May 202022
 

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 2021 album I’ll Be Your Mirror: A Tribute to the Velvet Underground & Nico is, without doubt, packed with glorious covers of tracks from the seminal New York band’s revolutionary “banana LP.” Yet it sounds, at times, ever so slightly predictable, when the assembled artists from the upper echelons of US alt-rock are found guilty of smoothing out the transgressive edges of the 1967 original. Matt Berninger of The National, for instance, takes a stab at “I’m Waiting for the Man,” and he sings it magnificently in that brooding style of his. It’s well played, and it has stylish motorik beats, and the production is slick, and it has squalling guitars and backing vocals in all the right places, and…it’s pretty straightforward, really.

The brave souls who choose to tackle any of the six more improvised, less celebrated, and decidedly less melodic tracks on the Velvet Underground’s White Light/White Heat, on the other hand, can rarely be accused of being predictable. Whether for a tribute album or otherwise. Yes, Julian Casablancas may have remade the title track in 2016 in exactly the way you’d expect, as a singer who always made clear his musical debt to Lou Reed and co. But for the most part, the artists are outsider acts adopting songs that express their outsider status, recognizing that the Velvets’ notorious sophomore LP fits as well now as it did in 1968, when it scraped into the Billboard Top 200 as a monumentally uncommercial, poorly produced, avant-garde, anti-hippie, anti-everything work of anarchy. No one, in any case, could hope to tame tracks so strange, confrontational, and anticipatory of punk, glam-rock, and industrial music, especially not the frenzied “I Heard Her Call My Name,” or the epically deranged “Sister Ray.”

In short, the artists to most successfully cover a White Light/White Heat song are those who manage to tap into “the quintessence of articulated punk,” as Reed himself brilliantly described the album in 2013. They also appreciate the Velvets in the way Lester Bangs appreciated them when he lauded the foursome, in his 1971 assessment of the LP, as “one of the most dynamically experimental groups in or out of rock.” But the very best White Light covers over the whole 54 years of the album’s incendiary existence? Across the realms of alt-rock, lo-fi, proto-punk, and, erm, bluegrass? Well, they would have to be these…
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Mar 302022
 

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

On April 7, 1972, the Grateful Dead hit the stage at Wembley Empire Pool in London, kicking off a multi-city European tour. The 22-date outing would eventually be immortalized in the three-LP live album it spawned: Europe ‘72.

The tour has been chronicled heavily in band members’ memoirs, remembered for both its great musical output as well as its levels of unbridled debauchery, excessive even by the standards of the Dead. For the band at the time, the tour felt like a monumental undertaking that included both scores of people and mountains of gear. In A Long Strange Trip: The Inside History of the Grateful Dead, Dennis McNally cataloged everything that came along for the journey, which included: “seven musicians, ten crew, five staff, seventeen assorted friends, wives, girlfriends and children … They brought themselves and fifteen tons of instruments, a sound system, and a sixteen-track recording system which they would install in a truck as a mobile studio. There was also lighting gear and their first traveling lighting designer.”

That spring, the band’s lineup was in a state of evolution. It was their last tour to include founding member Ron “Pigpen” McKernan, who would pass away in 1973. The husband and wife duo, pianist Keith Godchaux and vocalist Donna, were firmly entrenched in the band. Mickey Hart was on hiatus after his father had stolen money from the band, leaving Bill Kreutzmann as the band’s lone drummer. Given both this blend of musicians and the high quality of the recording equipment, the shows have a unique sound that differs from other eras of the band’s music.

While many bands use live albums as an easy way of fulfilling their contract or rehashing their greatest hits, Europe ‘72 is very much a complete work in its own right. The 17-track, three record set contained practically a full album’s worth of new material mixed in with older tracks. There are six new songs that were never even included on any studio records, three previously unreleased covers and two instrumental jams. Given the album and tour’s popularity among Deadheads, in 2011 the band released a more exhaustive collection, Europe ‘72: The Complete Recordings, a 73-CD box set.

As Deadhead nation marks the album and tour’s 50th anniversary, we decided to put together our own form of celebration. Here’s a breakdown of live covers of every single track on the album.
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Feb 042022
 

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

Countdown to Ecstasy

Any artist who scores a major success with their debut–as Steely Dan accomplished with Can’t Buy a Thrill–just might lose some sleep while working on their follow-up. Will it be any good compared to the first?

