Curtis Zimmermann

Curtis Zimmermann works as an advertising sales executive for an academic publisher in Philadelphia. He’s been a music critic, news reporter, financial fraud investigator and spent many years in corporate sales, all the while maintaining a healthy obsession with music history. He first became intrigued with genre-bending covers in college when he stumbled across a used copy of Ray Charles’ box set “The Complete Country & Western Recordings 1959 - 1986.”

Aug 242021
 

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

The Japanese punk band the Blue Hearts were together for the decade 1985 to 1995. Spurred on by a healthy dose of inspiration from U.S. and U.K. punk rock pioneers such as the Ramones and the Clash, the band injected the genre with a spirit and style all their own. They became one of the country’s biggest bands, routinely filling arenas and topping the charts.

For a brief moment in the early 1990s, they attempted to conquer the U.S. market.

The group conducted a brief U.S. tour and released a greatest-hits EP, which received rave reviews from the indie and college presses. “The Blue Hearts are the coolest cultural export from Japan since Godzilla or Speed Racer,” the Boston College student newspaper The Heights wrote in 1990. “Though an accurate description would be tough to come up with, the best idea of what the band is like can come from imagining the Ramones, with surf guitars, singing in Japanese. Their self-titled, six-song EP (their first American release) is a slab of vinyl, filled to the top with goofy, fast-paced, good-time music.”

They even got the MTV News treatment with a featurette from the channel’s rock journalists John Norris and Kurt Loder. “The Blue Hearts powerhouse performance style seems to translate completely,” Loder said. In the clip, vocalist Hiroto Kōmoto told them: “The language barrier might be our biggest problem, but we grew up listening to bands like the Rolling Stones and the Beatles who all sang in English and we couldn’t understand them either, so we think it could work.”

Alas, mainstream success in the U.S. was not meant to be. No matter. Even today, the band is still considered to be one of the greatest Japanese rock n’ roll bands of all time.

The band’s best-known track is their 1987 hit “Linda Linda.” Though mostly sung in Japanese, the love song’s infinitely catchy English-language chorus of “Linda, Linda… Linda, Linda, Linda” has shattered language barriers. Like all great punk rock tunes, it will make you want to pick up a guitar, slam out some power chords and scream “Linda Linda” at the top of your lungs.

In the decades since its release, the song has garnered countless covers, served as the inspiration for a movie and is now the name of a contemporary Los Angeles-based teen punk band. Here’s a rundown of some of the best and most-well known covers of “Linda Linda.” It’s never too late for a crossover hit.
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May 282021
 
bombay bicycle club terrapin station

The title track of the Grateful Dead’s 1977 album Terrapin Station is arguably the group’s most intricate studio creation. Clocking in at 16 minutes, the song blends elements of folk, prog rock, baroque music and jazz, along with extensive percussion tracks and a classical symphonic and chorale finale. The multi-part odyssey features a level of studio precision that the band could never replicate on stage, which may explain why they never played the track in its entirety in concert. Continue reading »

May 262021
 

Cluster FliesI have always considered myself a casual Phish fan. Though I owned multiple CDs, including the six-disk box set Hampton Comes Alive, I only saw them play live once. I am not an authority on Phish history, such as the best live versions “Tweezer.” Still, I have always wondered on some level why their music inspires such derision from detractors. They’ve been a hardworking band for decades. Even though they’ve never scored a conventional hit, the group has a batch of solid original songs.

While listening to the new Phish tribute album Cluster Flies, I had an epiphany about why they have such a tough time attracting outside listeners. The band and its collaborators are great at writing catchy, interesting and thought-provoking songs. They’re just not that good at coming up with song titles. This may also explain why despite decades of listening, I have trouble keeping their song names straight in my head.

Cluster Flies was released by the website JamBase as a fundraiser for the site during the pandemic. It contains covers of all the tracks from Phish’s 2000 album Farmhouse, several songs from a bonus edition, and a few deeper cuts. Seven of the 12 songs from Farmhouse have one-word titles, with names like “Twist,” “Bug,” “Dirt,” “Piper,” “Sleep.” One can find multiple examples throughout Phish’s catalog: “Waste,” “Fee,” or “Free,” to name but a few. With names like these, the band undersells its greatest asset, making their music inaccessible for the uninitiated. Alas, I’m sure that’s just the way Phish fans like it. Fortunately, the songs, both on Farmhouse and Cluster Flies, show far more creativity than their titles.
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May 032021
 
jason newsted folsom prison

A few months ago, the writers at Cover Me engaged in an online discussion about what would be their ideal dream cover, i.e. a cover song that did not happen, but should have. For my part, I have always wished that Johnny Cash would have recorded a cover of Metallica’s “One” during his late career phase. In my head, I can hear the Man in Black singing the words “Hold my breath as I wish for death” in a slow brooding tone as someone plucks the bass notes on rickety acoustic guitar. I have no doubt it would have been monumental, equal to his cover of Nine Inch Nails’ “Hurt.” Ah well, never happened. (His cover of U2’s song of the same name, while decent, does not count.)

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Apr 262021
 
black keys crawling kingsnake

Whenever you hear an artist covering a blues standard, you can guess that the song’s origin might be murky. Such is the case with “Crawling Kingsnake” (sometimes stylized as “Crawlin’ King Snake”). While the metaphor is fairly obvious, the track’s history is not.

The Black Keys released a new version of “Crawling Kingsnake” as a single in advance of their upcoming blues-themed covers album Delta Kream. In numerous articles about the cover, the track is credited to the great bluesman John Lee Hooker. But, according to Gérard Herzhaft in the Encyclopedia of the Blues, the song “is very likely an old Delta blues [song] from the twenties. Recorded for the first time by Big Joe Williams on 27 March 1941, it is the obscure Tony Hollins who obtained some success out of it in Chicago. John Lee Hooker made it one of his favorite titles, and there are many covers.” Continue reading »

Feb 222021
 
aj croce sail on sailor

Though the Beach Boys recorded and released eight studio albums in the ‘70s, the endless sessions produced few classics. The quality of the music was dragged down by drug use, infighting and Brian Wilson’s crushing mental illness. These days, the albums play more like historical time-pieces than essential listening. Continue reading »