Hope Silverman

Hope Silverman of NYC grew up actually wishing she could work in a real live Record Store. The wish was manifested beginning with a long stint at CBGB's Record Canteen where Johnny Thunders called her "sweetheart", and then carried on through many colorful years at HMV and Virgin. Her retail journey culminated in running Rough Trade Shop in NYC. She currently works her music muscle by both kicking out the occasional record on her tiny label 80N7 and flexing hard at her nerdy music blog showcasing the under-appreciated, underrated and undiscovered in the glorious pop universe. https://pickinguprocks.com

Aug 192022
 

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

Hounds of Love

In June of 2022, Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God)” was used to soundtrack a climactic scene in the premiere episode of season four of the Netflix series Stranger Things. What happened next is already the stuff of pop music legend and a tale that will be remembered and recounted for years to come. As the 37-year-old pop song by the reclusive legend played, millions of kids and teens who had never known of Kate Bush’s existence completely lost their minds. Then came the real mayhem.

The next week saw “RUTH” (let’s just call it) ascend to the top of pop charts all over the world, going to number #1 in eight countries (England! New Zealand! Switzerland! Lithuania! More!). Okay, it only got to #4 in the U.S., but still, that’s Top 5 (upon the song’s original release in 1985 it only got as high as #30)! The song garnered millions of plays across all the streaming services (Apple! Spotify! YouTube!), inspired masses of TikTok videos, and most importantly introduced a whole new generation to the incomparable genius of Catherine “Kate” Bush.

But while the pop-chart-exploding Stranger Things-inspired introduction was a singular event unto itself, the experience of just plain hearing Kate Bush for the first time has never really changed. As existing Kate fans can confirm, the excitable reaction of the new listeners was perfectly normal. When Kate Bush enters your pop listening life for the first time, the natural human tendency has always been to go a little “oh my God” crazy.

But perhaps the most mind-blowing thing about all of this is that “RUTH” is not even the best song on the album it actually hails from. That’s how great Hounds Of Love is.

A foundational fixture on every “Best Albums of All-Time” list from now until forever, Hounds Of Love is Kate Bush’s finest hour. Despite its unending sonic drama, Hounds was recorded in the comically peaceful and idyllic environs of a converted barn at Kate’s childhood home. Yes, this madly ambitious album, consisting of four gorgeously unhinged anthems of love, an eerie demon ballad, and a 26-minute oceanic fever dream, actually came to be in storybook surroundings full of greenery, birdsong, and sweet dogs (that’d be Kate’s front cover co-stars and forever icons, Bonnie and Clyde). Epic and anthemic enough to scream along to in the car, but brimming with enough empathy and intimacy for intensive solo headphone engagement, Hounds Of Love is just plain magic.

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Jun 032022
 

One Great Cover looks at the greatest cover songs ever, and how they got to be that way.

Close to You

You know that old TV and movie trope where the shy wallflower with “potential” gets a makeover and is miraculously transformed into the coveted bombshell? Think of the Carpenters’ 1970 cover of “(They Long to Be) Close to You” as the sonic embodiment of that notion. Okay, it’s more of a get a new hairstyle, dress cooler but leave the glasses on version because you know, this is the Carpenters we’re talking about here, but you get the idea.

But seriously, when it comes to angst-ridden, idealistic love ballads about unrequited desire and quietly lustful appreciation, they don’t get much better than “(They Long to Be) Close to You.” Written by the legendary songwriting team of Burt Bacharach and Hal David, “CTY” (let’s just call it) is that contradictory but always revelatory musical combination of sugary and majestic, cut from the same frothy, infatuated, occasionally eye-rolling cloth as Stevie Wonder’s “My Cherie Amour” while eliciting “Dancing Queen”-levels of respect for its production and execution. From Richard Carpenter’s iconic opening piano flourishes to sister Karen’s towering vocal (understatement), it expertly straddles that line between non-threatening pap and soul-crushing tearjerker with consummate skill (’tis the eternal mystery-magic of the Carpenters).

