Jun 102022
 

That’s A Cover? explores cover songs that you may have thought were originals.

Comedian Marc Maron made a funny mistake on a recent episode of his “WTF” podcast. Two founders of the Doobie Brothers were his guests. Although Maron is fanatical about music and is a musician in his own right, his tone throughout the interview seemed to reveal that he finds the Doobie Brothers faintly ridiculous. (He’s more of an Iggy Pop and Patti Smith guy.) Sure, Maron could recall a few of the Doobies album titles, and he shared a memory of singing along with “Black Water” in a school bus at age 11, but every American of Maron’s generation remembers singing that song in a school bus.

After the interview, Maron improvised a medley of iconic Doobie Brothers moments. He sang some choruses he only partly remembered, and he vocally mimicked a few of the band’s signature guitar riffs. Partway through he sang “give me the beat boys, free my soul, I wanna get lost in your rock and roll and drift away,” an iconic ’70s line if ever there was one.

That’s the mistake that got me thinking about the song “Drift Away.” That’s the song Maron was remembering, but it’s one which the Doobie Brothers never recorded. Soul singer Dobie Gray recorded the hit in 1973.
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Dec 042021
 

That’s A Cover? explores cover songs that you may have thought were originals.

I Fought the Law

In 1978, Joe Strummer and Mick Jones flew to San Francisco to record overdubs for the Clash’s second album, Give ’em Enough Rope. There, they heard the Bobby Fuller Four song “I Fought the Law” for the first time, on the studio jukebox. By the time they came back to England, they had heard it enough times to memorize it. They recorded the song and released in on an EP in the spring of 1979. Later that year it came out as a single in America, the Clash’s first. It appeared on their first American album as well, a rejiggered version of their UK debut two years before.

The story of a prisoner taking an oh-well attitude toward the turn his life took, “I Fought the Law” struck a chord with the Clash’s fans. It was a signature cover, both for the band and the song. And many many DJs who introduced this aggressive shrug of a song called it a cover of the top-ten hit by the Bobby Fuller Four.

Which it was.

But it wasn’t.
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Nov 122021
 

 That’s A Cover? explores cover songs that you may have thought were originals.

Elvis Presley was finally convinced to get back, in true Beatles fashion, on “Burning Love,” the song he released as a single in August 1972. It was high time he reclaimed his throne as the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll, considering his recent dearth of hits in the US, and an audience seemingly weary of his ballads, his gospel numbers, and, ultimately, his “American Trilogy.” On “Burning Love,” he was able to reconnect with his incendiary late-’50s incarnation, to the point of ad-libbing a slice of his 1959 rocker, “A Big Hunk o’ Love.” In the 1972 song, he found the ingredients to catapult him back to the upper reaches of the Billboard Hot 100. (He was joined there by Chuck Berry and Ricky Nelson, the first time all three had been in the top ten in fourteen years.)

What is less well known is that Presley achieved exactly the kind of resurgence with “Burning Love” that Arthur Alexander hoped for when he released it as a single six months earlier. What is also little known, therefore, is that Presley’s version is a cover. By a matter of months.
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Jul 012021
 

That’s A Cover? explores cover songs that you may have thought were originals.

The Pet Shop Boys’ final release of the ’80s, the decade they helped define, was the apocalyptic yet uplifting summer single “It’s Alright.” Concerned that their “imperial phase” was behind them, the British synth-pop duo enlisted producer Trevor Horn to help launch a fresh assault on the UK #1 spot, by remixing what they first recorded as an epic album track. The architect of ABC’s “The Look of Love” and Frankie’s “Relax,” in turn, bolstered it as only he could, by plying it with calamitous sound effects, machine-gun-fire samples, a harp, a string section, extra synthesizers, horns, backing singers, and (why not?) a soprano. Singer Neil Tennant, meanwhile, supplied additional lyrics – “Forests falling at a desperate pace” – to pile eco-anxiety on top of the political anxiety. All of which resulted in a typically dramatic, commercial, and strangely moving slice of Pet Shop Boys pop.

Which was credited to “Sterling Void.”

It was hard to know from the single, but Tennant and Chris Lowe sourced “It’s Alright” from the Chicago house scene of the late ’80s, out of love for crudely made electronic dance music marked by all-conquering bass lines, and sparse lyrics of the “jack your body” and “rock your body” variety. They didn’t repeat the trick of applying a synth riff and distinctly un-country vocal to a country song famously recorded by Elvis Presley, but instead adopted a track known only to those attuned to the underground club sounds of the Windy City. How they zoned in on Sterling Void, though, is still a point that needs clarifying, as is the way they found in a six-minute dance record, on a specialist Chicago label, the raw materials for a top 5 hit in July ’89.
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Apr 192021
 

That’s A Cover? explores cover songs that you may have thought were originals.

Tom Dooley

Yes, “Tom Dooley” is a cover song. Should this even be a surprise, given its age? But even the oldest version you can think of is unlikely to be the original. Were you to ask me, a stripling of a lad, the version I presume to be the original is always going to be the Kingston Trio 1958 chartbuster. As I was 1 at the time, I have this knowledge only on the good authority of my ex, who sang it to me whilst courting, it having been sung to her by her mother as she lay in her cot. Indeed, whenever the song was prompted to her by her daughter, my mother in law was, and probably still is, capable of piping up into a few verses.

Younger readers have maybe had to make do with more recent renditions, Mr. Dooley surprisingly still having wings, popping up all over, and not always where and from whom you would expect. I say this as it is, let’s be fair, pretty limp fare. Cutting edge, perhaps, in 1958, but maybe not the trigger to awake the inspiration of the icons of the ’60s folk explosion, you know, Bob Dylan and that sort of artist. Well, we’ll see….
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Apr 092021
 

That’s A Cover? explores cover songs that you may have thought were originals.

Holding Back the Years

UK band Simply Red have a fine line in soulful covers that owe a profound debt to singer Mick Hucknall’s powerful and committed vocal performances. There’s the brilliant “Money’s Too Tight (To Mention),” for starters, a gritty and relevant 1985 take on the Valentine Brothers’ 1982 original, imbibed with Hucknall’s righteous indignation not only of Reaganomics (“cut-backs!”), but also the Thatcherite policies behind the snake-like dole queues of ’80s Britain. There’s “It’s Only Love,” originally by Barry White, and “If You Don’t Know Me By Now,” of Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes fame. Then there’s “Holding Back The Years,” a deeply moving lament on a broken family and neglected childhood, first released by a punk band called the Frantic Elevators in 1982.

Yes, that’s right. Punk band. Frantic Elevators. 1982.
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