Nov 092021
 

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

West of the West

“We dreamed of all the crazy places we never been. Like California.” So sings/speaks Bill Kirchen in the classic Commander Cody song “Mama Hated Diesels,” aptly summing up the lure of the Golden State. And, with due hats tipped to Tennessee and to New York State, is there any other that has drawn in so many songwriter acolytes to the flame it has provided, and for so long? Which, by way of introduction, is where Dave Alvin headed with West of the West, a glorious potpourri of songs from the 5th largest economy in the world, pulled together, chosen and sung by the erstwhile Blaster and X man.
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Oct 272021
 

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

Carole King tribute

For a time in the 1970s, Tapestry was the album to have under your arm, especially if you wanted, or needed, to show off some serious and sensitive right-on dude vibes with, um, the ladies. In those far off and distant days, as well as being, for real, a stellar album, transforming the shy Brill Building hit song machine into a credible songwriter of some rather more finesse than had been earlier appreciated, Carole King became, in an instant, a feminist icon, appealing across the range of an increasingly politicized gender awareness. While this may have neither been her aim or intention, the timing was perfect, the world ready and aching for singer-songwriters able to intelligently bare their emotions over some gentle laid back Laurel Canyon arrangements.

But let’s not forget quite how impressive the King legacy had been, prior to Tapestry. She wrote, or co-wrote, often with first husband, Gerry Goffin, 118 Billboard hits, making her the prime successful female songwriter of the latter half of the 20th century. Songs that have become standards, songs with a longevity that have you remembering the words immediately, after decades, prompted by a single note. Songs like “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow,” “Take Good Care of My Baby,” “Goin’ Back,” and many many more, with versions aplenty in any genre you might wish to pick, if usually prime pop fodder in their initial iterations, with King herself far from the spotlight. (OK, she had also had a crack at performing, in 1962, with her gauche and affecting “It Might As Well Rain Until September,” which was a hit, but the world then preferred her songs performed by sassy girl groups and tight-shirted medallion men crooners.)

Divorcing Goffin in 1968, and wearying of the world of processing chart hits for others, King moved to L.A., to Laurel Canyon, arriving much the same time as a bevy of like-minded individuals, Her goal: to revive her own career as a performer, having put it on hold earlier thanks to the undoubted success of being a go-to writer. With neighbors like James Taylor and Joni Mitchell, this was to be a fertile breeding ground for King. With an earlier album disappointing the charts, in cahoots with Taylor and much of his backing band, Tapestry slowly came together, coming out in 1971, with one of its songs already a massive hit. James Taylor’s “You’ve Got a Friend” was huge, and Taylor made sure all knew who had written it, many perhaps surprised that it was the same writer of all those 60s chart-toppers. The fact that King chose also to include a couple of those early songs, reworked and reenvisioned, amongst the newer material gave the ideal crossover between her old audience and a massive new audience. Tapestry stormed to the number one slot of the album charts, staying there for upward of three, nearly four, months. The two lead singles each hit the top of their respective chart. Acclaimed by all, and grabbing four Grammys in 1972, it has notched up 25 million sales and counting, remaining on the chart for an astonishing 313 weeks, a record only surpassed by Pink Floyds’s Dark Side of the Moon.

So, then, what of Tapestry Revisited? Coming nearly a quarter of a century later, in 1995, the idea was to recreate Tapestry with a roster of the great and good of the day. However, rather than remembering the idea and the ambience of the original, with its mood of getting it together in the country, here it was if the older and earlier King was being celebrated, as the artists chosen came, largely, from the pool of pop royalty rather than from singer-songwriters plowing any similar farrow at that time. So we get the Bee Gees, Celine Dion, and Rod Stewart, he then at the peak of his satin and sashes ridiculousness. But, fair play, if the job required was to draw a new attention to the songs and their writer, this it would certainly be capable of doing.