The duo so completely inhabit the song, which is to say they freakin’ own it, that it is easy to forget they were not the first artists to record it. No, the first “CTY” out of the gate wasn’t even by an actual musician, but by a hot and debonair actor playing a doctor on a TV show. Yup, welcome to the glorious state of pop music in the USA in 1963.
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Apr 012022
 

Cover Genres takes a look at cover songs in a very specific musical style.

Boston

Yes, you read that right, Arena Rock. Okay, class, settle down.

The term “Arena Rock” is both a straightforward musical description and an insult. On the one hand, it is a genre name used to describe the radio-friendly, coliseum-filling rock sound that began infiltrating the pop charts in the mid-70s and ultimately came to dominate the next decades’ FM radio playlists. On the other, it is a pointed putdown, meant to suggest supreme bombast, disgusting commerciality, and the worst kind of mass appeal.

Of course, as the name implies, many, many people love Arena Rock. The play counts across the streaming services for legendary perpetrators like Boston, Journey, REO Speedwagon, and Foreigner are staggering. Songs like “More Than A Feeling” and “I Want To Know What Love Is” have racked up millions upon millions of plays, and in the case of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’,” billions. And it’s not just your Dad or your Uncle Joey–or, okay, me sometimes–hitting play on songs like these. Based on these numbers, it appears it’s freakin’ everyone. Billions!

Before we go any further, let’s note that Arena Rock is not the only term for this particular genre. If you are a picky nerd like me, you might be more inclined to refer to them as “AOR,” the excellently memorable acronym for “Album-Oriented Rock.” Because while that term originally defined a particular radio format, by the early ’80s it had come to represent a very specific sound and style of music, i.e. the precise sort the aforementioned bands were making. I admit to preferring “AOR” over Arena Rock because it’s a little less broad and is marginally cooler. Also, it has an over-confident and ridiculous superhero quality to it, which is entirely appropriate given what it represents. But hell, call it whatever makes you comfortable: Arena Rock, AOR, Classic Rock, even Dad Rock, they all apply. Any way you want it, that’s the way you need it.

Arena Rock songs take place within a mythical universe where every living being is in high school and the only time that matters is “tonight.” It is not Arena Rock’s job to enlighten or serve up valuable life lessons. Its primary purpose is to celebrate being horny and/or high, bitch about how boring this town is, and ineloquently remind people that they need to rock every hour, of every day. Of course, like life itself, it’ll occasionally get sad ‘n’ dark and there will be expressions of doomed love (“you’re tearin’ me apart”). And sometimes it’ll brag about or blame its imaginary partner in crime, the devil. But no matter where it roams, it never loses sight of its primary goal, which is to rock you tonight Cleveland-Philly-NYC.

The Arena Rock sound is typified by fat, infectious guitar and/or synth riffs, king-size choruses, and colossal hooks, served up in the most over-the-top manner possible (especially when the song is a ballad). These songs are the kind of songs that exude enough melodic and emotional bigness that they can fill every corner of whatever space they happen to be playing in, no matter how cavernous or unglamorous. Neither coy nor intellectual (“You’re not shy, you’ve been around”), they are embarrassingly straightforward about how they feel (“I’ll show you sweet delight”) and are designed to attack and consume the dumbest, most defenseless, and least discerning musical nerve-receptors of the human brain (“Stroke me”). They are the sonic equivalent of sucking down a Big Gulp™ in a 7-11 parking lot on a hot day in 1981. Arena Rock songs are all about living in the moment and “feelin’ satisfied.”

Yes, I know–what about the clothes? When playing live back in the day, Arena Rock bands were not only expected to bring it musically but to raise the roof in a sartorial sense as well. Bearded guys in silk kimonos. Jumpsuits open to the navel. And hair, lots and lots of glorious hair. True confession: I spent more time as a kid pondering Boston drummer Sib Hashian’s afro in the band photo on the back cover of their 1976 debut album than I ever did admiring the front with its iconic upside-down guitar logo. That was just a painting. Sib’s ‘fro was real. (See pic above.)

