Jan 142022
 
Carla Thomas

Musical obsessions are not always as cut and dried as “this is my favorite song/ album/ band/ genre.” Occasionally you will find yourself in uncharted territory, involuntarily drawn to something so specific and esoteric that it doesn’t fall under the umbrella of an actual existing category. Hmmm… I’m making this sound way more dignified than it is. What I’m trying to say is, most dyed-in-the-wool music nerds have what I’m going to call an imaginary friend. By that, I mean that they have an obsession with some weird-ass thing or self-invented category, one that may not be audible to the ears of others, but feels oh so real to them.

I am now going to introduce you to my imaginary friend, my Harvey, my Snuffleupagus, my Drop Dead Fred. It’s a “thing” I’m obsessed with, which, while exceedingly specific and adhering to a strict set of self-invented rules, doesn’t technically exist as an established, formalized entity.

In a nutshell, I have an insatiable fascination with R & B covers of ’70s Soft Rock songs. Specifically, those recorded in the same era as the originals, when the originals themselves were still young, topical, and ubiquitous.

This oddball interest has roots in all the times I spent as a captive backseat passenger in my Mom’s 1972 white Chevy Nova with the sunflower painted on the side (only one word for that car: bitchin’). It was in this magical machine that my musical foundation was established and my taste was, some might say tragically, molded into shape. Meaning I was exposed to a helluva lot of ’70s AM pop radio as a kid. And there were two things being churned out in ample quantities back then that I especially loved:

1. R&B aka Soul Music (the first single I ever bought was by The Spinners, the first LP was by Billy Preston)

2. Soft Rock, primarily the candy-coated version (“Shannon is gone, I heard…”)

For a specific subgenre, “Soft Rock” is a pretty broad descriptor. The term has come to characterize the adult incense burning-cool babysitter sounds of Carole King and James Taylor, as well as the candy-coated, big-chorus-ed corniness of Barry Manilow and the Captain and Tennille. While we tend to draw a distinction between these two types of Soft Rock (the former is “cool,” and the latter… isn’t), back then, to my kid ears, they were the same damn thing, 100% equal in terms of their artistic credibility. They were all served up on the same radio stations, so in my world, Jackson Browne and Helen Reddy were as one. It was all pop music.

My sloppy love for both the Soul and the Soft did not trigger a lightbulb moment where I thought, “hey, I love these two things and I wonder if there are artists who have perhaps married the two.” Lord no. That would have been far too sophisticated a notion to have ever sprouted up in my eight-year-old peanut brain. My fascination with the marriage was a more random pursuit that defined itself over time. I think it may have been triggered by hearing The Four Tops’ incendiary cover of Fred Neil’s “Everybody’s Talking” on some compilation in the ’80s. I honestly can’t remember. What I do know is that as technology advanced, my pursuit grew more and more fanatical with each passing day.

Once I could get at discographies with the touch of a button, the nerd assembly line kicked into high gear. Stores were scavenged for Soul-ified Soft Rock treasures. Mixtapes were assembled, followed by mix-CDs, finally culminating in an immense iTunes playlist I pathetically titled, yup, Soul in the Middle of the Road, that grew to feature hundreds of songs. They ran the gamut from transcendent (some rivaling or surpassing the originals in terms of beauty) to horrible (oh man) to just straight-up bizarre (you’ll see).

As alluded to earlier, my main interest is in covers that were recorded during the same era as the originals, in or on the edges of the ’70s. These covers offer a direct nod to the ubiquity of the originals and capture the spirit of that swingin’ era in a way that is impossible for a latter-day cover to achieve (to me, anyway).

I now humbly offer you 30 of the finest, weirdest, and “what the holy hell was that” soul-infused covers of classics and beloved deep cuts from the sweet ‘n’ vast Soft Rock canon. Now I’m sure some of the artists I’m about to mention would bristle at having one of their works characterized as “Soft Rock,” but hey rock star, you made a Soft Rock song, so you know, that’s on you (also thank you, you sexy thing). At the end of the day, they should all feel grateful and flattered to have had their sweetest sounds so soulfully celebrated.

As for me, I hear love in every one of the covers that follow and genuinely hope you can too. Take it away, Tops

NEXT PAGE →

Feb 012021
 
cover songs january 2021
Amanda Shires – That’s All (Genesis cover)

Our first song kicks off what will be a theme here. A lot of these came out at the very top of the year (or the very end of 2020) to kick a garbage year to the curb and hope for something better. Shires said: “’That’s All’ is a song that I have played a lot on tour. The song defines 2020 for me. It’s a true Covid anthem and I dare you to not dance to my version when you hear it!” Continue reading »

May 292020
 

Check out the best covers of past months here.

best cover songs may 2020
Daniel Romano’s Outfit – Sweetheart Like You (Bob Dylan cover)


This one’s for all the Dylan superfans. In 1984, Bob Dylan played three songs on Letterman with L.A. punk band The Plugz. They were gritty and garagey and raw. It boded well for his new sound. And then he never played with them again. The album he was ostensibly promoting, Infidels, was much smoother, helmed by Mark Knopfler. For those who still wonder what could have been, Daniel Romano covered the entire album as if he’d recorded it with The Plugz. Continue reading »

Apr 022014
 

Under the Radar shines a light on lesser-known cover artists. If you’re not listening to these folks, you should. Catch up on past installments here.

When your share your name with a father who’s a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame… when you grew up living next door to George Jones and Tammy Wynette… when you have Shel Silverstein for a mentor… a life in the music business would seem preordained. That’s what Bobby Bare Jr. has made for himself, from duetting with his father in 1973 to selling t-shirts and working lights at concerts to becoming a full-time musician when he was about thirty. It’s been a hard life [the documentary Don’t Follow Me (I’m Lost) follows him and his band down the long road of touring], but it’s paying off. This year alone he stole the show at SXSW’s Lou Reed tribute with his take on “Oh! Sweet Nuthin’,” and he released his very first cover of a song of his father’s, “Shame On Me,” saying that he “figured after 8 of my own albums I can’t be accused of ‘coat tailing’ at this point.”
Continue reading »

Feb 152013
 

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

A song about a kid who thinks he’s taken acid. – Randy Newman

You’re in the desert. You’ve got nothing else to do. NAME THE FREAKIN’ HORSE. – Richard Jeni

If an 8-track, shag-carpeted Frisbee could sing, it would be America. – Cracked.com

The band America and their lyrics to their breakout hit “Horse with No Name” may have been fodder for jokes, and they may have sounded so much like Neil Young that Neil’s own father called to congratulate him on the song’s success, but America (the group)’s easygoing vibe and inscrutable story were just what America (the country) wanted to hear in 1972, and the record shot to number one before its author, Dewey Bunnell, was out of his teens. Continue reading »

Jan 042011
 

You probably didn’t think you were in desperate need of a soaring indie cover of America’s “Ventura Highway,” but you were. Now, courtesy of Samuel Ramos of Fort deClare, you have one. The song began life as a nice little acoustic folk song. Ramos amps it up though, making it perfect for a drive through the countryside – although he’d much prefer you used headphones.

The cover starts off simply enough, repeating the main guitar hook on a reverb-laden electric guitar with some nice acoustic strumming helping to build up the song’s steam before it fades out for the verse. Once the chorus hits, the song explodes into grand post-rock theatrics. Huge, crunchy guitar lays the foundation while the vocals and various other effects float on top. Continue reading »