Seuras Og

Seuras Og is an old enough to know better family Dr in Birmingham, UK, having taken the easy option of medicine upon failure to get work in a record store. By now drowning in recorded music, he has thought it about time to waste the time of others in his passion here, as well as in his own blog, www.retropathology.blogspot.com

May 052021
 

Cover Classics takes a closer look at all-cover albums of the past, their genesis, and their legacy.

Patti Smith Twelve

Up until her release of Twelve in 2007, Patti Smith had not been much of one for studio covers, give or take her fabled extended riff on “Gloria,” which remains a live staple. Sure, she had the Byrds’ “So You Want to Be a Rock’n’Roll Star” on her third album, and Dylan’s John Wesley Harding deep cut “Wicked Messenger” on her sixth, but she otherwise largely wrote her own, with her friends and band members. Twelve surprised fans and critics alike, not only by being all other people’s songs, but also by the twelve songs Smith had chosen. Continue reading »

Apr 232021
 

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

Some Girls covers

The later ’70s had seen the Rolling Stones, not for the first time or the last, written off and out of touch, booted out of the limelight by the twin prongs of disco and punk. They were just too old: Jagger and co. were mostly in their mid to late thirties, Bill Wyman soon to be an unbelievable 42. Exile on Main Street, from six years earlier, had seemed their last point of mass credibility, the interim recordings treading water. Continue reading »

Apr 192021
 

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

Tom Dooley

Yes, “Tom Dooley” is a cover song. Should this even be a surprise, given its age? But even the oldest version you can think of is unlikely to be the original. Were you to ask me, a stripling of a lad, the version I presume to be the original is always going to be the Kingston Trio 1958 chartbuster. As I was 1 at the time, I have this knowledge only on the good authority of my ex, who sang it to me whilst courting, it having been sung to her by her mother as she lay in her cot. Indeed, whenever the song was prompted to her by her daughter, my mother in law was, and probably still is, capable of piping up into a few verses.

Younger readers have maybe had to make do with more recent renditions, Mr. Dooley surprisingly still having wings, popping up all over, and not always where and from whom you would expect. I say this as it is, let’s be fair, pretty limp fare. Cutting edge, perhaps, in 1958, but maybe not the trigger to awake the inspiration of the icons of the ’60s folk explosion, you know, Bob Dylan and that sort of artist. Well, we’ll see….
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Apr 122021
 

In the Spotlight showcases a cross-section of an artist’s cover work. View past installments, then post suggestions for future picks in the comments!

Terry Reid covers

There are very few articles about Terry Reid that fail to mention his falling at the first hurdle of being asked to join Led Zeppelin, and, I am afraid, this isn’t one of them. It seems the one fact anyone knows about this still-performing singer, and one that, understandably, always irks him. Not so much that he regrets it, more he just regrets it being the only part of his life and career anyone asks him about. Or seems interested about. Which is a shame, as there has always been a good deal more to Terry Reid than that.
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Apr 072021
 

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

I Can't Help Myself

“Sugarpie, honeybunch” must be the most gloriously unselfconscious opening shot of almost any song I can think of, epitomizing the sheer unstoppable surge of soppiness true love can invoke in even the red bloodiest of macho men. Tagged to a monster of a melody that takes wings from the start, “I Can’t Help Myself” by the Four Tops couldn’t be a stronger declaration of fact; when you hear it, you just know that no-shrinking-violet Levi Stubbs really can’t help himself. It is so well constructed a song: the words, the melody, the never-better arrangement and the transcendent vocals, all add up to Motown at its mid-60s pinnacle. And the credits clearly don’t need any prompting–it could be nobody other than Holland-Dozier-Holland, oozing out of every pore of the vinyl, always vinyl, always 45 rpm.

Brothers Brian and Eddie Holland had been with Motown and Berry Gordy from the start, as both songwriters and performers, ahead of teaming up with Lamont Dozier, who similarly had been writing and performing on the fertile Detroit music scene. As a production and writing team together, they hit pay dirt, responsible for a huge proportion of the label’s output, and arguably the most responsible as anyone for the fame and fortunes of the Tamla Motown brand. The Supremes? Martha and the Vandellas? The Isley Brothers? Yup, they wrote most of their early hits, and a fair few for the Temptations, Junior Walker, Marvin Gaye and more. Plus, of course, the Four Tops, for me the earthiest and most authentic set of voices in the roster. The combination of the strained vocal of Stubbs, the writers deliberately pitching the songs to the top of his range, with the call and response backing vocals of Abdul “Duke” Fakir, Renaldo “Obie” Benson and Lawrence Payton is remarkable. Add in the exemplary musicianship of the legendary studio house band the Funk Brothers and it becomes unbeatable. Over four decades the recipe and the line-up, at least of the vocal group, didn’t change. And if the Hollands and Lamont didn’t write everything, wherever they were involved, they sure as hell produced and arranged it to sound as if they did.

Hitting the top of the Billboard chart for two weeks in 1965, “I Can’t Help Myself” was the second-biggest seller of the year, in a year of strong competition (you’ll never guess what number one was). How well has it fared since? And with whom? There are a lot of anodyne facsimiles, watering the soul and passion down into pappy would be chart fodder. But a few, just a few, have taken the ball and run.
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Mar 242021
 

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

Lorraine Ellison

“Stay With Me Baby” was written by Jerry Ragovoy, the master of of slow-burn hearts a’rending songs like this. Here he was joined by, oddly, George Weiss, better known for the “Lullaby of Birdland” lyrics and the syrupy evergreen of “(What a) Wonderful World.” Nothing syrupy here, though. Is there a song with more wracked rawness than this almost primal howl of grief, an astonishing masterclass in anguish? The open throat of Lorraine Ellison combines with the freeze-frame build from piano to orchestra, again and again, ramping up the tension from verse to verse. Ellison’s biggest hit by a country mile, (only) #64 in 1966, she actually had a decent enough track record of other recordings, sufficient to fill a brace of best-ofs that contain considerably more than just that that one song, if largely similar fare.

It takes a certain sort of singer to be able to fulfil the commitment of the song, which perhaps is why it gravitates towards those whose life stories are known to contain similar emotions. Sadly, some of these form part of period piece recreations for TV shows, and have little to add or offer to the need of this piece. Which is a shame, as Chris Cornell‘s rendition for Vinyl is a doozy, and would be a definite inclusion, had it added any originality beyond his exquisite vocal. But there are still a few who pack the necessary punch in the gut, yet with additional touches of nuance to stand out from the throng.
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