Apr 092021
 

That’s A Cover? explores cover songs that you may have thought were originals.

Holding Back the Years

UK band Simply Red have a fine line in soulful covers that owe a profound debt to singer Mick Hucknall’s powerful and committed vocal performances. There’s the brilliant “Money’s Too Tight (To Mention),” for starters, a gritty and relevant 1985 take on the Valentine Brothers’ 1982 original, imbibed with Hucknall’s righteous indignation not only of Reaganomics (“cut-backs!”), but also the Thatcherite policies behind the snake-like dole queues of ’80s Britain. There’s “It’s Only Love,” originally by Barry White, and “If You Don’t Know Me By Now,” of Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes fame. Then there’s “Holding Back The Years,” a deeply moving lament on a broken family and neglected childhood, first released by a punk band called the Frantic Elevators in 1982.

Yes, that’s right. Punk band. Frantic Elevators. 1982.
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Apr 072021
 

Five Good Covers presents five cross-genre reinterpretations of an oft-covered song.

I Can't Help Myself

“Sugarpie, honeybunch” must be the most gloriously unselfconscious opening shot of almost any song I can think of, epitomizing the sheer unstoppable surge of soppiness true love can invoke in even the red bloodiest of macho men. Tagged to a monster of a melody that takes wings from the start, “I Can’t Help Myself” by the Four Tops couldn’t be a stronger declaration of fact; when you hear it, you just know that no-shrinking-violet Levi Stubbs really can’t help himself. It is so well constructed a song: the words, the melody, the never-better arrangement and the transcendent vocals, all add up to Motown at its mid-60s pinnacle. And the credits clearly don’t need any prompting–it could be nobody other than Holland-Dozier-Holland, oozing out of every pore of the vinyl, always vinyl, always 45 rpm.

Brothers Brian and Eddie Holland had been with Motown and Berry Gordy from the start, as both songwriters and performers, ahead of teaming up with Lamont Dozier, who similarly had been writing and performing on the fertile Detroit music scene. As a production and writing team together, they hit pay dirt, responsible for a huge proportion of the label’s output, and arguably the most responsible as anyone for the fame and fortunes of the Tamla Motown brand. The Supremes? Martha and the Vandellas? The Isley Brothers? Yup, they wrote most of their early hits, and a fair few for the Temptations, Junior Walker, Marvin Gaye and more. Plus, of course, the Four Tops, for me the earthiest and most authentic set of voices in the roster. The combination of the strained vocal of Stubbs, the writers deliberately pitching the songs to the top of his range, with the call and response backing vocals of Abdul “Duke” Fakir, Renaldo “Obie” Benson and Lawrence Payton is remarkable. Add in the exemplary musicianship of the legendary studio house band the Funk Brothers and it becomes unbeatable. Over four decades the recipe and the line-up, at least of the vocal group, didn’t change. And if the Hollands and Lamont didn’t write everything, wherever they were involved, they sure as hell produced and arranged it to sound as if they did.

Hitting the top of the Billboard chart for two weeks in 1965, “I Can’t Help Myself” was the second-biggest seller of the year, in a year of strong competition (you’ll never guess what number one was). How well has it fared since? And with whom? There are a lot of anodyne facsimiles, watering the soul and passion down into pappy would be chart fodder. But a few, just a few, have taken the ball and run.
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Apr 062021
 
bo and the locomotive

From the iconic opening shout of “boy!” to its sputtering, minimalist toy keyboard sound, Eddy Grant’s “Electric Avenue” is an absolute barnacle of a pop song. No line of defense can prevent its insidiously hypnotic blips, whooshes and Krazy Glue chorus from lodging itself into the ever vulnerable human brain. Despite its wide appeal “Electric Avenue” is no lightweight single; it’s an actual, dyed in the wool protest song, written in response to a tumultuous historic event, the 1981 Brixton riot. The song rose as high as the number two spot in both the UK Singles Chart and Billboard Hot 100 charts in 1983. Continue reading »

Apr 062021
 
kele smalltown boy

Bronski Beat’s ‘Smalltown Boy’ is one of those tracks that instantly elevates a dance floor with its pounding beat and pumping synths. Kele Okereke’s decision to turn the track into a dark and moody trip hop style song then, is an interesting choice indeed. Continue reading »

Apr 052021
 
girl in red save your tears

One of the stars of the bedroom-pop movement, girl in red, covered The Weeknd’s “Save Your Tears” early last week, only weeks after The Weeknd performed it at the 2021 Super Bowl halftimeshow. The Norwegian singer, known as Marie Ulven, covered the song after the release of her single “Serotonin” in the first week of March, ahead of her debut album if i could make it go quiet out April 30th. If she put half as much spunk and passion into her album as she did for this cover song, it is certainly a cause for excitement. Continue reading »

Apr 052021
 

Some covers are more equal than others. Good, Better, Best looks at three covers and decides who takes home the gold, the silver, and the bronze.

Le Freak Chic

“All that pressure got you down / Has your head been spinning all around?” How did Chic know?! “Le Freak” was the band’s first number one hit, and it became a best seller for Chic’s label. Since its release in 1978, the song’s significance has been solidified. In 2018 the Library of Congress preserved the track in the National Recording Registry. However, Chic is still waiting on the elusive Rock and Roll Hall of Fame spot; they’ve been nominated over ten times!

Prominent Chic member Nile Rodgers went on to play a key role in the music careers of many others. He wrote big hits for Sister Sledge (“We are Family” and “He’s the Greatest Dancer”) and Diana Ross (“I’m Coming Out” and “Upside Down”), and he produced albums for David Bowie (Let’s Dance) and Madonna (Like a Virgin). More recently, he co-wrote and played guitar on Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky,” and you may have heard him on Keith Urban’s latest album. Chic as a whole even released a new album in 2018 featuring artists like Lady Gaga and Elton John.

But for now, let’s see who helps us throwback to the early days of Chic with covers of “Le Freak.”
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