In the Spotlight showcases a cross-section of an artist’s cover work. View past installments, then post suggestions for future picks in the comments!
People come up with crazy schemes all the time – what’s less common is when someone actually goes through with said crazy scheme. Americana legend Peter Stampfel, formerly of The Holy Modal Rounders and The Fugs, is that someone.Continue reading »
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.
Do supergroups still exist these days? Definitely! Fans of these folks might not think they are quite under the radar, but these groups are either generally framed less as supergroups or their prior musical experiences may have been under the radar themselves. There are many more supergroups under the radar to explore. Tell us about your favorites in the comments!
David Crosby (formerly of Byrds), Stephen Stills (formerly of Buffalo Springfield), and Graham Nash (formerly of the Hollies) formed the creatively named Crosby, Stills & Nash supergroup in 1968. There were no formal ties between the three; they had just played together in non-formal settings and were wrapping up their involvement in their previous bands around the same time. Starting in 1969, Neil Young (who knew Stills from Buffalo Springfield) was in and out of the group. This supergroup is the first band to have all members inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame twice, true supergroup status!
Despite their popularity and success, there was frequent transition between being a trio and being a quartet due to conflicting dynamics within the group. They started as CSN in 1968, became CSNY in 1969, and then went on a hiatus in 1970. Until 1973 everyone was working solo, and then CSNY 2.0 arose in 1973. By 1976 they were down to CSN. Young made his final stint in the band starting in 1988 but wasn’t always part of the touring, especially in the 2010s.
The matching outfits. The perfectly coiffed hair. The synchronized finger-snapping. The beautiful faces. And, of course, the angelic voices. Just saying the phrase “Girl Groups” conjures images of these well-styled ladies from the past singing their hearts out, dreaming of those young boys they hoped to marry.
Many of the group names are legendary. The Supremes, The Ronettes, The Crystals, The Shirelles, and Martha and the Vandellas have been fixtures of “oldies” format radio for decades. Leading these groups were great frontwomen like Diana Ross, Ronnie Spector, and Martha Reeves, as well as Darlene Love, who sang for multiple groups unbeknownst to the record buying public. There were also countless ladies who did not become household names, such as Arlene Smith, lead singer of the Chantels, who belted out the group’s classic “Maybe.”
For the purposes of this list, we decided to focus on the period known as the “Golden Age of Girl Groups.” Though we’re calling it ’60s in the headline, it really spanned from roughly 1955 to 1970. In this era, the music was transported from the street corners and dance halls to the radio, which broadcast it into living rooms across the country. The songs blended elements of doo-wop, early rock ‘n’ roll, pop, gospel, and rhythm & blues. When melded together, it created a sound as fresh and new as the 45s and transistor radios that blasted out the music.
Most of the best-known girl groups were women of color (with a few notable exceptions, such as the Shangri-Las). These women not only topped the charts, they broke down barriers as they helped to integrate segregated audiences across the country, including the Deep South.
Behind the scenes were equally legendary songwriters, musicians and producers. You know their names, too: tunesmiths such as Carole King and Gerry Goffin, and the Motown song and production trio Holland/Dozier/Holland (Lamont Dozier and brothers Brian and Eddie Holland).
Such a shiny veneer had a dark side, though, in the form of the notorious Phil Spector. He was a brilliant producer who presided over many of the era’s biggest hits, but he was also a truly terrible human being who physically and emotionally abused his charges, including his ex-wife Ronnie Spector. He would eventually be convicted of murder and died in prison earlier this year.
The music has continued to inspire covers by both male and female artists – or boys and girls, in the parlance of the genre. Our list features covers by everyone from Aerosmith to Amy Winehouse, the Beatles to Bananarama (a girl group of another era), as well as ska bands, punk bands, indie bands, and countless Rock and Roll Hall of Famers who have covered tracks from the era.
That’s probably because the songs were so darn powerful. Love songs that captured the ecstasy and agony of teenage emotions like “Will You Love Me Tomorrow,” “Please Mr. Postman” and “You Can’t Hurry Love.” Party favorites such as “Dancing in the Streets” and “Heat Wave.” And songs that dealt with more complex social issues such as “Love Child,” and the disturbing “He Hit Me (And It Felt Like a Kiss).” Such great songs inspire great artists to record fantastic covers. Here’s a selection of our favorites.
Adia Victoria recorded this powerful Badu cover for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. She said of the time she discovered the song, “I was looking for something that was bigger and deeper and felt more warm than the idea of a Christian God. And I dove into my imagination. And the first time I heard ‘on and on’ it felt like Erykah Badu was waiting for me to be her there.”Continue reading »
Like many a performer, Dylan LeBlanc spent the pandemic lockdown to good intent, producing Pastimes. This six-song EP consists entirely of covers, songs that have “inspired him musically and spiritually,” drawing back, as they do, on his childhood and the music he was exposed to by his father, a jobbing Nashville songwriter. Father and son spent Dylan’s teenaged years in the Nashville clubs, where LeBlanc senior was plying his trade as a writer and session man. And one, I might say, with a mighty fine taste in music.
Self-produced in Muscle Shoals, the performances on Pastimes are all live in the studio, with sympathetic backing from a mix of musicians, guitars, keyboards, steel and, gloriously, a string quartet. Strings can often over egg the work of sensitive singer-songwriters, the label most often attached to LeBlanc, but here they complement and complete the arrangements delightfully. These are not dramatic reframings of largely well-known songs; rather, these fall more into loving recreations, the respect for the songs–and, by default, the authors–hugely evident. Continue reading »