But Steely Dan co-founders Walter Becker and Donald Fagen seemingly had no such worries about their sophomore release, Countdown to Ecstasy. In fact, they were cavalier about it to the point of self-sabotage. One example: they selected “Show Biz Kids” as the album’s first single. This is a song in which Fagen drops what we now call an f-bomb (unheard of in 1973); it’s a song that mocks the band’s own (very modest) fanbase.

The prematurely-jaded transplants from New York City adopted a fuck-all stance about show bidness [sic]and the LA lifestyle in general. In their darker moments they took aim at Western civilization itself. Even the album title is cynical, a jab at our collective eagerness to traffic in quick fixes–spiritual, political, and musical ones included.

At least the band toured steadily to promote their music. But even there they did nothing to dress it up–no light shows or stage antics. They simply played the music. In fact, for Countdown, they fired the only band member with any interest in being on stage (singer David Palmer). They shunned press interviews, never smiled for the camera. Looking back at this period decades later, Becker and Fagen blamed the punishing tour schedule for the shortcomings of their studio work.

Countdown did in fact fall short of their first album, if the metric is hit singles and Billboard chart positions. Countdown had no hits to match “Do It Again” or “Reelin’ in the Years” from the album before, and it had no staying power in the charts. What the album did have was a fresh fusion of jazz and rock, remixed within a Brill Building songwriting context. Its tracks featured horn arrangements, Hendrix-inspired guitar pyrotechnics, and flashes of Zappa-level musical mayhem. Lyrically, you have Dylan, Philip K. Dick, and Chuck Berry influences. There’s plenty of polish and precision, but the album makes room for the ramshackle too (the best instance coming from guest guitarist Rick Derringer). Romantic ballads sit beside funkathons. You have “Show Biz Kids”–basically a one-chord song–followed by “My Old School,” with its ornate horn charts, backing vocals galore, and at least a dozen chords. Plus some cowbell to keep it real.
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Jan 072022
 

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

buffalo springfield covers

Retrospective saw Buffalo Springfield’s record company out to catch a final buck or two, their cash cow having imploded ahead of quite how much of a cash cow it could or should have been. The band had been on the decidedly no-frills ATCO label, an offshoot of Atlantic for acts that failed to fit their then template of blues, jazz, r’n’b and soul, along with other square pegs of the day, like Dr. John. I say no frills, as their cover art was always of the decidedly cheap and shoddy nature: Retrospective has a cover that cannot have taxed too many creative brains, the “rips” in the background paper, to allow inserts and a makeshift collage, are all clearly visible.

Retrospective, which is actually subtitled “The Best of Buffalo Springfield,” actually performed as well as their final album, Last Time Around, and surpassed the sales of both Buffalo Springfield and Buffalo Springfield Again. It’s an artistic success, too; it contains many songs which have a greater quality, with the hindsight of time, than perhaps was fully appreciated at the time. Stills’ “For What It’s Worth,” their biggest hit, has repaid itself time after time after time, becoming a soundtrack shorthand for setting a time and place during the US civil rights years. That has to appease him a little, surely, against his always apparent second pegging against his Canadian nemesis.

Judy Wexler – For What It’s Worth (Buffalo Springfield cover)

I rather like this, with the discordant chimes of piano, this, and the slightly off vocals adding to the sense of paranoia so apparent in Stills’ lyric. For a song with so many cover versions, this is one of very few that add much of anything new or different. The retro guitar and organ are also acutely apt, as Wexler’s vocal gradually take on more treatment. Judy Wexler is a jazz chantoozie with a back catalog that has usually strayed little from standards of that tradition, and that can become a bit supper club. This, however, comes from a 2021 LP entitled Back To the Garden (yes, that garden), celebrating the songs of the ’60s into ’70s. True, some are a bit anodyne, but by and large it pays a listen. Hell, she even makes “Big Yellow Taxi” bearable.

Nils Lofgren – Mr. Soul (Buffalo Springfield cover)

Wanting mainly to avoid the progressively corrupted facsimile copies of this proto-metal-punk songs that prevail, who better than Nils to offer this rather more nuanced acoustic take? Lofgren, of course, the teen prodigy who, years ahead of gracing Bruce’s E Street Band, was adding his piano to Young’s After the Gold Rush, and who is now, again, a member of the mighty Crazy Horse. Perhaps Young’s simplest song, it is a righteous snarl on the BS version, offering few clues as to the songwriting the author was capable of, but still remains as one of the more likeable songs within his canon. Lofgren, arguably more a player than a singer, has just the right gruffness required, that not always so successful on the rest of the album from whence it comes, The Loner: Nils Sings Neil. (Whither Nils Sings the Boss?)

