In July of 1958, a Prince was created. That was the month Charles became Prince of Wales. Earlier this month he was officially crowned King.
In June of 1958, another Prince was created. He died seven years before Charles’ coronation, but he had long before passed beyond the arena of royalty into the field of the celestial.
Prince was, if not a god, a divine presence, more felt than understood. That he was a musical genius was almost taken for granted; his prolific recording, his tremendous work ethic, his mysterious appearances where you least expected him (On Muppets Tonight?? Making fun of Hee Haw???)–all served to make him more myth than man, and now he’s less man than legend.
Prince famously told George Lopez that “covering the music means your version doesn’t exist anymore,” but that’s not quite so. Prince may not (or may) be immortal, but his music definitely is, and the covers that continue to roll in are all the proof you need. This post offers some of the evidence. (Certainly not all of it – more nominations missed the cut than made it, and the great majority of them were very worthy.)
Before we begin: to qualify, a Prince song needed to have been officially released before the cover version. Sadly, this means the Bangles’ “Manic Monday,” Sheila E’s “The Belle of St. Mark,” Celine Dion’s “With This Tear,” and others didn’t get considered.
And now for our selections. And don’t worry, Charles–it’s good to be King. It’s just more magical to be Prince.
Last week we kicked off our new One Hit Wonders series with ten covers of big 1950s hits, and today we continue it with 20 covers of 1960s smashes.
Some classic songs getting covered in here, in some cases by artists that should have had many more hits just as big. So it goes in pop music. We’ll probably never be able to do a The 40 Best Maurice Williams and the Zodiacs Covers Ever list, though, so we celebrate them here with a few fun reimaginings of their early 1960 chart-topper “Stay.”Continue reading »
Five Good Covers presents five cross-genre reinterpretations of an oft-covered song.
Today marks the 108th anniversary of Billie Holiday’s birth. Her significance as a singer needs no elaboration from me; her songs speak for themselves, just as they have spoken to the souls of millions. “Strange Fruit” is considered her signature work, but a good argument has been made that “God Bless the Child” is of equal significance, with the added fillip of a sense of hope.
Born from an argument over money Holiday had with her mother, the song still has the zest of anger lain across it. But it also shows the way out; hard work, it’s implied, will bear its own fruit, both material and spiritual. The hope may not be powerfully warm, nor even all that self-evident, but it’s there, and it can help to lift you out and up.
With more than five hundred covers produced and released over the years, it’s impossible to single out only five as being among the best. That’s why you’ll find six featured here, and believe me, it could have been sixty. We hope these half-dozen bring you all that Mama may have and Papa may have.
Cover Genres takes a look at cover songs in a very specific musical style.
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 onyou (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…
As regular readers know, every year, at the end of the year, we do a big year-end covers list. This tradition started in 2007 and will continue in a couple months with the best covers of 2021.
But there are so many years before 2007 where we weren’t doing year-end covers lists (and, as far as I’m aware, no one else was either). So once a year, we do a big anniversary post tackling the best covers of a year before Cover Me was born. So far we’ve done 1969, 1978, 1987, 1996, and, last year, 2000.
And for 2021, we look back thirty years, to the heady days of 1991. The days of grunge and acid house, of parachute pants and ripped denim, of The Gulf War and Home Alone. Country music and hip-hop increased their cultural dominance (or really just making their existing dominance known; 1991 is also the year Soundscan made the Billboard charts more authoritative). In a single day, Nirvana released Nevermind, Red Hot Chili Peppers released Blood Sugar Sex Magik, and A Tribe Called Quest released The Low End Theory. Think that’s a fluke? The week before saw massive albums from Mariah Carey, Hole, and Guns ‘n’ Roses (two albums, no less). The week before that came Garth Brooks, Talk Talk, and Saint Etienne.
