Aug 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!

The Velvet Underground

The Velvet Underground are making one of their regular visits to current-events music magazines, what with the Todd Haynes documentary that wowed Cannes and the impending Hal Willner tribute album. Of course, they’ve never left the annals of influence – not since all those few who bought their first album went out and formed bands.

But it’s their third album we’re going to look at today. A complete one-eighty from White Light / White Heat, the album that preceded it, The Velvet Underground saw Lou Reed embracing his inner balladeer, writing and playing slower and so much sweeter. With Doug Yule replacing the singular John Cale, and with Sterling Morrison and Maureen Tucker both as simpatico with bucolic Lou as brusque Lou, the band was more united than ever, and just as powerful in a whole new way. (Quick aside: Happy birthday to Maureen Tucker, who turns 77 today, and a moment of silence for Sterling Morrison, who was born one August 29 and died one August 30.)
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Aug 062021
 

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

Wish You Were Here covers

Few bands have lost their star and their leader, the writer and singer of their songs, and only then rocketed to stratospheric levels of success. But that’s the main thrust of the Pink Floyd saga. Those two themes—of tragic loss and outsized stardom, absence and success—are at the heart of their 1975 Wish You Were Here album. The “You” in the title refers to Syd Barrett, who led the band until his disintegration in the late ’60s. At the same time, “You” refers to anyone you ever loved and lost, which is part of why the album and its title track are so enduring.

Wish You Were Here had the thankless task of following The Dark Side of the Moon, the success of which is hard to overstate. In its wake, Floyd guitarist David Gilmour called Dark Side “a benevolent noose hanging behind us.” Many a Floyd aficionado loves Wish You Were Here more than its predecessor (even some Pink Floyd members count it as their best), but among the general populace nothing eclipses Dark Side. Just glance at the landscape of cover versions: Dark Side has sprouted all manner of tributes and reinterpretations—some of which have taken on lives of their own, with anniversary reissues and the like—while Wish You Were Here remains practically virgin territory for other musicians to explore.
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Jun 252021
 

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

Eurythmics Greatest Hits

Yes, we are back in Greatest Hits territory again, probably the only way to sufficiently scour out the coverland of this undeniably extremely successful band, largely better known for singles rather than albums. Some may question my choosing to take this challenge, given a prior opinion or two of mine around the fragrant Ms. Lennox. But let me stake my claim: the initial output of Eurythmics sounds just sublime to these ears and was seldom bettered amongst the bevy of synthesizer duos of the day. Sure, ubiquity can conspire against how well critical reception actually was at the time, but, for a while, wow, how ubiquitous were they? With 75 mill records seemingly sold, either you or someone you know must have at least something by them. I know I have.

I remember well my first sight of Eurythmics, on that venerable UK serious rock show, The Old Grey Whistle Test. It aired late at night on a minority channel for nascent music nerds, all pretending to be asleep for their parents downstairs. I was already familiar with the duo of Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart, from their earlier work in The Tourists. And I confess, I was as much taken that Whistle Test concentrated more on the dual facts that they were at Conny Plank’s German studio, the home of Can, and that Blondie sticksman, Clem Burke was thumping their tubs, as well as Can bassist, Holger Czukay, turning up on French horn. But they failed to set the cash tills ringing; a revision and revamp required and delivered, just in time for the peak of MTV, their videos ideal for the format. I was transfixed.

Eurythmics’ first (OK, second really) record was a masterpiece fit for its times, with a slew of singles all gaining attention and acclaim. Over the next (was it only) six years, they took over the charts, with a run of 21 singles, between two and five each year, most going top twenty if not top ten. After quitting at the top of their game, they made a brief return in 1999 and had a further brace of hits. The sound changed radically over those years, from synthesizer duo to stadium rock extravaganzas, but always with the searing knife through butter vocal of Lennox to the fore. Lennox then reverted to her solo career, Stewart to a lot of plans and promises, if little much of real merit to show for it. Bar a solitary appearance at a Beatles tribute show in 2014, that was it, they were done. (OK, seeing as that was a cover……)

A confession before kick-off: this piece was originally based about Ultimate Collection, the second and slightly larger of Eurythmics’ hit compilations, mainly as I liked so much the two singles that came from Peace, their 1999 reprise. Frustratingly, I had to ditch that idea, due to the shortage of cover versions. Which isn’t saying this set was necessarily easy. But it was a shame, there being more than a couple of covers I liked, songs that had been hits for the band, but had inexplicably failed the cut for that first collection. So, having done the work, may I sneak in an odd bonus track?

