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.”
The release of the new Beatles documentary Get Back has revived one of the greatest musical debates of all time. Just why did the Beatles break up? One thing that seemed clear (at least to me) when watching the mammoth film is that the fault does not lie with John Lennon’s soon-to-be spouse Yoko Ono. While she was there for the majority of the Let It Be sessions, she mostly appeared to be hanging out. A constant presence for sure, but hardly a distraction for Paul, George and Ringo.
Given this new documentary evidence, I was excited to learn about the upcoming tribute album Ocean Child: Songs Of Yoko Ono. If the public is reevaluating Ono’s role in the Beatles’ demise, then certainly it is time to take another look her musical output as well. Ono was an accomplished musician before she ever met Lennon, a classically trained vocalist and pianist who had collaborated with John Cage and LaMonte Young. In the decades since her husband’s murder, she has continued to record and release music at a steady pace.Continue reading »
“All Things Must Pass” is one of George Harrison’s signature solo songs, but by all rights, it should have been a Beatles tune. In the new documentary The Beatles: Get Back, there are scenes of the group working on the track in rehearsal. After the Fab Four opted not to record it, Billie Preston released a version on his 1970 album Encouraging Words. The song was later immortalized as the title track to Harrison’s 1972 solo album. Now, fifty years later, it almost seems like an understatement to call “All Things Must Pass” a classic. The track is both timeless and timely, a secular hymn, meditating on the brevity of beauty, love and time itself.
Willie Nelson knows a thing or two about the passage of time. The country music legend released his first album in 1962, several months before the Beatles dropped their debut Please Please Me. Nelson has continued putting out records at a furious pace over the last few decades. For his latest, The Willie Nelson Family, he enlisted the talents of his children. The album has the feel and consistency of many of Nelson’s recent offers, not exactly breaking new ground but still compelling enough to warrant a listen. The album features multiple gospel recordings including takes on Hank Williams’ “I Saw the Light” and “Keep It On the Sunny Side,” a hymn made famous by the Carter Family.
Wedged in between the many tracks about Jesus is a cover of Harrison’s “All Things Must Pass.” Willie’s son Lukas Nelson takes on the lead vocal duties, with Willie providing backup. The two deliver a quiet, passionate rendition of Harrison’s masterwork that feels like it’s been part of their family repertoire for decades.
I was obsessed with the thrash metal band Anthrax in the late ‘80s. After repeatedly seeing their videos on MTV, I purchased several of their albums and even saw them headline the Headbangers Ball Tour in 1989.
Around that time, I remember having a heated dinner-time discussion with my brother about Anthrax’s long-term musical prospects. “They won’t be around in five years,” my brother declared. I was more confident in the band’s sustainability, but even I couldn’t have predicted that thirty-two years later the group would be celebrating its 40th anniversary. I doubt even they could have imagined such longevity. Metal still rules, apparently.
According to Spotify, ‘90s-era country music has been enjoying a resurgence among fans young fans. Since 2018, streams of the platform’s ‘90s Country playlist have gone up 150%, with a 70% increase among Gen-Z listeners (i.e. people born between the late ‘90s and early 2010s). To them, the music of the ‘90s is a product of a by-gone era.
To celebrate (or capitalize) on this trend, the Spotify Singles series released covers of three of the biggest country hits from the decade, all recorded by artists who were born in the ‘90s. Separately, an American Idol alum released her own cover of a track from the era on Instagram. Here’s a breakdown of the four covers, boots and spurs not included:Continue reading »
You’ve all probably heard this story before. It’s the one about the country star who gets too big for his or her britches. They crash, they burn and end up back on grandma’s farm. After a few days of struggling, they get up early, do some farm work, ride a horse, meet a new love interest and suddenly, with acoustic guitar in hand, rediscover their musical roots. Sound familiar? It’s the plot to George Strait’s Pure Country and, of course, Miley Cyrus’ Hannah Montana: The Movie. It’s also the story that every country star weaves a few years after their commercial peak when they go back to old-style country, or bluegrass, or whatever.
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 Heightswrote 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. Continue reading »