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Sep 182020
 

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 "Music"

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.
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Sep 112020
 
Kenton Chen

Even all these years later, “Like a Virgin” remains one of Madonna’s most iconic songs. The lead-off single from the album of the same name, her second, it was her biggest hit to date and sold more copies than any of her songs until “Like a Prayer.” Everyone is familiar with the instantly recognizable synthesized bass line and the chorus that producer Nile Rodgers didn’t think was catchy enough.

Scary Pockets are a funk band who perform covers on YouTube with guest vocalists. For this version they enlisted Kenton Chen, of the a cappella TV competition The Sing Off and Postmodern Jukebox fame.

The band dispenses entirely with the famous bassline, replacing it with a funky bassline that skips a beat. Chen mostly sticks to the original melody in the verses. But the chorus is even less conventional, with both the band and Chen deviating from the original song.

About two minutes in there’s a breakdown and the song turns into an extended funk jam, with the van vamping on the groove and Chen improvising through the song’s famous hook as the song slowly fades out.

This version of “Virgin” is remarkably different. It may take a bit to get into, because of how distinct it is, but the song shortly reveals itself as a pretty great cover.

Jul 132020
 

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

Madonna's "Ray of Light"

Madonna’s seventh album, Ray of Light, marked a turning point in her life and style of music. Ahead of writing this album, Madonna was preparing for her role in Evita, a film adaption of the musical about the life of first lady of Argentina, Eva Perón, and had her first child. She was learning about the Kabbalah school of thought and Hinduism as well as experimenting with different musical styles.

The Ray of Light album includes electronic and dance elements and shows off a wider vocal range (thanks in part to Madonna’s vocal training for Evita). Critics showed it love, calling it “adventurous,” “mature,” and crediting it with bringing electronica to the mainstream. The album cleaned up at the Grammy Awards winning Best Pop Album and Best Recording Package as a whole and Best Dance Recording and Best Short Form Music Video for the title track.

But let’s talk about that title track. It was the second single off of the album and brought Madonna her highest debuting single at that point in her career. But did you know it was a cover?

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Aug 302019
 

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

Immaculate Collection

Madonna was back in the news recently, as her latest release Madame X got the music press dishing out the full “return to form” treatment. No surprise, really – that’s the de rigueur clarion call to anyone of her vintage releasing, well, almost anything. To be fair, it has its moments, but nothing can beat The Immaculate Collection, the collection of Madge’s early singles that charts her journey from odd-voiced popstrel to soft-porn audio-provocateur. Continue reading »

Nov 232018
 

“Covering the Hits” looks at covers of a randomly-selected #1 hit from the past sixty years.

madonna music covers

The first Madonna song I remember hearing is “Music.” It topped the charts in September 2000, when I was 13: peak Top 40 radio age. I suppose I must have heard “Like a Prayer” or “Borderline” somewhere before – or her more recent hits “Ray of Light,” the Austin Powers 2 song “Beautiful Stranger,” and, inexplicably, an excruciating “American Pie” cover – but “Music” was the first I registered as a Madonna song.

It offered a lousy introduction to Madonna. From the cloying “Hey Mr. DJ” opening, I hated it. It presented a rhythmic jumble, an obnoxious hook, and lyrics that seemed dumb even to a 13-year old. An actual verse: “Don’t think of yesterday / And I don’t look at the clock / I like to boogie-woogie / Uh. Uh.” (Admittedly, the same complaints could all be made about her much-derided James Bond theme two years later, and I love that song). It took a year or two more before I saw the “Material Girl” music video on some VH1 Best of the 80s countdown and became a fan. Continue reading »

Aug 162018
 

‘The Best Ever’ series counts down our favorite covers of great artists.

madonna covers

Today is Madonna’s birthday, when the Material Girl herself turns – well, one isn’t supposed to talk of such things, so let’s just say it’s a nice round number. Round enough for us to devote this month’s Best Covers countdown to her many hits and, in a few cases, underexposed deep cuts.

A very few cases, to be honest. More than anyone we’ve done these lists about before, Madonna remains best known as a singles artist (even Beyoncé now gets thought of as an album artist). As a result, it’s the singles a cover artist tends to focus on – f’rinstance, the song “Like a Prayer” has been covered more than every other track on the album Like a Prayer combined. The repeated dipping into the same dozen or so songs sets the bar pretty high. You can’t just tweak a tune here and adjust it there. To stand out amidst the million other “La Isla Bonita” covers, an artist needs to attempt something radical.

Many have taken up the challenge. Not one cover on our list would you confuse with Madonna’s version for a second. These artists translate her dance-pop smashes into garage-punk, gypsy-jazz, reggae-soul, and a few genres that no amount of hyphenates will do justice (just wait ’til you reach that Sonic Youth side project).

So get into the groove below. And, if you have any favorite covers we missed, express yourself in the comments! Continue reading »