Jun 102022
 

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

Comedian Marc Maron made a funny mistake on a recent episode of his “WTF” podcast. Two founders of the Doobie Brothers were his guests. Although Maron is fanatical about music and is a musician in his own right, his tone throughout the interview seemed to reveal that he finds the Doobie Brothers faintly ridiculous. (He’s more of an Iggy Pop and Patti Smith guy.) Sure, Maron could recall a few of the Doobies album titles, and he shared a memory of singing along with “Black Water” in a school bus at age 11, but every American of Maron’s generation remembers singing that song in a school bus.

After the interview, Maron improvised a medley of iconic Doobie Brothers moments. He sang some choruses he only partly remembered, and he vocally mimicked a few of the band’s signature guitar riffs. Partway through he sang “give me the beat boys, free my soul, I wanna get lost in your rock and roll and drift away,” an iconic ’70s line if ever there was one.

That’s the mistake that got me thinking about the song “Drift Away.” That’s the song Maron was remembering, but it’s one which the Doobie Brothers never recorded. Soul singer Dobie Gray recorded the hit in 1973.
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Jun 072022
 

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

Long Train Runnin

Just how good a song is the Doobie Brothers’ “Long Train Runnin'”? No, I mean it–just how good is it? Yes, yes, I know the sun is shining and it feels like Spring At Last, but this song, y’know, isn’t it pure essence of get outside and dance? Unassailable on all fronts, it is the spirit of yeah, the unashamed shake yer head, shake yer hips of boogie, and from the casual shake of the wrist in the first few bars, it has defied its near-half-century age to infect me once again.

Tom Johnston should be revered for this song, rather than just being the bloke in the Doobies before Michael McDonald. Or, for that matter, the bloke in the Doobies after Michael McDonald. Or, indeed, with Michael McDonald, such has the revolving door of band membership been. But, however mighty was the McDonald-helmed version, and before his silver hair and tonsils became their calling card, the band had had a run of singles, all written and sung by Johnston, all instantly recognizable, if likewise all easily confused, being all cut from a similar cloth.
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Jun 032022
 

One Great Cover looks at the greatest cover songs ever, and how they got to be that way.

Close to You

You know that old TV and movie trope where the shy wallflower with “potential” gets a makeover and is miraculously transformed into the coveted bombshell? Think of the Carpenters’ 1970 cover of “(They Long to Be) Close to You” as the sonic embodiment of that notion. Okay, it’s more of a get a new hairstyle, dress cooler but leave the glasses on version because you know, this is the Carpenters we’re talking about here, but you get the idea.

But seriously, when it comes to angst-ridden, idealistic love ballads about unrequited desire and quietly lustful appreciation, they don’t get much better than “(They Long to Be) Close to You.” Written by the legendary songwriting team of Burt Bacharach and Hal David, “CTY” (let’s just call it) is that contradictory but always revelatory musical combination of sugary and majestic, cut from the same frothy, infatuated, occasionally eye-rolling cloth as Stevie Wonder’s “My Cherie Amour” while eliciting “Dancing Queen”-levels of respect for its production and execution. From Richard Carpenter’s iconic opening piano flourishes to sister Karen’s towering vocal (understatement), it expertly straddles that line between non-threatening pap and soul-crushing tearjerker with consummate skill (’tis the eternal mystery-magic of the Carpenters).

The duo so completely inhabit the song, which is to say they freakin’ own it, that it is easy to forget they were not the first artists to record it. No, the first “CTY” out of the gate wasn’t even by an actual musician, but by a hot and debonair actor playing a doctor on a TV show. Yup, welcome to the glorious state of pop music in the USA in 1963.
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May 302022
 

Jerry Jeff
Steve Earle’s getting good at these tributes to friends and mentors. Jerry Jeff is his third, following Townes and Guy. (Yes, of course there has also been J.T., but that paean to his prematurely deceased son was a force of necessity rather than choice, one which we reviewed here.) The latest tribute has more in common with the first two, and is maybe a bit of a surprise, not least as there is no recorded Bluebird Café gig to legitimize the link.

Indeed, those uncertain why Earle might be drawn to the works of Jerry Jeff Walker, seemingly less of a maverick, might need to think again. The outlaw-country icon is way more than just the “Mr. Bojangles” hitmaker, and that song, wonderful as it is, may not be the best marker of his styles, as he gravitated from Greenwich Village folkie to grizzled Austin veteran. (More about that song here.)

Walker, who died back in 2020, did cross paths with Earle a number of times. Once Walker invited him down to play a song for Neil. Not knowing who Neil was, Earle complied, and was delighted to find himself about to play a song for Neil Young. He was then appalled that Walker insisted he play a David Olney song, rather than one of his own. Ouch! But it goes further, Earle telling Vulture that “Mr. Bojangles” had been a (very) early stage favorite of his, it being performed at the specific request of his high school teacher for a school show.

Earle is older and mellower now, and arguably this set of Walker songs suits him a little better than his reputation(s) would predict. Plus, for those champing at the bit for some new Earle compositions, there is a promise that this is his last in his run of tributes. For them, good; for us here at Cover Me, maybe less so.
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May 272022
 

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

steve earle covers

Today, Steve Earle releases the fourth in his occasional series of covers albums. They pay tribute to his musical heroes and teachers who’ve passed on – Townes Van Zandt, Guy Clark, Jerry Jeff Walker – plus, in one tragic case, his son Justin Townes Earle, who died in 2020.

We’ll be reviewing the new one, Jerry Jeff, in the near future, but as we celebrate covers by Steve Earle, we thought we’d also celebrate covers of Steve Earle. Though he’s never been a big generator of hit singles, this songwriter’s songwriter has had a number of songs become stealth standards, particularly in the Americana, folk, and alt-country worlds. When everyone from Johnny Cash to The Pretenders is singing your songs, you know you’re doing something right. Continue reading »

May 272022
 

Rarely Covered looks at who’s mining the darkest, dustiest corners of iconic catalogs.

bob dylan 1990s

Today concludes our weeklong series celebrating the weirdos who skip over “Mr. Tambourine Man” and “Make You Feel My Love” to cover the strangest, oddest, most obscure songs in the vast Bob Dylan catalog.

We’re cramming a couple decades into this finale, for a simple reason. If you’ve been following along, you know the primary criteria for inclusion has been that the song hasn’t been released on an album. Well, recent years simply don’t have that many non-album tracks. And some of the best – “Huck’s Tune,” “Tell Ol’ Bill,” etc – haven’t ever been covered well. So we’re loosening the restrictions a little bit today, mixing covers of some recent-album deep cuts in with the usual oddities and outtakes. Continue reading »