The woozy harmonica and acoustic guitar that opens JF Robitaille & Lail Arad’s new release sounds like you’re about to hear an old Woody Guthrie tune. But it turns out to be a cover of The Pretenders’ not-at-all-acoustic 1994 hit “I’ll Stand By You,” out today on new LA-based covers label Vault of Heaven. Robitaille and Arad, who split their time between London and Montreal, beautifully harmonize on the ’90s power ballad like a Sonny and Cher tune.
‘The Best Covers Ever’ series counts down our favorite covers of great artists.
This month, our ongoing series of One Hit Wonders covers comes to its end. We’ve done the 1950s (think “Earth Angel,” “Tequila”), the 1960s (“96 Tears,” “In A Gadda Da Vida”), the 1970s (“My Sharona,” “Black Betty”), and the 1980s (“You Spin Me Right Round,” “Turning Japanese”). Now we hit the 1990s today and the 2000s next week.
For millennial readers, these will be the songs you remember hearing on the radio and watching on MTV growing up. So many ubiquitous classics of the era like New Radicals’ “You Get What You Give” and 4 Non Blondes’ “What’s Up,” by artists who only had a brief moment in the sun (you might say someone stole their sunshine…). Also some fun flukes, where the artist’s cultural impact goes way beyond “one hit wonder” — but, according to the fickle US pop charts at the time, they qualify on a technicality: Robyn, Fiona Apple, etc. Plus Sir Mix-a-Lot’s “Baby Got Back,” which has to be in the conversation for the most One Hit Wonder to have ever One Hit Wonder-ed.
Counting Crows is currently on tour with Dashboard Confessional in their Banshee Season Tour. At one of their most recent stops, Palms Casino Resort in Las Vegas, the band decided to play a Taylor Swift cover. But for those who closely follow Counting Crows, this should be no surprise, as lead singer Adam Duritz has recently found a deep appreciation for the female pop idol. Several months ago in an interview with Nuvo Duritz said:
In Memoriam pays tribute to those who have left this world, and the songs they left us to remember them by.
When news spread on September 2nd that Jimmy Buffett had passed away at age 76, Parrotheads everywhere were consoled by Radio Margaritaville, the popular SiriusXM channel created by Buffett 18 years ago. Caller tributes and recent live concerts continued through Labor Day weekend to celebrate the remarkable career of the Son of a Son of a Sailor who left port for the last time to parts unknown.
Buffett leaves behind a legacy that began as a vibe and evolved into a billion-dollar entertainment and business empire built over five decades. The legendary songwriting-singer and tireless concert performer created an amazing body of work blessed with commercial success. Over 30 studio albums (17 going gold, platinum, or multiplatinum) were produced, along with another 30 compilation, live, or specialty albums, and 67 singles. Covers, in their various forms, were a significant part of Buffett’s repertoire; nearly 100 of them are listed on SecondHandSongs.com, the popular website that keeps track of such things.
Buffett, along with his Coral Reefer Band, successfully developed the “Gulf & Western” island-influenced musical genre into its own casual lifestyle brand. While not always critically admired, the music’s popularity is undeniable.
Let’s raise a mast and look out over the horizon at Buffett’s most interesting cover choices from his storied career…
In Search of Gil Scott-Heron is a fine new graphic novel about the life of a great artist. Or more accurately, as with the movies Round Midnight or Searching For Sugarman, it is as much about the life of a fan as the life of a special artist. French documentary maker Thomas Mauceri documents how he fell in love with the politics and music of the Godfather of Rap (a term Scott-Heron was not that keen on) during an academic stay in the United States. As a fan, he had experiences and met new people that he could not have done otherwise. The novel is beautifully drawn by Seb Piquet and the lettering for the English edition is expertly done by Lauren Bowes. In addition to the recollections of Mauceri, the book is interspersed with biography and observations about Gil Scott-Heron and his life as a pioneer and leader, and the less celebratory parts of his life. Much of the book is set around the time of the artist’s death in 2011. For those who saw him on his final tour, completed not long before his death, it is very poignant. We could see the fire and the talent, but also the losses that Scott-Heron heavily bore. His final album I’m New Here is a testament to that loss.
Even for a fan, there is new information in there. One key observation is that, at the time of his death, Scott-Heron had a small, well-maintained apartment in New York City. Given the chaos of his addictions and spells of imprisonment, this was a surprise. His friends note that the royalties from Scott-Heron and Brian Jackson’s hit song “The Bottle” gave him a steady income throughout the last 30 years of his life. Included on the 1974 album Winter in America, it is Jackson and Scott-Heron’s best-remembered hit, although “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” might be the most influential.
A dancefloor-filling hit song about crippling, chronic addition, “The Bottle” is a beautiful, contradictory creation. It has upbeat Caribbean rhythms wrapped Scott-Heron’s mellifluous voice. Brian Jackson brings a beautiful flute to the whole piece, infusing it with light and air, along with his other instrumental parts. The stories within it are dark but the music is light. Scott-Heron’s stories of the addicted are garnered from discussions with the visitors to a liquor store near Washington DC. We can imagine why he was there.
The song has been covered many times throughout the years by artists trying to capture the different themes. Here are five that capture the messages in a novel way.
There has been some indignation on these pages recently that some cherished British Bands were ‘One Hit Wonders’ in the US, but there is no accounting for taste. However the offence caused to Dexy’s Midnight Runners and Siouxsie and the Banshees is nothing compared to that experienced by The Jam. Multiple number-one singles and albums in the UK, and an ongoing cottage industry in the UK detailing their every move between 1976 and 1983, mean nothing to the Billboard Singles Charts. The band never got a single into the top 100. However, the kids know where it’s at. Helping spread the Jam gospel, Chicago punk trio Lifeguard bring us their cover of “In The City.”