Bluegrass is a genre big on covers, with any fiddler worth his strings able to whip out old mountain songs, folk traditionals, and anything Bill Monroe or John Hartford ever wrote. On their upcoming album Cover Story, though, Charlottesville bluegrass quintet Love Canon take on more novel source material: pop hits of the 1980s. In fact, they gravitated towards the least acoustic sounds around, pickin’ through electronic dance songs by the likes of Mr. Mister, Peter Gabriel, and the song we’re premiering below: Depeche Mode’s “Enjoy the Silence.” And we thought last year’s bluegrass Radiohead cover was inventive!
We have yet to hear a Land Below cover that didn’t surprise us. Though he’s only been at it a couple years, Sweden’s Erik Lindestad has developed something of a cover speciality: Taking a song with one instantly recognizable element, and stripping it away. For instance, on our tenth birthday he covered “Hooked on a Feeling” without a single “ooga chaka.” When he tackled Moby’s ubiquitous “Porcelain,” he ditched the string sample melody that soundtracked all those commercials. And his new cover of Blur’s “Song 2” walks the same path.
“Song 2” is best known for two words, instantly recognizable to soccer fans everywhere: “Woo hoo!” Most people would build their covers around that holler, since it’s the only part many people recognize. For Lindestad, they’re an afterthought. On his mellow electronic cover, he croons the words over a soft synth bed.
We’ve heard a lot of “Jolene” covers over the years. It’s a country staple, of course, and it’s also earned its fair share of great genre-crossing versions, from the White Stripes’ roaring classic to 48 Cameras’ Lynch-ian spook song. But we’ve never heard a cover quite like this.
Death By Piano are a new Brooklyn duo who describe themselves as “electro-pop-noir,” which is a pretty good genre tag for this cover. Bathed in echoing synths, haunting percussion, and far-off background vocals, it reinvents a song you might have thought past reinvention. And the reason it doesn’t much sound like a “Jolene” cover is that, as it turns out, it wasn’t supposed to be.
Five Good Covers presents five cross-genre reinterpretations of an oft-covered song.
Today we conclude our series of posts about The Yardbirds.
“But wait!” you exclaim. “The headline says ‘Led Zeppelin‘. Aren’t we talking about the folk-rock ballad that originally appeared in 1970 on the softer acoustic second side of Led Zeppelin III?”
Indeed we are, and “Tangerine” has been mentioned once or twice before on these pages. But a recent re-release, widely anticipated by fans of Rock & Roll Hall of Famers, The Yardbirds, has re-opened the discussion about the songs’ origins. Is “Tangerine” really a Led Zeppelin song?
When it comes to songwriting credits, things aren’t always cut and dried with Jimmy Page. As it were, this particular instance follows suit. Around the time of last year’s “Stairway to Heaven” plagiarism lawsuit – won by Led Zeppelin – Rolling Stone cited 10 other Zep tunes with cloudy origins. The article mentioned “Dazed And Confused” – a song with ties to Page’s stint in The Yardbirds – but made no mention of “Tangerine” a song sharing similar ties. Both songs were the only two non-instrumental Led Zeppelin tracks to carry a songwriting credit attributed solely to Jimmy Page. The writing credit on “Dazed” was later amended in 2012 (singer-songwriter Jake Holmes was added as Page’s inspiration), but a cloud continues to hang over “Tangerine.”
Why the fuss? Cover Me readers might be interested in some of the forensics. Two years prior to the release of Led Zeppelin III, The Yardbirds, with Page as a member, recorded a demo for a song titled “Knowing That I’m Losing You” which was never officially released. Thirty-two years later, “Knowing” was scheduled to be included on The Yardbirds’ 2000 album Cumular Limit with other live and unreleased material, but the track was pulled. Seventeen years after that, Page, as producer, included an authorized re-mastered instrumental version, with the modified title “Knowing That I’m Losing You (Tangerine)” on the new Yardbirds ’68 compilation.
Ten years ago today, I had a whim.
I was studying abroad one semester and found myself with a lot of free time – school work was light, and a college student’s budget limited my international explorations – so I decided to start a blog. A second blog actually, since for several years I had run a personal blog of concert reviews and bootleg downloads called Dylan, Etc (it had more “Dylan” than it did “Etc”). I’d fallen in love with the cover song after hearing Bob Dylan (who else) play a revelatory cover of “Summertime” on his short-lived radio show. I’d already hosted a Cover Me college radio show, and decided to expand us to the World Wide Web.
These were the days of the so-called “MP3 blog,” which included a vibrant subgenre of cover-songs blogs. That’s right, I’d like to claim credit for inventing the category, but I didn’t – not even close. RIP to Copy Right?, Cover Freak, Fong Songs, and the rest of the pioneers – and shoutout to our fellow survivors from that era, Coverville, which was releasing podcasts before most people knew what that word meant, and the folk blog Cover Lay Down, which began around the same time as us.
A lot has changed over the past decade. We’ve published 3,564 posts as of this one. Oh, and did you notice the pronoun change there? Cover Me is no longer an “I” – it’s a “we”, with over 60 writers contributing over the years. We’ve grown from an ugly Blogspot to our spiffy own domain (which is overdue for a redesign itself, frankly). And in case the large banner ads all over the site weren’t clue enough, I just released a book also called Cover Me, which – back-patting alert – Variety called “one of the best multi-subject music books to come down the pike in years.”
We wanted to do something special to celebrate our tenth birthday. And we wanted to celebrate not just ourselves, but celebrate the cover song itself. So we put together this little album Cover Me Turns 10: A Covers Tribute to Covers as a gift to our readers. We contacted several dozen of our musician friends and asked them to cover a cover. That is, to honor the many great songs we might not even know without an iconic cover – Aretha Franklin reinventing Otis Redding’s “Respect,” Quiet Riot amplifying Slade’s call to feel the noize, Prince learning that nothing compares 2 Sinéad O’Connor.
We’re honored that so many of our favorite musicians contributed, and frankly speechless at how great a job they did. So speechless, in fact, that we asked them all to introduce their own work with a few sentences. A million thanks to all of them, and also to Cover Me writer and art whiz Sean Balkwill for designing the lovely – ahem – cover. The whole thing is free to download at Bandcamp until downloads run out, and free to stream forever.
Enough chatter from me. For ten years this blog has been all about celebrating the music and we’re not going to stop now. Thanks for taking this journey with us.
– Ray Padgett
Cover Me Founder
In addition to being an acclaimed songwriter, Boston’s Mark Erelli knocks us out whenever he puts the pen aside to sing someone else’s songs. His murder ballads collaboration with Jeffrey Foucault, Seven Curses, is one of the best covers albums of the decade, and every time he speckles an album with a Tom Waits or R.E.M. tune, it’s invariably fantastic. So we were thrilled to learn he’s prepping a full-length covers albums called Mixtape, for which he’s currently raising funds on Kickstarter now.
Mixtape won’t come out until January, but he was kind enough to share a track with us now, his version of Don Henley’s classic “The Boys of Summer.” Erelli starts slow and subdued, but the track gradually builds to a high-lonesome holler that sounds like what I imagine Springsteen’s full-band version of Nebraska must be. A couple years ago, we ranked the best covers of “The Boys of Summer”, and this deserves to live in that company.