All of those trends are reflected in the list below. Many of these covers scream “1991!” LL Cool J raps Disney. Courtney Love shrieks Joni. Aretha Franklin tries to new jack swing. A spate of early tribute albums (in fact, last year I wrote a 33 1/3 book about a 1991 tribute album). Other covers are more timeless, from veteran artists doing great work several decades into their careers, or way-underground artists who never even approached the mainstream. The only criteria was quality. Thirty years later, these 50 covers Hole-d up the best.
Check out the list starting on Page 2, and stay tuned for the best covers of this year coming in December.
Cover Classics takes a closer look at all-cover albums of the past, their genesis, and their legacy.
For a time in the 1970s, Tapestry was the album to have under your arm, especially if you wanted, or needed, to show off some serious and sensitive right-on dude vibes with, um, the ladies. In those far off and distant days, as well as being, for real, a stellar album, transforming the shy Brill Building hit song machine into a credible songwriter of some rather more finesse than had been earlier appreciated, Carole King became, in an instant, a feminist icon, appealing across the range of an increasingly politicized gender awareness. While this may have neither been her aim or intention, the timing was perfect, the world ready and aching for singer-songwriters able to intelligently bare their emotions over some gentle laid back Laurel Canyon arrangements.
But let’s not forget quite how impressive the King legacy had been, prior to Tapestry. She wrote, or co-wrote, often with first husband, Gerry Goffin, 118 Billboard hits, making her the prime successful female songwriter of the latter half of the 20th century. Songs that have become standards, songs with a longevity that have you remembering the words immediately, after decades, prompted by a single note. Songs like “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow,” “Take Good Care of My Baby,” “Goin’ Back,” and many many more, with versions aplenty in any genre you might wish to pick, if usually prime pop fodder in their initial iterations, with King herself far from the spotlight. (OK, she had also had a crack at performing, in 1962, with her gauche and affecting “It Might As Well Rain Until September,” which was a hit, but the world then preferred her songs performed by sassy girl groups and tight-shirted medallion men crooners.)
Divorcing Goffin in 1968, and wearying of the world of processing chart hits for others, King moved to L.A., to Laurel Canyon, arriving much the same time as a bevy of like-minded individuals, Her goal: to revive her own career as a performer, having put it on hold earlier thanks to the undoubted success of being a go-to writer. With neighbors like James Taylor and Joni Mitchell, this was to be a fertile breeding ground for King. With an earlier album disappointing the charts, in cahoots with Taylor and much of his backing band, Tapestry slowly came together, coming out in 1971, with one of its songs already a massive hit. James Taylor’s “You’ve Got a Friend” was huge, and Taylor made sure all knew who had written it, many perhaps surprised that it was the same writer of all those 60s chart-toppers. The fact that King chose also to include a couple of those early songs, reworked and reenvisioned, amongst the newer material gave the ideal crossover between her old audience and a massive new audience. Tapestry stormed to the number one slot of the album charts, staying there for upward of three, nearly four, months. The two lead singles each hit the top of their respective chart. Acclaimed by all, and grabbing four Grammys in 1972, it has notched up 25 million sales and counting, remaining on the chart for an astonishing 313 weeks, a record only surpassed by Pink Floyds’s Dark Side of the Moon.
So, then, what of Tapestry Revisited? Coming nearly a quarter of a century later, in 1995, the idea was to recreate Tapestry with a roster of the great and good of the day. However, rather than remembering the idea and the ambience of the original, with its mood of getting it together in the country, here it was if the older and earlier King was being celebrated, as the artists chosen came, largely, from the pool of pop royalty rather than from singer-songwriters plowing any similar farrow at that time. So we get the Bee Gees, Celine Dion, and Rod Stewart, he then at the peak of his satin and sashes ridiculousness. But, fair play, if the job required was to draw a new attention to the songs and their writer, this it would certainly be capable of doing.
Although Tapestry Revisited went gold, it peaked at #53 and few would put it above the original. But it has its moments. Continue reading »