Feb 162021
 

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

sunflower covers

Last time the “Covering the Hits” dice-roll landed me one of the earliest chart-toppers ever – Ernie K-Doe’s sassy New Orleans classic “Mother in Law” – and today it lands me one of the most recent: Post Malone and Swae Lee’s contribution to that animated Spider Man movie, “Sunflower,” which went to number in 2019.

Post Malone gets covered a lot. In fact, we had a bluegrass version of “Circles” on our year-end list two months ago. “Sunflower” didn’t quite hit “Circles”-level covers ubiquity, maybe because it sounds pretty hard to sing, but it’s been tackled plenty (once by a very prominent band). (And let’s not forget Posty himself knows his way around a cover; I saw multiple people call his Nirvana set one of the best livestreams of 2020.) Continue reading »

Jan 152021
 

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

mother in law covers

Few embraced their one-hit wonder status as enthusiastically as New Orleans R&B singer Ernie K-Doe. “Mother in Law” went to number one in 1961 – the first ever chart-topper out of New Orleans – and he never again came close. Eventually, he stopped trying, and leaned into it. With the help of his wife, he founded the live music venue Mother-in-Law Lounge in New Orleans. He would perform there regularly – and if people wanted to hear “Mother in Law” a whole bunch of times during one set, he’d play it a whole bunch of times during one set!

Back in 1961, the song became a standard almost immediately upon release. That didn’t help Ernie all that much, though; he didn’t write it. The great Allen Toussaint did, but he considered it a throwaway – so much so that he literally threw it away, before a backing singer rescued it from the trashcan and handed to K-Doe. Here’s a video of K-Doe performing with the song’s writer on piano in the ’90s (starts at the ten-minute mark):

“Mother in Law” has been covered hundreds of times (maybe thousands if you count cheeky wedding bands). Here are some of the high points… Continue reading »

Nov 032020
 

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

mo money mo problems covers

The three most prominent “Mo Money Mo Problems” covers aren’t really covers at all. But they’re at least cover-adjacent, so we’ll start there.
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Oct 162020
 

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

Don't You Forget About Me covers

Keith Forsey and Steve Schiff wrote “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” while scoring The Breakfast Club. They sent it to Simple Minds, a favorite group of theirs. Simple Minds turned it down, preferring to do songs they themselves had written. Bryan Ferry turned it down. Billy Idol turned it down. Eurythmics turned it down. Cy Curnin of the Fixx turned it down. The record company suggested Corey Hart; Forsey turned them down. Chrissie Hynde loved it, but was pregnant and didn’t want to do the accompanying video, so she badgered her husband to try it. Her husband was Jim Kerr, of (wait for it) Simple Minds.

Once the band came around, they followed Forsey & Schiff’s demo pretty closely, with Kerr throwing in the “Hey, hey, hey, hey” and a few “la la la”s toward the end. After its release, while grateful for the doors it opened, the band sometimes sounded like they wished they’d stuck to their guns and kept turning it down. “(The lyrics) sound pretty inane to me,” Kerr later said. “Sometimes I play it and I just puke.”

It seems like the only people who ever loved the song were the target audience. They took the song to number one and permanently lodged it in the collective conscious of the class of ’85. When Simple Minds performed it at Live Aid (at Bob Geldof’s insistence), the Philadelphia crowd went crazy, and the band realized what they had on their hands was more than just another hit. Thirty-five years later, “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” can bring the era back like few other songs.

Such a song becomes an easy target for artists wanting to cover it. In Spin‘s definitive oral history of the song, Forsey says, “For me, the song only goes one way, and what we did when we did it was the way.” That’s as may be, but that didn’t stop many others from taking it their way. As Schiff says in the same article, “The song has really gone off on its own and has become that thing for other people, and that comes across when somebody else does it. You know, walking by bars in New Orleans, at a karaoke bar and it’s there. It’s sort of fun where it can pop up.”

Seven of them pop up below. Enjoy!

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Jan 172020
 

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

black and white covers

Unlike most #1 hits we’ve covered so far, Three Dog Night’s 1972 chart-topper “Black and White” is itself a cover. The song, written by Earl Robinson and David Arkin (Alan Arkin’s father), was first recorded by Pete Seeger in 1956. Even in Three Dog Night’s marginally more rockin’ arrangement, it still sounds like a Seeger song, and not exactly a top-tier Seeger song at that. “A child is black, a child is white / A whole world looks upon the sight” sounds like folk music’s “Ebony and Ivory.” The fact that Three Dog Night took this well-meaning trifle to number one shows just how high the band was riding after the previous year’s “Joy to the World.” Continue reading »

Sep 202019
 

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

just like starting over covers

In October of 1980, John Lennon’s “(Just Like) Starting Over” was released as a single, serving as a harbinger for his first new album in five years. The critics were not about to swoon over his return; while it was nice to see him making music again, some scorned his contentedness and the song’s studio-bound ’50s sound; one British mag went so far as to headline their review “Get Down Lazarus.” Which Lennon did, to what must have been tremendous mortification on the headline writer’s part.

Lennon’s death virtually guaranteed a number one song; “(Just Like) Starting Over” reaped the morbid benefits. To this day, it serves as a bittersweet epitaph, and about as untouchable by cover artists as a song can get. What’s the point? It’s its own tribute, and bettering it is a thankless task.

But that doesn’t mean nobody’s tried…
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