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Mar 052021
 

Cover Classics takes a closer look at all-cover albums of the past, their genesis, and their legacy.

Siouxsie Through the Looking Glass

By 1987 the angular sounds of Siouxsie and the Banshees had mellowed enough for them to be regulars in the British charts and on the accompanying TV shows. The striking appearance of icy she-wolf Siouxsie had always contributed much to their success, her atonal approach to melody both idiosyncratic and chillingly effective, the only remnant from their first appearances, wherein the grasp of rudimentary technique was echoed by the lack of any instrumental prowess. Which only goes to prove the worth of their perseverance with the punk ethos: in any other time the band wouldn’t have stood a chance.

Fresh from touring Tinderbox, an album that had cemented their reputation, the band spent the downtime back in the studio, producing the covers album they had always wanted to do. No stopgap contractual filler, this; Through the Looking Glass was squeezed in ahead of any expectation. Of course, the band had already shown their cover capabilities, with the delightfully uber-psychedelic version of the Beatles’ “Dear Prudence,” a brave move in a time when admitting a Beatles affinity (in public, at least) might be considered poor form.

The initial choice of songs came largely from the early ’70s, a time when the old order was beginning to look pregnable, with new styles beginning to emerge, biting at the ankles of the towering giants of an increasingly bloated music industry. Bands such as Kraftwerk were showing how much (and how little) could be done with cheap electronic keyboards; Roxy Music were blurring and blending styles and genres into a sci-fi retrodelia; Television were proving outriders for the earlier and more cerebral NY take on punk. Add in the bizarre world of Sparks, quirky oddballs in their homeland, who were beginning to find acceptance in the UK. Then mix well with some of the more favored sons of the sixties: the Doors, Iggy from the Stooges, and the Velvet Underground’s John Cale. Here were where Siouxsie and company went panning for gold. With a song from The Jungle Book thrown in for good measure. And perhaps the oddest version yet of Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit” for dessert.
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Jul 072020
 

In Memoriam pays tribute to those who have left this world, and the songs they left us to remember them by.

Sky Saxon

“I don’t believe in death; there is no death,” Sky Saxon told the Austin Chronicle one week before he unexpectedly passed away. “In a higher understanding, none of us die; we leave our body. We’re going from one room to another room. Once you realize there’s no death, then you’ll live forever.”

On June 25th, 2009, when Sky Saxon traveled from one room to the next, he went arm and arm with Michael Jackson whose death was the day’s news. The King of Pop was celebrated and memorialized everywhere, while the King of Garage Rock died in obscurity. Continue reading »

Feb 142020
 

Some covers are more equal than others. Good, Better, Best looks at three covers and decides who takes home the gold, the silver, and the bronze.

What I Like About You covers

Happy Valentine’s Day!

“When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”

In the 1962 John Ford western The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, newspaperman Maxwell Scott finds out that the actual facts about the storied career of senator Ransom Stoddard (played by Jimmy Stewart) weren’t quite as colorful and exciting as tradition had made them. Realizing that reporting the truth would not be in his best interest (because the better story would sell more papers), he tears up his notes and delivers the line above. There’s a bit of that story in the history of The Romantics; we’ll see it in a moment.

The Romantics hail from Detroit, Michigan, and were influenced both by local musicians such as the MC5, Mitch Ryder, and the Stooges, and by the raucous, hard-driving sound of British punk. In both cases, it was the energy and spontaneity of the music they were listening to that captured their imagination. They steered away from the negativity inherent in some of the lyrics and ethos of the time, choosing instead to keep making music as much fun as possible. Shunning the “new wave” label, they chose instead to describe their music as “English pop with an American energy.”

They played their first gig as a band on Valentine’s Day 1977, and here’s where much of the rock press has decided to “print the legend.” The legend is that the band took its name from the holiday spirit surrounding that first gig. When asked, though, the band will tell you that the real inspiration for the name came from a Creem magazine about another artist they admired: Bryan Ferry. Ferry was describing Roxy Music’s current project, and used the term “romantic” a number of times, which clicked with them, and the name was forged. So there’s the truth, not quite as catchy as the legend.
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Sep 232019
 

Alice Cooper BreadcrumbsThe age of Aquarius was dawning in 1969. But the band Alice Cooper watched the sun set on the California shore as a sign that their time out west was over. They relocated to Pontiac, Michigan, a suburb of Detroit, in 1970. There, they shifted their musical and theatrical direction away from the psychedelic experimentation. Instead, they embraced a harder-edged rock mixed with a horror show. The Detroit area had been the boyhood home to frontman Vincent Furnier, and it was here that the band from Phoenix by way of Los Angeles was reborn. They found a more welcoming audience and a scene of similarly raucous bands, whose attitudes were forged in the same foundries as the steel in the Big Three’s automobiles.

During a sludgy performance one night, producer Bob Erzin heard Alice Cooper perform what he thought to be “I’m Gritty.” The title fit the nightclub setting and dirty look of the band. But the song title turned out to be “I’m Eighteen,” which was the breakthrough single for the band.

Now, fifty years later, Furnier—who since 1975 has gone by Alice Cooper—has released a new EP as an homage to the Motor City and the pistons of rock and roll. The Breadcrumbs EP released on Friday, September 13. It packs a punch.

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Mar 082019
 

Cover Classics takes a closer look at all-cover albums of the past, their genesis, and their legacy.

Wikipedia reports that Imaginary Records, an indie label founded 1985 in Manchester, England, specialized in indie rock and post-punk. What it really specialized in, though, was tribute albums. Roughly a third of their album catalog saluted other artists. These ranged from the usual suspects (Dylan, the Stones) to decidedly unusual ones (Captain Beefheart, Syd Barrett).

In 1992, they released Brittle Days: A Tribute to Nick Drake. This was at a time when Drake was still more a cult favorite than a favorite. Anyone who bought the album was as likely to be being introduced to Drake as to the artists singing his songs therein. These artists were themselves destined to remain cult favorites; no future jackpots here like there were on Imaginary Records’ first Velvet Underground tribute. Instead, devotees expressed their devotion to other devotees, resulting in an album that was quiet, reverent, and more than a little haunting.

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Feb 222019
 

Five Good Covers presents five cross-genre reinterpretations of an oft-covered song.

When David Bowie moved to Berlin, he took an apartment over an auto parts store. Iggy Pop shared a room with him. There were no chairs – they had decided chairs were unnatural. One night they were sitting on the floor waiting for Starsky and Hutch to start on the Armed Forces Network. The show started with a call signal – beep beep beep, beep beep beep beep, beep beep beep. Bowie picked up a ukulele (“it might have been his son’s,” Pop later remembered) and wrote out the chord progression. “Call it ‘Lust for Life,'” he told Pop. “Write something up.”

Describing their songwriting process, Bowie said, “I often gave him a few anchor images that I wanted him to play off, and he would take them away and start free-associating.” Pop later realized that Bowie’s title came from the Kirk Douglas film about Vincent van Gogh. “In the two albums we made,”said Pop, referring to Lust for Life and The Idiot, “I think Bowie wanted to make the comment that I was an idiot à la Dostoyevsky and insane à la van Gogh. Like, ‘Here I am producing albums for this insane idiot — let’s see what happens!'”

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