So, let’s see who was listening to Eurythmics…
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Jun 042021
 

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

Lucinda Williams

Lucinda Williams, the album, was the game changer for Lucinda Williams, the artist, even if few knew or realized it at the time. Sneaking out on Rough Trade records, home of the Smiths, it started a slow burn of releases, initially only by drip feed, speeding up over the ensuing decades to a now near insatiable speed.

Williams’ debut, 1979’s Ramblin’ On My Mind, was an overly polite album of blues covers and country staples. Next was Happy Woman Blues, a first stab at her own material, in 1980. Now, with her self-titled third record, she was finally paired with a band, and the combination of the developing rawness of her vocals, allied to some country-folkie-blues, was a hit more with critics than the public, a fate she was to endure for some time yet.
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May 172021
 

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

Ram

As album reviews go, Rolling Stone writer Jon Landau’s take on Paul & Linda McCartney’s Ram in 1971 was exceptionally brutal. Its opening barb, “Ram represents the nadir in the decomposition of Sixties rock thus far,” was a mere taster for what was to follow. Landau asserted that Ram was a “very bad album… unbearably inept… unpleasant.” He ended the review with a direct kick to Paul’s (apparent) hubris; “McCartney (the first solo album) and Ram both prove that Paul benefited immensely from collaboration and that he seems to be dying on the vine as a result of his own self-imposed musical isolation” (translation: you suck without the band that YOU broke up).

Landau was by no means alone in his disdain. Joining the pile on were NME’s Alan Smith, who declared Ram to be “the worst thing Paul McCartney has ever done,” and his own ex-bandmate John Lennon, who stated that it was “awful.” Speaking of the latter, even Ringo, our sweet beloved Ringo, weighed in with a “I don’t think there’s a tune on it.”

Oh boy. These assessments have not aged well, to put it mildly. The 21st century has seen Ram’s  homespun charm endlessly lauded everywhere from Pitchfork to, yes, Rolling Stone. The album’s seeming lack of concern for shiny sonic commerciality has led many folks to refer to it as the one of the first real “indie” albums (debatable, as its self-titled predecessor went even further in that direction, but you get the idea).

What led to the critical sea change? Well, the simplest answer is that enough time passed that people stopped looking at Ram through the fog of despair over The Beatles’ break-up. It’s no longer characterized as an album by the villainous Beatle destroyer, but is instead regarded as prescient masterpiece by one of the greatest artists of all time. For maybe the truest sign that humanity has come full circle in terms of recognizing the merits of Ram, look no further than arguably the world’s biggest pop star.

In 2019, Harry Styles was asked by writer Rob Sheffield to describe the recording process and inspiration for his soon to be platinum album Fine Line and offered up this little nugget:

We’d do mushrooms, lie down on the grass, and listen to Paul McCartney’s Ram in the sunshine.

There you have it. This muddy Wellington sporting, wet dog scented, Fair Isle sweater wearing album from 1971, the album that everyone hated, helped inspire a #1 retro pop album recorded in sunny southern California in 2021. “Monkberry Moon Delight” begat “Watermelon Sugar.” Yup.
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Apr 232021
 

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

Some Girls covers

The later ’70s had seen the Rolling Stones, not for the first time or the last, written off and out of touch, booted out of the limelight by the twin prongs of disco and punk. They were just too old: Jagger and co. were mostly in their mid to late thirties, Bill Wyman soon to be an unbelievable 42. Exile on Main Street, from six years earlier, had seemed their last point of mass credibility, the interim recordings treading water. Continue reading »