Cover Classics takes a closer look at all-cover albums of the past, their genesis, and their legacy.
To this day, I can still sing along with every single Schoolhouse Rock! song, and I’m sure I’m not alone in knowing that knowledge is power. The series was first aired in the ’70s on Saturday mornings on ABC. It continued until entering a hiatus in 1985. The series then returned in 1993 with new content. After another lull starting in 2000, even more content emerged in 2002 and 2009 including a whole new series, Earth Rock, written to tackle the issue of climate change. The box set of Schoolhouse Rock! was even added to the Library of Congress in 2018, which means it is officially deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically important, and/or inform or reflect life in the United States.”
However, even as a super-fan, I was only recently made aware of this tribute album (whose proceeds partially went to the Children’s Defense Fund). Released in 1996, this album covers a variety of classics across the different series. I confess I was disappointed to not have an “Interjections!” cover. However, this album is now so elusive that I wasn’t able to even listen to some of the songs (I’m itching to hear “Verb: That’s What’s Happening” by Moby and “Conjunction Junction” by Better than Ezra).
Let’s listen to one cover each from Grammar, Multiplication, Science, and America Rock and refresh our memories on some educational basics.
Skee-Lo – The Tale of Mr. Morton (Jack Sheldon cover)
Skee-Lo is often classified as a one-hit wonder for his song “I Wish,” but that seems unfair after hearing this cover. Mr. Morton has never been smoother, and the word “predicate” has never sounded cooler than in this version of Morton’s tale. This song will have you bopping along without realizing you are learning all about sentence structure and snapping along as Pearl shoots her shot (“Who says women can’t propose?”).
Blind Melon – Three Is a Magic Number (Bob Dorough cover)
All I can say is that this Blind Melon cover is NOT pretty plain. It is bittersweet, though, because it was one of the last recordings lead singer Shannon Hoon made before he died in late 1995 of a drug overdose. Apparently this cover transcended education so much that it has featured in three movies: Never Been Kissed, Slackers, and You, Me and Dupree. I’m impressed with the reach of this math training in disguise. Who knew you could groove to a recitation of a multiplication table?
Goodness – Electricity, Electricity (Zachary Sanders cover)
In this cover, a Seattle rock band teaches us about power beyond knowledge. Instead of being relegated to generating the background vocals “electricity, electricity,” female voices are front and center. From the sultry opening to the informative explanation of generators and circuits, Goodness shows us that science does in fact rock. Showing off the power of electricity, electric guitars escalate the background music, pairing with the assertive vocals.
Deluxx Folk Implosion – I’m Just a Bill (Jack Sheldon cover)
Deluxx Folk Implosion was a side project of Lou Barlow (of Dinosaur Jr.) and John Davis that they started in the ’90s, just in time to get involved in this cover classic. They take on one of the most iconic Schoolhouse Rock! tunes that details the journey and woes of the Eeyore-like Bill who just wants to be a law. Senator Jeff Sessions even referenced the song on the Senate floor, while arguing against a 2007 immigration reform bill. This cover balances rock and roll with the dialogue, keeping the boyish wonder of Bill’s companion alive while doubling down on rock instrumentals.