Matt Bellamy, frontman of British rock band Muse, released a cover of Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water.” From the first strum, the most noticeable change in this abridged version is the replacement of the piano with guitar. Then the sounds of an organ gently come in like a wave pushing over the last third of the song. Although there are fewer instruments in the acoustic cover the overall feel is anything but simple. Bellamy’s distinctive voice causes the vocals to be prominent with bright falsettos and a powerful finishing vocal run.
Azure Ryder’s debut appearance on Triple J’s Like A Version saw her performing a somber version of Dua Lipa’s “Don’t Start Now.” The cover is another paired down version of summer hit pop song. But it’s clear the song holds meaning for the Australian artist who seamlessly transitions the song into her own indie-folk sound.
Miley Cyrus’ latest image reinvention has taken the tough, spunky ’80s frontwoman (think Pat Benatar) and thrust it into the 21st Century. So it’s very appropriate that she’s covered several turn-of-the-’80s songs for recent TV appearances.
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!
It’s March of 1995, and by this point in time it has been firmly established that Annie Lennox doesn’t make bad albums. From her earliest days in The Tourists, through her incredible partnership with Dave Stewart in Eurythmics, to her glorious 1992 solo debut Diva, the quality level has been ridiculously high. Every album to the last has contained multiple soaringly wonderful evergreen pop classics, most of which are justifiably worshipped and treasured to this very day. But of course, if there’s one thing we know for certain about pop music, it’s that it’s a cruel, fickle beast, and critical favor can turn on a dime. And so, after a pretty consistent outpouring of acclaim, maybe it was inevitable that by 1995 the jar of journalistic goodwill was empty. Annie’s second solo album Medusa featured a perfectly sung and slickly produced selection of cover songs, and the time had finally come; the critics hated it.
While its brilliant, theatrical first single “No More I Love You’s” was a worldwide hit and the LP itself sold by the truckload, music journalists were pretty much across the board unimpressed (even here at Cover Me). One review in a big culture magazine at the time amusingly referred to the album as “a muff,” described Annie’s attempts at certain songs as “belly-flops,” and declared the overall sound to be “microwaved.”
So whose assessment of Medusa was “right,” the fans’ or the critics’? Well, truth be told, both. Put simply, it was an immaculately sung, pristinely produced, cleverly chosen selection of covers, with nary a rough edge to be seen. And while the overall sound could be characterized as chilly and/or mechanical in spots, it was still home to some pretty gloriously heartfelt and powerful song interpretations. Case in point: a broodingly beautiful take of Neil Young’s “Don’t Let It Bring You Down,” as well as a grandly dramatic reading of Procol Harum’s epic “Whiter Shade of Pale.” And of course, the aforementioned “No More…” was a brilliant pop song by any standard.
But here’s the thing: Despite its renown, Medusa shouldn’t be looked at as the final word on Annie Lennox’s ability to reinvent and breathe new life into old songs. Over the years, she has proven herself to be an exceptionally gifted interpreter… and the majority of her finest cover work has come in the form of free-standing one-offs. With that in mind, let’s put Medusa to the side for a minute and turn a spotlight on the heart-clutchingly wonderful stuff around the edges, the live, the rare, and the underrated. Let’s venture into the depths of Annie’s truly exceptional cover canon, wherein lay a whole lotta treasures…
“The Book of Love” is the Magnetic Fields’ most-covered song, and it’s not even close. Covers database SecondHandSongs reports 27 officially-released versions, and that’s not counting the hundreds or thousands that have been played live at weddings. (The second most-covered Magnetic Fields song in their database has only five covers listed). The most prominent “Book of Love” cover is probably Peter Gabriel’s 2004 orchestral version, which now has inspired its own cover – a cover of a cover.
Laura Heaberlin is one-half of Vermont folk duo Cricket Blue. On her “Book of Love,” though, she drops the acoustic guitar in favor of cello. A lot of cello. She reimagines Gabriel’s cover if that orchestra he used was all cellos, layering seven different cello parts atop each other. That maybe sounds like a gimmick, but it works beautifully.
“I was supposed to play this song at my friends’ wedding this summer,” Heaberlin says (see what I meant about this song and weddings?). “With the pandemic, that wasn’t able to happen, but I wanted to make something festive for Ben and Meghan for their would-have-been wedding day. I took the opportunity to arrange the song differently from how I could have played it in person. It was fun to get reacquainted with my cello, which I haven’t played much in years! And it was also fun to spend so much time with this song, which somehow is incredibly earnest and also doesn’t take itself too seriously at the same time. I hope to carry some of that unusual combination into my own future songwriting.”
Watch the video exclusively below, and check out more of Laura’s work with Cricket Blue here.
Top photo by Monika Rivard.
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.
Madonna’s eighth album Music (the one with the cowboy hat) turns 20 today. She worked on it while pregnant with her son Rocco (and yes, she was pregnant when the music video was recorded). Before its official release date, preliminary recordings of the album were leaked on Napster (remember those days?). Despite this, the album sold plenty of copies, reaching triple platinum status.
The title track, and first single, “Music” was inspired by Madonna’s experience at a Sting concert, watching the audience engage with Police classics. At this writing, it’s also Madonna’s last number one single, which I’m actually surprised by–what, not enough “Hung Up” or “4 Minutes” fans out there? Nevertheless, today we celebrate the song that encouraged us to “put a record on” (before Corinne Bailey Rae did) with three covers.