Jan 212022
 

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

California Dreamin' covers

Michelle Phillips had never seen snow before. She grew up in Mexico and California, so when she went to New York to stay at the Earle Hotel with her husband John, she didn’t have the right clothes. The couple had spent the day walking together, stopping by a church to warm up in the process. The next morning, John woke her up and told her to write this down.

“This” was the start of “California Dreamin’,” the Mamas and the Papas’ first big hit. It was earmarked to be Barry McGuire’s next big hit after “Eve of Destruction” – they’d recorded the backing vocals for him and everything – but then the powers that be decided to strip McGuire’s lead and add Denny Doherty’s. The Mamas and the Papas version came out first, and in Los Angeles, it did nothing. But in Boston, a town that knows a thing or two about wishing for warmth in the dead of winter, it hit big, and from there it soon made it to all of America. (Even if most of America, including Cass Elliott herself, misheard the lyric “I got down on my knees / And I pretend to pray” as “I began to pray.”)
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Jan 032022
 

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

The message that there is a place for everyone in this world, no matter what challenges they have to endure, is cathartic. Daniel Johnston struggled with finding his own path through the wilderness, often pressured by society or the medical establishment to imitate whatever their normal was. His music spoke to everyone universally, beamed out to our worlds and beyond. His songs and personality made him a beloved son of Austin, along with the similarly troubled Roky Erickson. Their flaws and strengths melded together: insight, folly, madness, anxiety, and joy, connecting them to people who went through the same shit they did, just not as scaled up or fucked up.

From great pain comes great music.

Johnston’s stories are legendary, from removing the keys and throwing them out of a small plane his father was flying (spoiler alert: they lived), to becoming famous simply because Kurt Cobain wore a t-shirt with Johnston’s cartoon frog on it. He struggled to sell records and find an audience, but the music industry wasn’t seeing him—they were looking for the next Seattle.

Others found him. A documentary was made of Johnston’s life. An Austin non-profit took his inspiration to remind people to check on each other by asking, “Hi. How Are You?

“True Love Will Find You in the End” is certainly an oft-covered song; I listened to snippets of easily a couple of hundred versions to find my favorites below. I can’t defend my choices for being the best, as the nuances that speak to me may not speak to you. But every single artist here stutters, “The light, the light,” and that became a must have for this collection. I hope you believe them all.
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Nov 052021
 

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

Green Onions

Booker T. Jones, Steve Cropper, Lewie Steinberg, and Al Jackson were the core of the MGs, the house band of Stax Records in Memphis. They played on scores of the R&B hits of the day, backing Otis Redding, Sam & Dave, and Wilson Pickett, amongst many others. In 1962 they got some downtime to mess around on their own in the studio. Utilizing a standard 12-bar format, and working from the germ of an idea of Jones, they largely improvised it into sounding something special. They called it “Green Onions” – green at label co-owner Estelle Axton’s suggestion, and onions because they were the funkiest thing Steinberg could think of. “To him they were funky because they were stinky,” Cropper later said.

Suitable as a b-side for a track, “Behave Yourself,” that had already been commissioned of them by Jim Stewart, Cropper rushed the tapes off to Scotty Moore at Sun Records to cut the disc. Once it had secured a few radio plays, it became apparent the a and b were the wrong way around, and they were flipped, with “Green Onions” racing up the chart, hitting a peak of number 3. In the near 60 years since, it has never lost appeal, with numerous releases gaining a nod from successive generations. Both of its time and timeless, it has become musical shorthand by film makers and advertisers to evoke a the image of the early 60s, all beehives and flat tops, prime American Graffiti-styled mythologizing.

So what could you possibly do if you decide to cover this most iconic of instrumentals, other than to kill it or copy it? Which, pretty much, is what most versions do, often at the same time. That includes a whole host of folk who should know better (looking at you, Tom Petty and Dave Edmunds), jumping on the coattails of the song for either a quick fix of audience nostalgia or a quick buck in a fading career. Plus a shedload of ultimately weird discoveries, like the California Raisins and a pre-Beach Boys Bruce Johnston, doing little other than to let it sell their product, whether that be dried fruit or party music for co-eds. But there are some absolute belters tucked away out there, where much thought has been taken to give a little more back to the tune than Booker T and co. ever gave. From some surprising sources. Plus one liberal helping of good ol’ messy just for the hell of it.
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Oct 292021
 

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

learn to fly covers

I sometimes wonder if I’ve heard “Learn to Fly” more times than any other song. This isn’t because it’s my favorite song ever or anything. It’s a quirk of technology.

In the early file sharing days, the days when it was high-speed if your 128kbps MP3 took “only” 20 minutes to download, Winamp was the digital music player of choice. When you added a song to Winamp, it simply appeared at the bottom of a single long playlist. And when you opened Winamp, it would start playing that playlist right from the top. For whatever reason, the first MP3 I ever downloaded was “Learn to Fly,” so every time I opened Winamp, the “Learn to Fly” riff would kick right in. That happened probably once or twice a day. For several years. Hard to think of any other song that can compete for that level of play. Continue reading »

Oct 272021
 

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

Todd Rundgren

Despite his being one of the honorees, Todd Rundgren will not be attending the 2021 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony in Cleveland. He already has plans that evening–namely, playing his own headlining show a few hours away in Cincinnati. But that isn’t the only reason he won’t be there. Truth be told, Todd doesn’t think too highly of the Hall, telling Ultimate Classic Rock that it is “an industry invention” and that “true halls of fame are for retirees and dead people, because your legacy has been established. I’m too busy working to worry about my legacy — and plan to continue working until whenever.”

But he is well aware that Hall inductions are a meaningful thing to the majority of artists who get the nod, going on to say that he’d “striven since the nomination to just not say anything. Because I don’t want to rain on anybody else’s parade. A lot of artists take this seriously. Just because I don’t, doesn’t mean I should try and spoil it for them. I would just like it to elapse without any kind of bad vibes or anything being a result of it. I’d just like it to happen and be over with.”

The fact that Todd doesn’t care about his induction doesn’t change the fact that he is a melodic wizard genius. A spectacularly soulful weirdo. An eloquently empathetic pop poet who wants to keep pushing forward for as long as he is able. It’s okay if he’s not into basking in his legacy or in need of official validation of his achievements right now. He’s still got work to do.
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Oct 262021
 
99 Problems covers

Jay-Z  announced the first rappers to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2007, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, during the induction ceremony. Now he comes full circle, being inducted himself this year. However, Jay-Z’s induction is not without controversy. Even though other rappers have been inducted since 2007, like Run-DMC, N.W.A, Tupac Shakur, and the Notorious B.I.G. last year, there are some who still question whether rap artists “belong” in the hall of fame dedicated to “rock and roll.” Others think the hall of fame should just get a rebranding.

Something I hope we can all agree on is the fact that “99 Problems” is one of Jay-Z’s masterpieces, managing to be both flippant with a hook and serious while recounting his experiences of driving while black. The song has stuck around long after its debut in 2004. Jay-Z has updated the lyrics in two election cycles to be political: in 2009, he had 99 problems but a Bush wasn’t one and in 2012 a Mitt wasn’t one. He has used the song to cross over into other fan bases, jamming to this song with Phish and Pearl Jam.

The song has inspired covers and mashups that genre-bend, and here we’ll find other covers in the same spirit of those innovative covers.

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