Feb 232024
 

‘The Best Covers Ever’ series counts down our favorite covers of great artists.

beatles covers

Sixty years ago this month, The Beatles played on the Ed Sullivan Show. You don’t need us to tell you what a momentous occasion this was; entire books have been written on the subject. Suffice to say we’re using the anniversary as our excuse to finally devote a Best Covers Ever to perhaps the biggest band of them all. We’ve done Dylan. We’ve done the Stones. We’ve done Dolly and Springsteen and Prince. But there was one last giant remaining.

Though it’s difficult to measure this precisely, The Beatles are the most-covered artist of all time according to the two biggest covers databases on the internet (SecondHandSongs, WhoSampled). And that certainly feels right. “Yesterday” is often cited as the most-covered song of all time, though that needs qualifiers (a ton of Christmas standards would beat it). But, again, it feels right. The Beatles were ubiquitous in their day, and they’ve been ubiquitous ever since. They just had a chart-topping single last month, the A.I.-assisted “Now and Then,” which was duly covered widely. If “Carnival of Light” ever surfaces, no doubt a carnival of covers will soon follow. Continue reading »

Feb 212024
 

Nouvelle Vague is back with a new collection titled Should I Stay or Should I Go? I’m going to hesitate in answering that question, as there is the one more demanding, about how this lot are still going. No offense intended, mind; back in the day, Nouvelle Vague’s bossa nova revisiting of punk and new wave songs was really something to behold, with both the novelty and the application well worthy of praise and merit. But now? I know a version has been touring, but I hadn’t appreciated they were still marketing something new, or, more to the point, new to them. So, is this a soft sophisticated samba swirl through the song cycles of Eilish and Swift, Sheeran and whoever else the young people adore? Ummmm, nope. This is a further trawl through the hallowed dusty halls of the last century. Or, more to the point, hoping the audiences who loved them near two decades ago will still love them now, and are still listening to their tired old record collections.

I needed to check out the rationale, hastening to the requisite website. The fact that one of the originators, Olivier Libaux, is now the late Olivier Libaux should be enough confirm him spinning gently, counterclockwise, in his grave. I am presuming his then co-conspirator Marc Collin is still at the helm, as the agenda is seemingly unchanged, setting up a set of chanteuses unfamiliar with the originals, ironically perhaps all the more available as time flits by. So why does it seem now to, largely, pall, where it once delighted? Follow me…..
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Feb 162024
 

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!

I first heard The The’s Infected sometime in the late 1980s. I was unimpressed. So was Ira A. Robbins of Trouser Press, who called Matt Johnson’s first album, Burning Blue Soul, “formless ‘songs’ with laughably precious lyrics.” And so was Robert Christgau, whose summation of The The read, in its entirety, “Uh-uh.” By Soul Mining, Johnson shifted gears and reverted to a more popular ’80s pop sound. But by then, I had moved on to the Pixies.

Some years later, I ran upon Dusk in a cache of used CDs that I had bought for my online CD store. All of a sudden I was a fan. Here is someone who understands pain. Here is someone that writes empathy: “Your problems will be mine,” he promises in “Helpline Operator.” Just the title of the song “Love Is Stronger Than Death,” moves us before we even hear the first note. Trouser Press agreed, reversing a years-long vendetta by writing that Johnson had matured into “a subtle and versatile artist.” The The was the definite article.

At this point, wanting to learn more about this band and trying to search on a computer in the early years of the internet, I ran into my first wall: search engines. In the beginning, search engines would disassociate the two “the”s. Basically all pages with the word “the” would appear. So…all pages. Searching for the band really was impossible outside of official channels, especially before YouTube. Things eventually got easier, but even now, decades after the band’s first album, I started to have flashbacks to the early days while curating this piece. When I searched the Live Archive, for instance, any accidental repeat of the word, like a typo (Think “The The Grateful Dead”) showed up in results.

