Aug 182023

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.

Chumbawamba Tubthumping

It can be hard work being in a band for 30 years. Not everyone survives with their friendships and dignity intact. The Anarcho-Punk outfit Chumbawamba originated in the North of England in 1982, and survived as a band until 2012. A marvelous recent documentary showed that they still get on with each other, on the whole. In addition to the precarious living that is common in the early stages (and other) of being a musical combo outside the mainstream, they had principles that restricted their ability to grow and make money. They gave their time and music to a lot of unpaid causes. They encouraged their fans to record their concerts and circulate them as cassettes, even though they didn’t have as many people at their gigs, and buying merchandise, as the Grateful Dead. Each member of their fan club had an entirely individual interpretation of their mission and how to fulfil it, and were vocal with their opinions, and quick to boycott. And yet they thrived.

What does a One Hit Wonder add to that mix? Chumbawamba’s career is neatly divided around 1997: the period before they had one of the biggest singles in the world, and the period after. Having already alienated a section of their fanbase (as usual) by “selling out” by signing with a “Big” label, they then produced an overtly “pop” single, “Tubthumping,” and everything changed. They appeared in media throughout the world and played concerts across the globe. They generated a lot of cash from sales and licensing the hit, which they could direct to their causes if they wanted. They humiliated a bloviating politician in a way that they could not have before. If one of the band encouraged fans, on national television in the US, to steal their record if they cannot afford, what was it? Loose, unthinking talk? A dada-ist prank? Evidence of an excellent eye for PR? All three? Whatever the reason, it did not harm sales.
Continue reading »

May 312018
best cover songs may

The usual disclaimer: Our monthly “Best Cover Songs” aren’t ranked, and the “Honorable Mentions” aren’t necessarily worse than the others.

Update: Hear me discuss this list, along with our Best Pink Floyd Covers ranking, on SiriusXM Volume:

Angus and Julia Stone – Passionfruit (Drake cover)

Three prominent indie artists covered Drake’s “Passionfruit” this month: Franz Ferdinand, Cornelius, and, the best of the bunch, Angus and Julia Stone. Covering a rap song is easier, I suppose, when there’s no actual rapping. Few political or racial minefields in the lyrics for artists to navigate help too (for a counterexample: this month’s worst cover). For Triple J’s great series “Like a Version,” Angus and Julia Stone brought their beautiful harmonies to a smooth soul bed. It floats like Gram and Emmylou singing a Marvin Gaye song. Continue reading »

Jan 182012

LA Duo DWNTWN, consisting of Jamie Leffler and Robert Cepeda, has been pumping out consistent and original electro-pop tunes online for just about a year now. If you scan through their YouTube account you’ll see remixes of some of the biggest tunes in the last year. While remixes are fun, they aren’t nearly as exciting as a good cover. It seems like this duo may have figured that out just in time to deliver the perfect synth pop cover of Angus & Julia Stone‘s huge hit “Big Jet Plane.” Continue reading »

Jul 252011

At some point while no one was looking, Nick Cave’s “The Ship Song” became Australia’s unofficial national anthem (sorry, “Waltzing Matilda”). In January, we heard Amanda Palmer cover it to represent the country on her Amanda Palmer Goes Down Under album, and now a cultural landmark no less than the Sydney Opera House has commissioned an all-star performance of it. Aussie musicians young and old collaborate on a beautifully-filmed performance that goes from one artist to the next in a seamless medley. Continue reading »