Donny Osmond – Sit Down, I Think I Love You (Buffalo Springfield cover)

WTAF!! Donny pejorative Osmond? I know, I know, it’s hard to believe but don’t go. Popping away any of the punch in this second Stills song, it is actually OK. Sure, it is sappy and mindless, as is much of the power of pop music, and should be. Making the Mojo Men version seem positively hardcore by comparison, it has a beguiling and simple charm, allied to the litest of reggae lite backbeats. I am not sure I could listen to the whole album, if indeed it comes from one, but, if hearing this, unknown, I could appreciate quite what he, or his producers, have done with the source material. (Should you need to know, it comes from the Don’s 1971 record, To You With Love, Donny.)

Percy Sledge – Kind Woman (Buffalo Springfield cover)

Unexpected cover number two. I think Sledge absolutely nails this song, the sole Richie Furay song on the album. In the inimitable church organ style of the “When a Man Loves a Woman” hitmaker, with sympathetic brass and a choir in full collusion, it is as far removed from the tasseled buckskin jackets of Buffalo Springfield as I can imagine. Indeed, the idea of Neil, Stephen and Richie, all in tuxes and white silk scarves, sweating in the spotlight, becomes quite appealing, especially if all with appropriately short and brilliantined hair. Percy Sledge may have only ever done one song, but he did it so well that it warrants him doing it all over, even with different words and lyrics.

Sugarcane Jane – Bluebird (Buffalo Springfield cover)

You could say it takes forever for this live version of Stills’ second-finest BS song to get going. And that, don’t you feel, is part of the appeal. It certainly looks a lot of fun. The band are based around husband and wife Anthony Crawford and Savana Lee, who it is here, pregnant and playing the snare drum. Crawford has actually appeared as a sideman on many of Neil Young’s various recordings, as well as for Dwight Yoakam, Eddie Rabbitt, and Steve Winwood. They have a plethora of their own recordings as well, being a top draw in the Gulf Coast circuit.  I guess it is maybe unfair to judge them on a live barroom show alone, but even if you did, I bet you’d stay to the end. And, as support for Dwight’s forthcoming tour, I’d get in early to catch them.

Rainy Day – On the Way Home (Buffalo Springfield cover)

It takes quite a bit to de-escalate one of Neil Youngs’s more wistful downbeat whimsies, but, by Jove, this lot manages it, turning this gentle and somber song into altogether a bit of an anticlimactic snooze fest. All the more so, as you realize who was, or may have been, on board. Rainy Day seems mainly to have been an all-star Paisley Underground collaborative, put together, perhaps, to fill such a rainy day in L.A., making it feel more like a week. However, Discogs tells me that this “On the Way Home” was largely a David Roback solo slot, the late Mazzy Star man, which goes some way to explain the narcoleptic presentation. Makes it better, in fact, but I would like to see how would have fared, had he enrolled other rainy Day alumni, such as Susannah Hoffs and Steve Wynn. Rainy Day’s sole product, self-titled, came out in 1984, and included one other Neil Young song, as well as covers by Dylan, the Who, and the Beach Boys.

Scott the Hoople – Nowadays Clancy Can’t Even Sing (Buffalo Springfield cover)

I guess the album art is a give-away, this appearing on an all Shakey tribute album, that could actually manage the loss of the ‘e’ and still be accurate. Indeed, we covered the parent album here. Put together by Scott McCaughey, sometime multi-instrumental sideman for R.E.M. until a devastating stroke in 2017. This album was part his therapy, the deliberate Youngian shambles is a perfect fit for the songs, rather than, I hope, all his condition allows. Maxing the inherent psychedelia from the melody and infusing the meter with a lope-legged wobble, it perfectly captures how Neil might have tackled it himself, away from the rest of the band, not least the ham-fisted rhythmic cadences in the original. The organ and the phased guitars exude the atmosphere of a perma-stoned Haight to degree that way transcends the New Christy Minstrelisms in its first iteration. One question: who the hell was Clancy?