Although Tapestry Revisited went gold, it peaked at #53 and few would put it above the original. But it has its moments.
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Jul 092021
 

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

Hollywood Vampire's self-titled album

We’ve seen a few different motivations for forming supergroups, but another one is to gather together to pay homage to others. One recent example: the Sylvain Sylvain tribute by Halloween Jack, made up of Gilby Clarke (formally of Guns N’ Roses), Eric Dover (of Jellyfish), Stephen Perkins (of Jane’s Addiction), Dan Shulman (formerly of Garbage), and Steve Stevens (guitarist for Billy Idol)).

Hollywood Vampires is made up of Alice Cooper, Johnny Depp (super in a different way, but showing off his musical skills here), and Joe Perry (of Aerosmith). Although they have since worked on originals, their self-titled first album is (mostly) a cover album where the songs are chosen to pay tribute to rockers who “died from excess” in the 1970s. The irony of this is that the band is named after the drinking club for celebrities formed by Cooper in the ’70s.

Throughout their time playing together, the band has had guest features from other big stars, actors and musicians alike. They have postponed their European Tour twice now due to the pandemic, but hopefully fans will get a chance to rock out when the world settles down a bit more. Continue reading »

May 212021
 

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

Bob Dylan

As a companion piece to our best Bob Dylan single song covers post, coming this Monday, it’s worth considering the myriad tribute albums to the bard of Duluth. To narrow that down at least marginally, we’ll focus on those by an individual band or artist (several Dylan sets appeared on our recent best tribute compilations countdown). There are a lot of them, many more even than you might imagine, encompassing all styles and stages of his ever-changing moods. So let’s start setting some real guidelines here…

We’ll rule out those put together retrospectively as a compilation, so no The Byrds Play Dylan or Postcards of the Hanging by The Grateful Dead. This piece only addresses those made for and released at one sitting. Space begets also a ruthlessness that further excludes participants put together solely and especially for one specific recording, so farewell the excellent Dylan’s Gospel and the intriguing Dylan Jazz. Finally, this is a Top Twenty list, squeezing out many further worthy gems like Joan Osborne’s Songs of Bob Dylan and Robbie Fulks’ 16, a track-by-track take on Street Legal that has some of the best individual songs, frustratingly alongside some decidedly not, perhaps due to the songs and not the singer. Finally, I felt it would be interesting/indulgent to add two essential bits of information about each record:

1. What is the deepest cut contained?
2: Does it feature “Like a Rolling Stone,” the benchmark Dylan song?

Will you disagree with my selections? Sure, and that’s fine, it’s what the comments area is for. Let me know what you think shouldn’t have missed the cut, and what shouldn’t have made it.
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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 »

Mar 122021
 

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

Camper Van Beethoven Tusk

Rumours was a tough act for Fleetwood Mac to follow, so they didn’t follow it. Instead of giving an audience more of the same, they took a big leap with their next album, Tusk in 1979. It was the most expensive album to be recorded at the time, and although it did not reach the same level of commercial success as Rumours, there were pockets of critics and fans alike that appreciated the post-punk experiment. (Did I know Lindsey Buckingham was a big Talking Heads fan before writing this piece? No!)

Camper Van Beethoven is a band somewhere between alternative and indie rock who decided to take on Tusk in all its double-album glory.  Not to be outdone in terms of drama, their version has a conspiracy theory-esque origin story. The band claimed to have unearthed it years after recording it on a whim in the late ’80, but they actually recorded it in 2001 and then released it in 2002 as a test run to see whether they could work together as a band after an earlier breakup. Oh, the intrigue! It is good to see a little of the Fleetwood Mac drama carry on in this work, although it is a little ironic that an original album that represented a band being divided by romance gone wrong actually brought another one back together in cover form.

Tusk is no ordinary Fleetwood Mac album, and in the spirit of that fact, this is no ordinary Fleetwood Mac cover album. Let’s hear some of the contrast in sound and approach.

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