From its absolute, unwavering earnestness and perpetual “heart-on” to its fashion sense and excessive light show, Arena Rock is unequivocally, and certifiably bonkers.

Seriously though, do you know what the number one craziest thing about Arena Rock is? It is the fact that its virtues and flaws are exactly the same. The pros and cons reside in a single column. What makes it ridiculous is also what makes it awesome.

If you dislike Arena Rock or AOR, I don’t expect any of the wickedly cool covers I am about to share to change your mind. But I do hope, at the very least, they trigger a bit of newfound respect for the original songs themselves. And who knows, maybe after hearing these covers you’ll be inspired to throw a friendly head bob Arena Rock’s way the next time you pass it in the high school hallway of your soul, just to say “hey, we’re cool,” even if you have no plans to hang out with it regularly.

And now in the words of Loverboy’s all-knowing singer-sage, Mike “it’s a bandana, not a headband” Reno, Come on baby, let’s go!
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Jan 142022
 

Cover Genres takes a look at cover songs in a very specific musical style.

Carla Thomas

Musical obsessions are not always as cut and dried as “this is my favorite song/ album/ band/ genre.” Occasionally you will find yourself in uncharted territory, involuntarily drawn to something so specific and esoteric that it doesn’t fall under the umbrella of an actual existing category. Hmmm… I’m making this sound way more dignified than it is. What I’m trying to say is, most dyed-in-the-wool music nerds have what I’m going to call an imaginary friend. By that, I mean that they have an obsession with some weird-ass thing or self-invented category, one that may not be audible to the ears of others, but feels oh so real to them.

I am now going to introduce you to my imaginary friend, my Harvey, my Snuffleupagus, my Drop Dead Fred. It’s a “thing” I’m obsessed with, which, while exceedingly specific and adhering to a strict set of self-invented rules, doesn’t technically exist as an established, formalized entity.

In a nutshell, I have an insatiable fascination with R & B covers of ’70s Soft Rock songs. Specifically, those recorded in the same era as the originals, when the originals themselves were still young, topical, and ubiquitous.

This oddball interest has roots in all the times I spent as a captive backseat passenger in my Mom’s 1972 white Chevy Nova with the sunflower painted on the side (only one word for that car: bitchin’). It was in this magical machine that my musical foundation was established and my taste was, some might say tragically, molded into shape. Meaning I was exposed to a helluva lot of ’70s AM pop radio as a kid. And there were two things being churned out in ample quantities back then that I especially loved:

1. R&B aka Soul Music (the first single I ever bought was by The Spinners, the first LP was by Billy Preston)

2. Soft Rock, primarily the candy-coated version (“Shannon is gone, I heard…”)

For a specific subgenre, “Soft Rock” is a pretty broad descriptor. The term has come to characterize the adult incense burning-cool babysitter sounds of Carole King and James Taylor, as well as the candy-coated, big-chorus-ed corniness of Barry Manilow and the Captain and Tennille. While we tend to draw a distinction between these two types of Soft Rock (the former is “cool,” and the latter… isn’t), back then, to my kid ears, they were the same damn thing, 100% equal in terms of their artistic credibility. They were all served up on the same radio stations, so in my world, Jackson Browne and Helen Reddy were as one. It was all pop music.

My sloppy love for both the Soul and the Soft did not trigger a lightbulb moment where I thought, “hey, I love these two things and I wonder if there are artists who have perhaps married the two.” Lord no. That would have been far too sophisticated a notion to have ever sprouted up in my eight-year-old peanut brain. My fascination with the marriage was a more random pursuit that defined itself over time. I think it may have been triggered by hearing The Four Tops’ incendiary cover of Fred Neil’s “Everybody’s Talking” on some compilation in the ’80s. I honestly can’t remember. What I do know is that as technology advanced, my pursuit grew more and more fanatical with each passing day.

