Jun 032020
 

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

Terrible Thrills, Vol. 2

Jack Antonoff gives us serious writer/producer/performer triple threat vibes (a la Timbaland and Pharrell). He’s been in a variety of musical acts himself, including Steel Train, fun., and Bleachers, and been involved behind the scenes in the creation of others’ award winning albums. Just to give you a sense for all of the pies he has his fingers in, Antonoff:

  • co-wrote and co-produced some songs on Taylor Swift’s 1989, Reputation, and Lover,
  • co-wrote and co-produced Lorde’s Melodrama album,
  • co-produced Lana del Rey’s Norman Fucking Rockwell! album,
  • co-wrote and co-produced the soundtrack for Love, Simon,
  • co-wrote Sara Bareilles’s song “Brave,”
  • co-produced Saint Vincent’s Masseduction,
  • co-wrote and co-produced songs on The Dixie Chicks’ upcoming album, and
  • co-wrote and co-produced tracks on Carly Rae Jepsen’s Dedicated (including the B-Side version).

We see some of these collaborations either forming out of or being foreshadowed by ties within this cover album.

The “Terrible Thrills” tradition started with Terrible Thrills, Vol. 1an all female cover album of Steel Train’s eponymous album. Terrible Thrills, Vol. 2 was a follow-up project that again featured all female covers, this time of Bleachers’ first album, Strange Desire. Afterwards, although it does not include covers of the entire album, Terrible Thrills, Vol. 3 followed, containing female covers of four songs from Bleachers’ second album, Gone Now, as well as demos and new versions of songs from the album. (I was bummed to not have a female cover of “Don’t Take the Money.”) This cover album was only sold on vinyl, but you can listen to it here.

Every single one of these covers is great, so I had a hard time choosing just a handful to write about. But here goes…

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May 122020
 

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

Good As I Been To You

Similar to Superman’s periodic retreats to his Fortress of Solitude, Bob Dylan occasionally turns to the music of the past to gather strength for challenges ahead. Most of the great comebacks of Bob’s career – including the one we’re seeing right now – have been proceeded by intense periods of covering old songs. In 1992, after a decade of butting heads with producers and wrestling with 1980s recording technology, Dylan decided to strip things back – all the way back. No producer, no band; just Bob Dylan, his guitar, and a bucketload of folk and blues songs.

The idea had probably been taking shape in Dylan’s mind since the summer of 1988, when he began what would soon become known as the Never Ending Tour (or NET to its friends). While the earliest NET shows were largely devoted to Bob and his band tearing through his back catalogue punk rock-style, the highlight for many fans were the mid-show acoustic sets, where Bob often unearthed traditional songs from the western world’s distant past. “Trail of the Buffalo,” “The Lakes of Pontchartrain,” “Barbara Allen,” “The Wagoner’s Lad,” and many others made regular appearances. Bob didn’t just perform these songs: he inhabited them.
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Apr 282020
 

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

Deadicated

Deadicated is so much more than a great covers album; it’s a great album, period. But more, it also heralded the era for covers albums to be more than a leg up for aspiring musicians to get a grip on the slippery pole, by riding on the laurels of another more established act. This was one of the first tribute albums where the great and the good lined up to salute their peers.

But I’ll get back to that. My reasons for it attaining classic status stemming a whole lot more than from the fearsome reputation of the Dead. As a… well, whatever I was, I loved the idea of the Grateful Dead. But over here in Britain, there was no Deadhead culture as such. They came over, what, once? (Yup, Bickershaw Festival, 1972, as at least one contributor to the album knew only too well.) As an avid reader of New Musical Express and Melody Maker, the UK “inkies”, the musical press within whose hallowed pages they were ensured good copy, to me they were just the coolest dudes ever. I’d also read Tom Wolfe’s The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test and was smitten.

But where to start? In truth, I was daunted, happier to wear the T-shirt than buy the music. I didn’t want it spoilt by any risk of finding the idea to be less than the reality of the dream.

