Nov 052021
 

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

Green Onions

Booker T. Jones, Steve Cropper, Lewie Steinberg, and Al Jackson were the core of the MGs, the house band of Stax Records in Memphis. They played on scores of the R&B hits of the day, backing Otis Redding, Sam & Dave, and Wilson Pickett, amongst many others. In 1962 they got some downtime to mess around on their own in the studio. Utilizing a standard 12-bar format, and working from the germ of an idea of Jones, they largely improvised it into sounding something special. They called it “Green Onions” – green at label co-owner Estelle Axton’s suggestion, and onions because they were the funkiest thing Steinberg could think of. “To him they were funky because they were stinky,” Cropper later said.

Suitable as a b-side for a track, “Behave Yourself,” that had already been commissioned of them by Jim Stewart, Cropper rushed the tapes off to Scotty Moore at Sun Records to cut the disc. Once it had secured a few radio plays, it became apparent the a and b were the wrong way around, and they were flipped, with “Green Onions” racing up the chart, hitting a peak of number 3. In the near 60 years since, it has never lost appeal, with numerous releases gaining a nod from successive generations. Both of its time and timeless, it has become musical shorthand by film makers and advertisers to evoke a the image of the early 60s, all beehives and flat tops, prime American Graffiti-styled mythologizing.

So what could you possibly do if you decide to cover this most iconic of instrumentals, other than to kill it or copy it? Which, pretty much, is what most versions do, often at the same time. That includes a whole host of folk who should know better (looking at you, Tom Petty and Dave Edmunds), jumping on the coattails of the song for either a quick fix of audience nostalgia or a quick buck in a fading career. Plus a shedload of ultimately weird discoveries, like the California Raisins and a pre-Beach Boys Bruce Johnston, doing little other than to let it sell their product, whether that be dried fruit or party music for co-eds. But there are some absolute belters tucked away out there, where much thought has been taken to give a little more back to the tune than Booker T and co. ever gave. From some surprising sources. Plus one liberal helping of good ol’ messy just for the hell of it.
Continue reading »

Aug 142020
 

The late great guitarist Roy Buchanan, who died on this day in 1988, liked to say he was the son of a preacher man. And that as a boy he attended church revivals with Black congregations, where he first heard blues music. He was the first white guy to absorb the blues, he liked to say, and to build a career around the form.

These claims may not be the gospel truth–Buchanan also insisted he was “half-wolf.” His own brother denies that their father did any preaching at all. The truth is that Roy Buchanan was a dark and complicated man and artist.

What is also unmistakably true is that few have mastered their instrument to the depth Roy did. Buchanan’s close listeners praise his array of astonishing techniques, and how he used them to express uniquely emotive statements. As with a good Hendrix solo, you catch your breath at the sheer intensity of sound and soulfulness that Buchanan summons up when he’s running hot. His Fender Telecaster screams and cries, whistles and whines in ways are piercing in one second and tender in the next—Roy could recreate the human voice in uncanny ways. But then he’d spin into machine-like rapid-fire notes that make your teeth hurt. He didn’t need effect pedals to achieve this sonic richness—he was a purist in his way, defiantly old-school in a period that expected progressive experimentation.
Continue reading »

Jul 252019
 

Cover Classics takes a closer look at all-cover albums of the past, their genesis, and their legacy.

McLemore Avenue

From their earliest records, The Beatles acknowledged their debt to the African-American artists who informed their sound. Much of their first two records were a tour through soul, R&B, and female vocal groups. By the end of the 1960s, as The Beatles were breaking up, African-American musicians were paying back the tribute by performing covers of the Fab Four.

One such notable cover was the entire album reinterpretation of Abbey Road by Booker T. & the MGs titled McLemore Avenue. The entire artistry of this album is an homage to Abbey Road. Released in April 1970 when The Beatles officially broke up, McLemore Avenue is like a musical funeral for the band and for the decade that they, in part, helped to define.
Continue reading »

Feb 052016
 

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!

al-kooper

Dylan: “Turn the organ up.”

Wilson: “Hey, man, that cat’s not an organ player.”

Dylan: “Hey, now don’t tell me who’s an organ player and who’s not. Just turn the organ up.”

When Bob Dylan ordered producer Tom Wilson to bring up the organ in “Like a Rolling Stone,” it cemented the talents of a 21-year-old named Al Kooper into legend. (Kooper tells the whole story in his fantastic autobiography Backstage Passes & Backstabbing Bastards.) Once serendipity has allowed you to put a trademark stamp on arguably the greatest rock ‘n’ roll song of all time, there’s nowhere to go but down, right?

Wrong – in fact, Kooper was just getting started.
Continue reading »

Dec 042013
 

Welcome to Cover Me Q&A, where we take your questions about cover songs and answer them to the best of our ability.

Here at Cover Me Q&A, we’ll be taking questions about cover songs and giving as many different answers as we can. This will give us a chance to hold forth on covers we might not otherwise get to talk about, to give Cover Me readers a chance to learn more about individual staffers’ tastes and writing styles, and to provide an opportunity for some back-and-forth, as we’ll be taking requests (learn how to do so at feature’s end).

Today’s question: What’s your favorite holiday cover song?
Continue reading »

Apr 052011
 

This March, we pit 64 Beatles covers against each other in what we call Moptop Madness.

Yesterday’s winner: Booker T. and the M.G.s, “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)”

Well, here we are. On March 1st we presented you with 64 Beatles covers and asked you to vote for the best. In daily matches, 62 have been eliminated in battles that were often quite fierce. After the dust settled, only two songs remain: Joe Cocker’s “With a Little Help from My Friends” and Booker T. and the M.G.s’ “I Want You (She’s So Heavy).” Now it’s time for you to determine the final winner.

We considered making the championship match longer, but that’s not how it works in sports and that’s not how it will work here. We know from the comments that folks have passionate opinions about these two songs, so you have exactly 24 hours to rally your troops. Tomorrow we’ll announce the Best Beatles Cover Ever, as chosen by Cover Me readers.

Listen to both songs below, then vote for your favorite. For added sway, try to convince others to vote your way in the comments. Voting closes in 24 hours. Continue reading »