Feb 162024
 

In the Spotlight showcases a cross-section of an artist’s cover work. View past installments, then post suggestions for future picks in the comments!

I first heard The The’s Infected sometime in the late 1980s. I was unimpressed. So was Ira A. Robbins of Trouser Press, who called Matt Johnson’s first album, Burning Blue Soul, “formless ‘songs’ with laughably precious lyrics.” And so was Robert Christgau, whose summation of The The read, in its entirety, “Uh-uh.” By Soul Mining, Johnson shifted gears and reverted to a more popular ’80s pop sound. But by then, I had moved on to the Pixies.

Some years later, I ran upon Dusk in a cache of used CDs that I had bought for my online CD store. All of a sudden I was a fan. Here is someone who understands pain. Here is someone that writes empathy: “Your problems will be mine,” he promises in “Helpline Operator.” Just the title of the song “Love Is Stronger Than Death,” moves us before we even hear the first note. Trouser Press agreed, reversing a years-long vendetta by writing that Johnson had matured into “a subtle and versatile artist.” The The was the definite article.

At this point, wanting to learn more about this band and trying to search on a computer in the early years of the internet, I ran into my first wall: search engines. In the beginning, search engines would disassociate the two “the”s. Basically all pages with the word “the” would appear. So…all pages. Searching for the band really was impossible outside of official channels, especially before YouTube. Things eventually got easier, but even now, decades after the band’s first album, I started to have flashbacks to the early days while curating this piece. When I searched the Live Archive, for instance, any accidental repeat of the word, like a typo (Think “The The Grateful Dead”) showed up in results.

So I have worked mightily to find these covers, and have posted songs from every imaginable source. I probably listened to 50 hours of covers for this piece. Here we go.
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Feb 092024
 

In the Spotlight showcases a cross-section of an artist’s cover work. View past installments, then post suggestions for future picks in the comments!

The Feelies

In 2023, the Feelies released Some Kinda Love: Performing the Music of the Velvet Underground, a live album recorded one night in 2018. Listeners heard a band that had clearly absorbed the VU into their DNA long ago, making their recreations sound almost effortless. They even play the brief instrumental burbling at the start of “Sweet Jane.” The audience cheers heard between songs are loud and enthusiastic, and no matter which band’s music they’re there to hear, you can tell they love the other band too.

For this night, the Feelies were more about being Velvet Underground fans than Feelies. Because because? Well, their version of “What Goes On” sounds more like the VU and less like the Feelies’ own studio-released version, from 1988’s Only Life. Now there was a band who set out to make a song their own. Not to knock the modern day Feelies, not at all, but that VU night really was designed to be more commemoration than innovation. It’s those earlier covers we’re focusing on today, the ones that saw the band out to, as Lou Reed called his own live album in 1978, take no prisoners.

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Nov 022023
 
Missy Elliott covers

This year Missy Elliott joins the ranks of rappers being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, following legends like Grandmaster Flash and The Furious 5, who became the first rap group to be inducted in 2007, and more recently Jay-Z, the Notorious B.I.G. and Eminem. However, Elliott breaks open another door, becoming the first female hip hop artist to be inducted. Continue reading »

Nov 012023
 

In the Spotlight showcases a cross-section of an artist’s cover work. View past installments, then post suggestions for future picks in the comments!

’70s AM radio soundtracked nearly every childhood car journey I ever took. It was in the backseat confines of my Mom’s white Chevy Nova with the sunflower painted on the side (those ’70s were swingin’) that I first became acquainted with The Spinners’ 1975 hit “They Just Can’t Stop It (The Games People Play)”. It was love at first listen. The song ended up marking an important personal milestone for me; it was the first 7-inch I ever bought with my own pocket money (one dollar, and seven cents to be precise). It was purchased at a local record haunt/head shop called “The Etc Shop” (now that’s what I call ’70s) from its cool lady proprietress, Naomi. I played the 45 over and over in my blue shag-carpeted bedroom, mimicking every one of the song’s vast array of vocal inflections. From Bobby Smith’s smooth lead to the spare but crucial contributions of bass singer Pervis Jackson (whose voice was as deep as the earth’s core), I sang along and “got down” as hard as a 9-year-old white suburban soul-loving gal possibly could. Continue reading »

Oct 312023
 

In the Spotlight showcases a cross-section of an artist’s cover work. View past installments, then post suggestions for future picks in the comments!

Sheryl Crow

I tell every kid, get in a cover band. It teaches you chops, it literally teaches you why some songs are classics, and it teaches you how to navigate a working band. With songwriting, there’s something to that idea of stealing from the best. You’re only as good as your references. And I pride myself on my references. I have tried to emulate the greatest rock stars and songwriters in the world. I try not to steal verbatim, but if they’ve influenced my work at all, I take a sense of pride in that. – Sheryl Crow, 2017

Sheryl Crow’s released a good hundred or so cover songs, so it’s plain she knows her way around them. She isn’t very adventurous with them, though – most of her covers are of songs or artists that are radio favorites, and they tend to sound very similar to the originals.

Here’s the thing, though. Crow saturates her covers with her essence, so much so that they just feel like Sheryl Crow songs. They reap the same success, too – “The First Cut Is the Deepest” is one of her biggest hits, and her version of “Sweet Child o’ Mine” won a Grammy. They never feel lazy, either. Crow is a professional, and she knows how to bring her affection for these songs across without phoning it in. Bottom line: If you like Sheryl Crow, you’ll like her covers, and you’ll be justified in doing so.

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Oct 302023
 

In the Spotlight showcases a cross-section of an artist’s cover work. View past installments, then post suggestions for future picks in the comments!

Back in 2021, Cover Me compiled a list of the top 30 Willie Nelson covers of all time. A comprehensive list, it included covers of many of Nelson’s trademark songs such as “Crazy” and “Funny How Time Slips Away.” Even then we noted we were leaving out a key component of the story: the number of covers Nelson has recorded himself.

As of this writing, Secondhandsongs.com lists a whopping 991 covers. Granted it counts instances where he re-recorded new versions of his old cover songs with other people. For example: it lists every single duet of “Baby It’s Cold Outside.” Nelson’s catalog of covers is both extensive and exceptional. One could easily place many of his covers, such as “Always On My Mind,” “Stardust,” or “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain,” among the best of all time.

In 2023, Nelson has hit two major milestones – he turned 90 in April. and in November he’ll be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame – so we decided to revisit his covers collection.

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