Kate Rogers – Broken Arrow (Buffalo Springfield cover)

Perhaps Neil Young’s most ambitious song ever, this meandering epic of a song is never going to be open much to covering. Possibly not unwisely, Rogers here is covering more the song in its demo version, “Down Down Down,” as revealed in the (Young curated) BS boxset of 2001. However, she brings in some slight flavors from the wide ranging original that is enough to remind the eccentricity of the song, her delivery sufficient to recall the inherent beauty. Rogers is a Canadian singer who has paddled in only the shallower waters of fame, rather than gaining any full immersion, perhaps coming up against unfair comparisons with the likes of Dido. In covers land we know her best for her 3rd record, Seconds, which is where this song comes from, along with creditable versions of songs by as varied a cast as the Pixies and the Smiths, throwing in Blink-182 and Radiohead for good measure. Worth a listen.

The Beach Boys – Rock and Roll Woman (Buffalo Springfield cover)

The other, I guess, 2nd best known Stills BS song, I was as excited as you to think Burbank’s finest may have done a full-blown vocal cover version of this, wondering quite how it would sound. Sadly that wonder remains untapped, as not a vocal cord is strained in this rendition. Indeed, beyond the guitar motif that introduces the song, lifted verbatim from Stills, that is all you get. Buoyed by the anticipation that Carl and the boys might chime in at any moment, I listened to the end, getting the feel that Carl too had been hoping that, perhaps setting it up as a click track for that very purpose. (I keep saying Carl, as this comes from 2018’s Friends sessions boxset, a time when Brian was, although nominally in control, beginning to retreat a little into the sandbox.) I’d still love to hear the harmonies as or if the Boys joined in.

The Meat Puppets – I Am a Child (Buffalo Springfield cover)

Well, that was a bit different, wasn’t it?! And, whilst other opinions may be available, or even reflex, it has, um, something. Whether it is sufficient that the something is to totally deconstruct and destroy perhaps the most delightful and childlike of Neil Young’s songs is uncertain, but that they certainly achieve. Compared, actually, to the wishy-washy would be copycat performances out there, I prefer it, as I can never see anyone but Neil getting away with the lyrics or the general ambience. Or at least to make it as believable as only he can do. Whether I like it, per se, is another story, which is a shame, as I want to like both the version and the idea of the Meat Puppets. With a name so gross, surely some goodness must arise? The brainchild of the brothers, Curt and Cris Kirkwood, and the initial drummer Derek Bostrom, he now back in the band after a 24 year hiatus, they have had an astonishing 41 year career, nominally still going, and with fans touting for a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction (unsuccessful) last year. This comes from the expanded version of their 1980 eponymous debut. I especially like that Meat Puppets II contains a song called “I Am a Mindless Idiot.”

Buddy Woodward – Go and Say Goodbye (Buffalo Springfield cover)

Am I surprised or disappointed it has taken so long to get to a bluegrass cover, this and so many of the Springfield songs so open to such interpretation? Be that as it may, this has just the right mix of hokum and sawdust to have feets a’tapping. A Stills song, this, even in his band’s own rendition, forewarns of the country leanings he later explored deeper, if better, in Manassas. Buddy Woodward seems to have been operating a largely off-grid career in bluegrass and Americana, operating out of New York City, and has performed with many a performer of higher repute, Emmylou Harris and Steve Earle for two. He has also been a voice artist for the Pokémon series and appeared in the long running TV series of Nashville.

Jakob Dylan feat. Regina Spektor – Expecting To Fly (Buffalo Springfield cover)

Along with “Broken Arrow,” this is the other song that has Young demonstrating his inability to fully engage in any concept of being a team player. Whilst the former has some backing vocals from Furay, this is Young and Young alone, the others possibly even unaware of the stuff he was cutting whilst they were away. I think it ideal that is should be Bob’s boy, Jakob, offering this tribute, as this operates at a level above that of a mere cover, and Jakob’s daddy is perhaps the only artist with a catalog that surpasses even Young’s. Regina Spektor adds a glorious second verse vocal, ahead of the pair coming together for the swooping chorus, or parts of it. It comes from a documentary soundtrack curated by Dylan, the documentary, Echo In the Valley, made by Andrew Slater, and being about the Laurel Canyon neighborhood of the 60s, that proved so elemental in the development of folk into rock of that moment in time. Dylan was instructed to produce the accompanying music, reprising and recalibrating the music made there at that time. Featuring a panoply of other guests, Cat Power, Beck, Fiona Apple, the author of this song also pops up, on a cover of the Byrds’ David Crosby song “What’s Happening.”

