May 262020
 

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

No Expectations covers

Like many selections in the Five Good Covers series, this song could easily support Ten or Fifteen Good Covers. “No Expectations” appeared on the Rolling Stones’ Beggars Banquet album from 1968, so it’s been around a good long time. And it appears to be aging quite well—not all songs do—so we have every expectation that up-and-coming artists will keep it alive in years to come. Continue reading »

May 152020
 

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

John Martyn

You getting a bit weary with the news this year? Getting all a bit dark, isn’t it? If evil is too strong a word for this virus, good it certainly ain’t, with some of the actions of our leaders sometimes also bordering on, let’s say, willful. So it is to John Martyn I turn, with his plea for a little more uplift, a little more enlightenment. A little more love.

John Martyn was a mercurial man, a mass of paradigms. He had the voice and look of an angel at the start of his career, and the recreational habits of the devil. Those lifestyle choices visibly destroyed his body, as over the years he became the embodiment of Dorian Gray’s attic artwork. Yet the voice remained–sure, a tad more blurred around the edges–with the songwriting seeming not to suffer at all. Sounding as though he was never sure if he was a home counties poet or a Glaswegian hardman, Martyn’s onstage persona and accent slipped randomly from the one to the other, belches and sonnets taking turn for attention. Said not to be the nicest of men, not least when afire with alcohol, he left a trajectory of broken relationships and broken faces behind him. His bad habits ultimately killed this 20-stone diabetic amputee, although, with no small irony, his death came at a time where he had finally taken to sobriety. This was no challenge in itself, when journalists, seeking a good story, would sneak him in bottles of hooch, directly against the wishes of his final partner.
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May 072020
 

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

Golden Brown

I remember the joy with which I first heard “Golden Brown” by the Stranglers. It sounded nothing quite like anything going on in the charts at the time: a harpsichord and a hypnotic, repetitive melody, played in peculiar and shifting, almost conflicting, time signatures. Then a gentle crooning vocal, singing about… well, what was it about?
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May 012020
 

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

Ada Habershon

Trying to find some positive across this wracked virus-strewn world, and it came, suddenly, in a flash. Actually, it didn’t quite come in a flash, it came as I semi-snoozed this another I don’t know what the hell day it is lockdown day, courtesy the joy of shuffle. I won’t say which version of “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” I heard, beyond it was one of these, but it caught my ear and set me thinking, feeling the song. In whatsoever version, gospel or secular, it has something to aspire us all to, that aspiration being hope. Continue reading »

Apr 242020
 

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

I Shall Be Released covers

In accepting his Nobel Prize for Literature, Bob Dylan spoke of how a single song, “Cottonfields” by Leadbelly, changed his life and transported him into a world he had never known. He likened that transformation to a sudden illumination after a long walk in darkness.

At the time of this writing, the world is in the midst of COVID-19, a viral pandemic that has both literally and figuratively changed the way we live our lives, transporting us into a world we’ve never known. Our transformation, however, has been the opposite of Dylan’s: we’ve been plunged from light into darkness. The severity of the illness and its extreme communicability has led to the imposition and enforcement of mandated quarantine and physical distancing. Common themes expressed through news reports, social media, and even entertainment is confinement and isolation, even to the degree of people feeling imprisoned in their homes. How appropriate is it, then, to turn to our Nobel Laureate for hope?

Written by Bob Dylan in 1967, “I Shall Be Released” made its first official appearance on record courtesy of The Band’s seminal debut LP, Music from Big Pink. The version Dylan recorded with these same musicians made an initial appearance on The Bootleg Series Volumes 1–3 some 24 years later. (Alternate Dylan versions exist as well.) With its themes of pending physical, emotional and spiritual freedom, the song speaks equally well literally, as a narrative for a long-term inmate in an actual prison, and metaphorically, for those of us in the “lonely crowd,” imprisoned figuratively by circumstance. May we all find some degree of comfort in Dylan’s words as we listen to them in five different interpretations, and begin to believe in our hearts that, any day now, any day now, we shall be released.
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Apr 212020
 

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

Gorillaz's "Feel Good Inc."

Gorillaz, formed in 1998 as a virtual band made up of four animated members, has always been non-traditional. Their music is accompanied by a fictional world displayed in music videos and cartoons. During their first tour the band members played behind a screen while videos played for the audience. After the band members found this a bit restricting, their future tours brought the members in front of the crowd but through lighting and other visuals, were kept silhouetted. In some sense the band was ahead of their time. Now, in a world where concerts can’t exist, the Gorillaz seem poised to benefit from creative alternatives to connect with their fans. Thank goodness they are back again with their Song Machine project that is being released as a series of episodes featuring a variety of collaborators.

But for now, let’s go back to 2004 when we all had a chance at feeling good despite some demon days. “Feel Good Inc.” brought the Gorillaz to the masses. It won the Grammy for Best Pop Collaboration and made it to best songs of the 2000s lists from Rolling Stone and Pitchfork despite mixed reviews from the same outlets upon its release. These covers range from faithful renditions to mood-changing takes on the mid-aughts hit.

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