Once I could get at discographies with the touch of a button, the nerd assembly line kicked into high gear. Stores were scavenged for Soul-ified Soft Rock treasures. Mixtapes were assembled, followed by mix-CDs, finally culminating in an immense iTunes playlist I pathetically titled, yup, Soul in the Middle of the Road, that grew to feature hundreds of songs. They ran the gamut from transcendent (some rivaling or surpassing the originals in terms of beauty) to horrible (oh man) to just straight-up bizarre (you’ll see).

As alluded to earlier, my main interest is in covers that were recorded during the same era as the originals, in or on the edges of the ’70s. These covers offer a direct nod to the ubiquity of the originals and capture the spirit of that swingin’ era in a way that is impossible for a latter-day cover to achieve (to me, anyway).

I now humbly offer you 30 of the finest, weirdest, and “what the holy hell was that” soul-infused covers of classics and beloved deep cuts from the sweet ‘n’ vast Soft Rock canon. Now I’m sure some of the artists I’m about to mention would bristle at having one of their works characterized as “Soft Rock,” but hey rock star, you made a Soft Rock song, so you know, that’s on you (also thank you, you sexy thing). At the end of the day, they should all feel grateful and flattered to have had their sweetest sounds so soulfully celebrated.

As for me, I hear love in every one of the covers that follow and genuinely hope you can too. Take it away, Tops

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Oct 272021
 

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

Todd Rundgren

Despite his being one of the honorees, Todd Rundgren will not be attending the 2021 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony in Cleveland. He already has plans that evening–namely, playing his own headlining show a few hours away in Cincinnati. But that isn’t the only reason he won’t be there. Truth be told, Todd doesn’t think too highly of the Hall, telling Ultimate Classic Rock that it is “an industry invention” and that “true halls of fame are for retirees and dead people, because your legacy has been established. I’m too busy working to worry about my legacy — and plan to continue working until whenever.”

But he is well aware that Hall inductions are a meaningful thing to the majority of artists who get the nod, going on to say that he’d “striven since the nomination to just not say anything. Because I don’t want to rain on anybody else’s parade. A lot of artists take this seriously. Just because I don’t, doesn’t mean I should try and spoil it for them. I would just like it to elapse without any kind of bad vibes or anything being a result of it. I’d just like it to happen and be over with.”

The fact that Todd doesn’t care about his induction doesn’t change the fact that he is a melodic wizard genius. A spectacularly soulful weirdo. An eloquently empathetic pop poet who wants to keep pushing forward for as long as he is able. It’s okay if he’s not into basking in his legacy or in need of official validation of his achievements right now. He’s still got work to do.
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Sep 242021
 

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

Sailing

Christopher Cross’s soft rock classic “Sailing” isn’t quite what it seems to be on its shimmery surface. For one thing, though it was technically related to actual sojourns on the water Cross took in his younger days, it wasn’t strictly about sailing. Back in 1995, in the midst of a manic (understatement) interview on The Howard Stern Show, of all places, he broke it down.

Cross said his standard explanation of the song’s inspiration ’til then was that it was about the transportive power of art. The song’s most famous line,”the canvas can do miracles” referred not to a boat sail, but to an actual painting (I admit that for years I thought he meant a freakin’ sail, don’t tell anyone). But when he thought about it later, he realized it was about combination of escaping a stressful home situation (his father’s alcoholism and subsequent emotional distance) as well as his gratefulness to a particular friend who would take him out sailing and as a result became something of a surrogate dad to Cross.

And so “Sailing” is not just for sailors but is in fact for all of us wistful humans, eloquently expressing musical thanks to everyone’s blessed escape hatches and guardian angels. “Sailing” is in fact a state of mind. I spent a fair amount of time with this thing as well as the album it came from, titled, uh, Christopher Cross, in my sad teenage bedroom back in the day. so I was warmed to hear Cross’s latter-day analysis. And surely I’m not the only living being who has succumbed to its mellow, melancholic charm and still voluntarily listens to it on a semi-regular basis forty-odd years later (yeah, okay, work with me here people).
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