Nov 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!

Harvest covers

Harvest is the one Neil Young album that everybody knows of. The reason? Almost undoubtedly “Heart of Gold,” that era-defining song of the early ’70s, all acoustic whimsy, swaying on a stool. Of course it is a terrific song, if a little diminished by ubiquity, but not hugely typical of, at least, Young’s latter-day work, especially when he saddles up with Crazy Horse.

But, by golly, that sweet acoustic ditty has done ol’ Shakey well. At last count there were over a hundred “Heart of Gold” covers, some of them good enough to warrant a yearly check of no small size passing through his mail slot. It did pretty well in its author’s iteration too, mind, hitting the coveted number one spot in the US singles chart (Young’s only sojourn there) and top ten in many other territories. Considering Young had only started dabbling with acoustic songs in response to a back injury, necessitating his sitting to play, how serendipitous must that fall have been? Mind you, his own comments as to where it took him were less than generous: “This song put me in the middle of the road. Traveling there soon became a bore so I headed for the ditch.”

On the back of the single, so too did Harvest flourish, likewise becoming a chart topper with Young’s biggest LP sales to date. Characteristically, given the sheer cussedness of the man, it contains a number of styles, some harking back to previous album After the Gold Rush, some more akin to future more country-inflected excursions. This reflected the musicians recruited, largely country session men making their first outing as the Stray Gators. Pedal steel player Ben Keith, bassist Tim Drummond, and drummer Kenny Buttrey helped shape Harvest‘s sound. So did Jack Nitzsche, the producer and pianist who also played a part with Crazy Horse. Nitzsche decided to orchestrate a couple of the songs as well, an odd move at the time for an artist in other than easy-listening territory. And then there was the stark and bleak beauty of “The Needle and the Damage Done,” gaunt in its unadorned voice and guitar, a song as chilling as Bert Jansch’s clearly influential “Needle of Death.”

A year shy of its half century, how, then, has Harvest fared? How well have the songs lasted? How do they fit into the differing tastes of this century? These more recent interpretations help reveal the answer: better than expected. The original Harvest is an album I listen to for a wallow in nostalgia; these ten covers stand on wholly different ground.
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Oct 292021
 

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 Go Go's "Beauty and the Beat"

The Go-Go’s are the first LA punk group to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. You might be saying “Huh? Aren’t the Go-Go’s pretty mainstream pop?” Sure, but they weren’t always. The recent documentary about the Go-Go’s uncovers the band’s punk roots. The band members themselves have talked about their early days, finding their groove in the LA punk rock scene, and emphasizing the role women played in that scene. To experience a little bit of that early sound, there is a collection of early recordings and demos here.

The Go-Go’s eventual transition towards pop came with some bumps, including initial resistance to the production on Beauty and the Beat as well as a change in the bass lineup from Margot Olavarria to Kathy Valentine, at least in part due to pressure to leave some of the most hardcore punkiness behind. The bass spot turned over often in the history of the Go-Go’s (for any Harry Potter/Go-Go’s cross over fans, the bass spot in the band is like the Hogwarts Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher position).

During the band’s first break-up, Valentine took Jane Wiedlin’s spot as rhythm guitarist and Paula Jean Brown became the band’s bassist. When the band reunited, Valentine went back to bass, but then later during tours in the 2010s, Abby Travis had to tap in when Valentine was injured. In 2013, Valentine left the group and sued the band. Despite this tension, Valentine returned in 2016. Otherwise the band make-up has stayed pretty stable aside from the change of drummer from Ellisa Bello to Gina Schock, who also happened to sue the group at one point, early on in the band’s career. Some of the lore about Bello and Olavarria can be found here.

The Go-Go’s have inspired many women musicians to be fearless and unapologetic about their sound. They have been cited as influences for riot grrrls and Spice Girls alike; they were girl-power even before the term “girl-power” was coined and popularized. Their debut album, Beauty and the Beat, was the first album written, sung, and played entirely by women to hit #1 on the Billboard 200 albums chart. Actually, that hasn’t happened ever again. Girl power indeed! 

To celebrate their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Beauty and the Beat‘s undefeated status, we aim to find punk-esque covers of this full album.

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