Nov 262021
 

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

Harvest covers

Harvest is the one Neil Young album that everybody knows of. The reason? Almost undoubtedly “Heart of Gold,” that era-defining song of the early ’70s, all acoustic whimsy, swaying on a stool. Of course it is a terrific song, if a little diminished by ubiquity, but not hugely typical of, at least, Young’s latter-day work, especially when he saddles up with Crazy Horse.

But, by golly, that sweet acoustic ditty has done ol’ Shakey well. At last count there were over a hundred “Heart of Gold” covers, some of them good enough to warrant a yearly check of no small size passing through his mail slot. It did pretty well in its author’s iteration too, mind, hitting the coveted number one spot in the US singles chart (Young’s only sojourn there) and top ten in many other territories. Considering Young had only started dabbling with acoustic songs in response to a back injury, necessitating his sitting to play, how serendipitous must that fall have been? Mind you, his own comments as to where it took him were less than generous: “This song put me in the middle of the road. Traveling there soon became a bore so I headed for the ditch.”

On the back of the single, so too did Harvest flourish, likewise becoming a chart topper with Young’s biggest LP sales to date. Characteristically, given the sheer cussedness of the man, it contains a number of styles, some harking back to previous album After the Gold Rush, some more akin to future more country-inflected excursions. This reflected the musicians recruited, largely country session men making their first outing as the Stray Gators. Pedal steel player Ben Keith, bassist Tim Drummond, and drummer Kenny Buttrey helped shape Harvest‘s sound. So did Jack Nitzsche, the producer and pianist who also played a part with Crazy Horse. Nitzsche decided to orchestrate a couple of the songs as well, an odd move at the time for an artist in other than easy-listening territory. And then there was the stark and bleak beauty of “The Needle and the Damage Done,” gaunt in its unadorned voice and guitar, a song as chilling as Bert Jansch’s clearly influential “Needle of Death.”

A year shy of its half century, how, then, has Harvest fared? How well have the songs lasted? How do they fit into the differing tastes of this century? These more recent interpretations help reveal the answer: better than expected. The original Harvest is an album I listen to for a wallow in nostalgia; these ten covers stand on wholly different ground.
Continue reading »

Nov 192021
 

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!

John Mellencamp

I wanted to put this in the Under the Radar category. Then it hit me: whose radar could John Mellencamp possibly be under? It’s true, but, equally, his spotlight has always veered from mass appeal towards the niche, albeit to different niche audiences at different times, encompassing different genres and different tastes. How much traction, for instance, is there between the effervescent Johnny Cougar in his sequined satins, and the grizzled dustbowl road warrior of only a few years later, let alone the renaissance man of musician, artist and actor he is seen as now? Today’s answer: Precious little, yet more than you may think.
Continue reading »

Nov 172021
 

Cult Classics Vol. 1: I Don’t Even Think of You That Often arrives 30 years after the original multi-artist Cohen tribute album, I’m Your Fan: The Songs of Leonard Cohen. There have been other tributes since then – Tower of Song: The Songs of Leonard Cohen in 1995, Leonard Cohen: I’m Your Man in 2006, and The Songs of Leonard Cohen Covered in 2012 – but Cult Classics Vol. 1 is notable for being the first to be recorded since Cohen’s death five years ago this month.

Drawing comparisons between this new album and the hugely influential I’m Your Fan is probably unfair: after all, the earlier record saved ‘Hallelujah’ from remaining an undiscovered gem in Leonard’s catalogue, and rescued his career by introducing his music to a new audience of young rock fans. Cult Classics arrives in a very different context (Cohen is now revered to the point of having a 10,000-foot mural in his honour on the side of a Montreal high-rise), and is more of an acknowledgement of the influence Leonard continues to have on the young singer-songwriters of today.
Continue reading »

Nov 162021
 

Soulsavers is, or was, the nom de guerre for the initially electronica production team Rich Machin and Ian Glover, who have increasingly developed into the providers of a lush neo-gospel soundscape, incorporating element of country, soul, and blues, into which a variety of singers have embedded (usually) rich and evocative vocals. Dave Gahan is, of course, the front man for Depeche Mode, as famous for his medical history as his work in those early adopters of electronica/pop. His tones are perfect for the Soulsavers brand, and he first came aboard in 2012, singing and writing much the material for The Light the Dead See. This prove a bigger draw than earlier material and the collaboration continued, with the next album, Angels and Ghosts, perhaps ominously now under the Dave Gahan and Soulsavers soubriquet. The duo then made an instrumental album, Kubrick, Gahan returning to Depeche Mode duties.

Last year Gahan began to drop hints as to a further collaboration, and that it would be a covers collection: “When I listen to other people’s voices and songs—more importantly the way they sing them and interpret the words—I feel at home. I identify with it. It comforts me more than anything else.” A taster, the Cat Power song “Metal Heart,” dropped a month or so back and all seemed to be auguring well. Now we have Imposter, the full basket of fruits of their labors. And we have a problem.
Continue reading »

Nov 122021
 

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

Elvis Presley was finally convinced to get back, in true Beatles fashion, on “Burning Love,” the song he released as a single in August 1972. It was high time he reclaimed his throne as the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll, considering his recent dearth of hits in the US, and an audience seemingly weary of his ballads, his gospel numbers, and, ultimately, his “American Trilogy.” On “Burning Love,” he was able to reconnect with his incendiary late-’50s incarnation, to the point of ad-libbing a slice of his 1959 rocker, “A Big Hunk o’ Love.” In the 1972 song, he found the ingredients to catapult him back to the upper reaches of the Billboard Hot 100. (He was joined there by Chuck Berry and Ricky Nelson, the first time all three had been in the top ten in fourteen years.)

What is less well known is that Presley achieved exactly the kind of resurgence with “Burning Love” that Arthur Alexander hoped for when he released it as a single six months earlier. What is also little known, therefore, is that Presley’s version is a cover. By a matter of months.
Continue reading »

Nov 102021
 

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!

When the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inducted songwriter and keyboardist Billy Preston into its ranks last month for Musical Excellence, the other inductees seemed to get all the attention. That’s fair (after all, Preston passed away back in 2006), but it’s also in keeping with Preston’s long and sometimes overshadowed career. Despite writing hit records that blended soul, gospel, funk, and R&B with rock, he tends to be pegged not as a star, but as a stellar session player supporting the actual stars.

That’s valid, too. From the ‘50s through to the early 2000s, Preston does seem to have played with all the greats, from Mahalia Jackson to Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles to Sly Stone; in the rock world, he partnered with the Beatles and the Stones, The Band, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, to name just a few. But we will lean on Billy’s original songs, and on Billy as leader, in our collection of Preston covers.
Continue reading »