irving Berlin wrote a song called “I Say It’s Spinach (And the Hell With It),” so of course I had to go find it on YouTube.
“I usually come in second to Dylan,” Paul Simon once said, “and I don’t like coming in second.” Indeed, he’s had to deal with it literally ever since he was born, in 1941. We already celebrated Bob Dylan’s 80th birthday in May, and today we turn to the man Dylan has called “one of the preeminent songwriters of the times,” Paul Simon, as he hits his own 80th. Simon’s in the rarified air of someone whose songs get covered almost as much as Dylan’s (ugh – second place again), so for this month’s Best Covers Ever, we’re diving into covers of the entire Paul Simon catalog, both solo and with Simon and Garfunkel.
Another thing Dylan once said about Simon, in relation to his own music, is this: “I’m not Paul Simon. I can’t do that. My songs come out of folk music and early rock n’ roll, and that’s it. I’m not a classical lyricist, I’m not a meticulous lyricist. I don’t write melodies that are clever or catchy.”
False modesty aside, Dylan hits on some of what makes Simon’s work so beloved by other musicians. His melodies are clever and catchy. His lyrics are meticulous. In both words and music, Simon can use a little to say a lot. His songs have strong cores, but leave a lot of space for other artists to play around with. So it’s no surprise that the list below spans genres from punk, dance music, gospel, and more. You’ll hear every sound except one: Silence (sorry). No matter how afield the songs roam, though, they still sound like Paul Simon.
So enough talk about Simon being a perennial silver medal winner. His craft and his talent have earned him and his songs a place at the top of the medal podium, and these fifty covers prove it.
Our most recent Best Covers Ever (until tomorrow…) counted down thirty killer Lady Gaga covers. Well, maybe we should have waited another month to tackle Gaga. Ambar Lucid, a buzzy Mexican-Dominican singer-songwriter from New Jersey, just performed a knockout “Poker Face” for Grammy.com as part of their “Reimagined at Home” series covering past Grammy Award winners.Continue reading »
“Hand in My Pocket” was Alanis Morrissette first chart-topping hit – in her home country of Canada, that is. In the US it didn’t chart on the Hot 100 at all. Despite that relative lack of success stateside, it’s probably her third or fourth most-covered song, after the two biggest hits from the monster that was Jagged Little Pill, “Ironic” and “You Oughta Know.”
Deep Sea Diver is a Seattle indie rock band led by Jessica Dobson who have been active since about 2009. (Dobson was also briefly a member of The Shins.) They recently covered “Hand in My Pocket,” joined by singer-songwriter and fellow Seattleite Damien Jurado.Continue reading »
I was obsessed with the thrash metal band Anthrax in the late ‘80s. After repeatedly seeing their videos on MTV, I purchased several of their albums and even saw them headline the Headbangers Ball Tour in 1989.
Around that time, I remember having a heated dinner-time discussion with my brother about Anthrax’s long-term musical prospects. “They won’t be around in five years,” my brother declared. I was more confident in the band’s sustainability, but even I couldn’t have predicted that thirty-two years later the group would be celebrating its 40th anniversary. I doubt even they could have imagined such longevity. Metal still rules, apparently.
Throughout indie rock’s ascendance in the ‘00s, Cat Power (a.k.a. Chan Marshall) was one of the foremost musicians to keep the flame of cover songs alive. Marshall’s epic pair of cover LPs in that decade, 2000’s The Covers Record and 2008’s Jukebox, were luminous and sharp — featuring pointed, personal interpretations of the likes of Smog, The Velvet Underground, Bob Dylan, James Brown, alongside legends of blues. While the albums may not have had an outsized impact (Marshall was often keen to deliberately tone her versions down, cooling the temperature and sitting back in the groove), both were brilliant vehicles for her evolution as an artist. Looking back, too, her open-hearted approach to interpreting songs of all sorts— commingling rock, folk, blues, punk and classic R&B in the same stew — was a harbinger for the genre-hopping that’s become standard in the years since Jukebox’s 2008 release. It seems only natural now, for example, to cover The Rolling Stones as a solemn dirge; to play a doo-wop classic on autoharp; or to take on Kander & Ebb with a band comprised of leading Memphis soul session players.Continue reading »