Luckily a trip to Orlando, circa 1987, solved that conundrum, around about the time of In the Dark. Of course, the big hit single helped, even if there were more filler tracks than killer tracks on the album. Clearly I hadn’t quite got that the Dead were more a live experience than a studio band. Still haven’t, really; to this day, listening to live records has never been a great immersive for me. But, praise be, I loved the studio records, snapping up the back catalog.

When Deadicated dropped in 1991, I bought it, unheard. The roster of artists included an impossible array of my favorites: Elvis Costello, Los Lobos, Suzanne Vega, Dr. John, Indigo Girls, Cowboy Junkies and more. Catnip and heaven combined. (Deadicated also served as a benefit for Rainforest Action Network, active to this day, a charity dedicated to the preservation of these vital once macro-climates, shrinking by the day through the scourge of deforestation.)
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Apr 272020
 

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

Schoolhouse Rock! Rocks

To this day, I can still sing along with every single Schoolhouse Rock! song, and I’m sure I’m not alone in knowing that knowledge is power. The series was first aired in the ’70s on Saturday mornings on ABC. It continued until entering a hiatus in 1985. The series then returned in 1993 with new content. After another lull starting in 2000, even more content emerged in 2002 and 2009 including a whole new series, Earth Rock, written to tackle the issue of climate change. The box set of Schoolhouse Rock! was even added to the Library of Congress in 2018, which means it is officially deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically important, and/or inform or reflect life in the United States.”

However, even as a super-fan, I was only recently made aware of this tribute album (whose proceeds partially went to the Children’s Defense Fund). Released in 1996, this album covers a variety of classics across the different series. I confess I was disappointed to not have an “Interjections!” cover. However, this album is now so elusive that I wasn’t able to even listen to some of the songs (I’m itching to hear “Verb: That’s What’s Happening” by Moby and “Conjunction Junction” by Better than Ezra).

Let’s listen to one cover each from Grammar, Multiplication, Science, and America Rock and refresh our memories on some educational basics.

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Mar 062020
 

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

Moondog Matinee

Just five years on from the release of the rapturously-received Music From Big Pink album in 1968, simmering tension had already begun to erode The Band’s all-for-one-and-one-for-all dynamic. “We couldn’t get along… ‘Up On Cripple Creek’ and all that stuff was over,” drummer Levon Helm told GRITZ magazine in 2002.  The decision to record an album of covers appears to have been something of a tension-relieving exercise, a chance for The Band to let their hair down and remind themselves why they had started making music together in the first place. No Civil War epics or songs lamenting the plight of the American farmer to be found here: Moondog Matinee was designed to be nothing more than a straight-up party. Ironically, however, it’s the diversions into more sombre territory that provide some of the the album’s strongest moments.
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Feb 212020
 

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

Strange Little Girls

Wham, Steely Dan, Bette Midler, Bill Withers, Rihanna, Led Zeppelin, Madonna, Eagles, the Stones – Tori Amos has covered ’em all, and anyone and everyone left in between. (OK, maybe except maybe boybands – it wouldn’t surprise me if she tackled, say, “Back For Good” at least somewhere live, but I couldn’t find it in the pages and pages and pages of YouTube Tori Covers links.) Not necessarily successfully every time, it’s true, but always challengingly and usually well worth the ride.

Despite this evident love for the songs of others, Amos has officially issued only the one covers project, such is her own prolific muse, with well over a dozen discs of her own. (There’s also Midwinter Graces, a festive album with several traditional songs, and Night of Hunters, reimagining several classical pieces of inspiration to her over her years, but they don’t really count as cover albums.) Strange Little Girls, which came out in 2001, had a specific intent. Rather than a outpouring of personal favorites, this was a procession of songs delineating a masculine view of the world. By men and about men. With Amos’s acknowledged feminist opinions and activism, this was a deliberate stance, with the aim of subverting them and offering a female perspective thereto.
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