So I have worked mightily to find these covers, and have posted songs from every imaginable source. I probably listened to 50 hours of covers for this piece. Here we go.
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Feb 142024
 

(hangs head) How did I not hear of this? How did Billy Valentine and the Universal Truth, a slice of prime r’n’b/jazz–acid jazz if you must–slip under the Cover Me radar last year? Alerted by the end-of-year lists of others, a quick shufti confirmed this demanded our attention. And it comes with quite an impressive back story to boot.

There are two Billy Valentines. There’s the 98-year-old blues and r’n’b man, William A. Valentine, and there’s 73-year-old who was one of the Valentine Brothers, r’n’b hitmakers of the 1970s into ’80s, best known for “Money Too Tight (To Mention),” to be later catapulted into ubiquity by Simply Red. (Their version is better…) This is the latter of the Valentines, however much I secretly hoped it the former.

After the brush with fame offered by “MTT(TM),” with their own version sinking under the lack of promotion capable of their then-tiny independent label, Valentine took on work with Bob Thiele Jr., as a writer for hire. Thiele Sr. was the boss of Impulse Records, when their roster covered acts such as Louis Armstrong and John Coltrane; later her served as the boss of Flying Dutchman Records, which had championed Gil Scott-Heron. Valentine and Thiele Jr. sold songs all over, ahead of some later traction of soundtracks: Valentine was one of the featured singers for The Sons Of Anarchy series, with a number of featured cameos. Come 2020, with Thiele Sr. deceased, his son felt it as good a time as any to revive the Flying Dutchman imprint, as part of the Acid Jazz family. Valentine was his first signing.

Taking a while to gather together the right combination of material and musician, Billy Valentine and the the Universal Truth dropped last March. It features eight songs drawn from the more militant factions of black music, or at least songs that reflect on that. There is some Gil Scott-Heron, some Curtis Mayfield and Pharaoh Sanders, with Stevie Wonder and Prince in there for good measure. Musicians include the likes of Immanuel Wilkins, Alex Acuña, Jeff Parker and Pino Palladino, so the album is class personified. Let’s play it!
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Feb 092024
 

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!

The Feelies

In 2023, the Feelies released Some Kinda Love: Performing the Music of the Velvet Underground, a live album recorded one night in 2018. Listeners heard a band that had clearly absorbed the VU into their DNA long ago, making their recreations sound almost effortless. They even play the brief instrumental burbling at the start of “Sweet Jane.” The audience cheers heard between songs are loud and enthusiastic, and no matter which band’s music they’re there to hear, you can tell they love the other band too.

For this night, the Feelies were more about being Velvet Underground fans than Feelies. Because because? Well, their version of “What Goes On” sounds more like the VU and less like the Feelies’ own studio-released version, from 1988’s Only Life. Now there was a band who set out to make a song their own. Not to knock the modern day Feelies, not at all, but that VU night really was designed to be more commemoration than innovation. It’s those earlier covers we’re focusing on today, the ones that saw the band out to, as Lou Reed called his own live album in 1978, take no prisoners.

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Feb 022024
 

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

Johnny B. Goode

Really? As in, surely Cover Me must have talked about “Johnny B. Goode” before? Well, I’ve searched, and it seems “Memphis, Tennessee” is the only Chuck song to show itself on this platform. Of course, it may just feel like we’ve given Johnny the once-over twice on account of ol’ Charles Edward Anderson Berry wrote so many of the standard templates of rock (and roll). I mean, it isn’t as if nobody’s ever tried a cover, it difficult to imagine any guitar band ever not taking a crack at it. Is it not compulsory that every band of spotty youth, convening in a reluctant father’s garage, include it in their nascent set of tunes? Hell, I bet it casts a longer shadow than even “Louie, Louie,” always previously the lodestone at such gatherings. Secondhand Songs, still the wiki for cover lovers, suggests 328 versions, which, given the site’s understandable inability to know or find every single itty bitty rendition, suggests possibly a fair few more. (Indeed, as ever, we rely on you to let us know some more good(e) covers in the responses.)

Continue reading »