Jan 072022
 

Full Albums features covers of every track off a classic album. Got an idea for a future pick? Leave a note in the comments!

buffalo springfield covers

Retrospective saw Buffalo Springfield’s record company out to catch a final buck or two, their cash cow having imploded ahead of quite how much of a cash cow it could or should have been. The band had been on the decidedly no-frills ATCO label, an offshoot of Atlantic for acts that failed to fit their then template of blues, jazz, r’n’b and soul, along with other square pegs of the day, like Dr. John. I say no frills, as their cover art was always of the decidedly cheap and shoddy nature: Retrospective has a cover that cannot have taxed too many creative brains, the “rips” in the background paper, to allow inserts and a makeshift collage, are all clearly visible.

Retrospective, which is actually subtitled “The Best of Buffalo Springfield,” actually performed as well as their final album, Last Time Around, and surpassed the sales of both Buffalo Springfield and Buffalo Springfield Again. It’s an artistic success, too; it contains many songs which have a greater quality, with the hindsight of time, than perhaps was fully appreciated at the time. Stills’ “For What It’s Worth,” their biggest hit, has repaid itself time after time after time, becoming a soundtrack shorthand for setting a time and place during the US civil rights years. That has to appease him a little, surely, against his always apparent second pegging against his Canadian nemesis.

Judy Wexler – For What It’s Worth (Buffalo Springfield cover)

I rather like this, with the discordant chimes of piano, this, and the slightly off vocals adding to the sense of paranoia so apparent in Stills’ lyric. For a song with so many cover versions, this is one of very few that add much of anything new or different. The retro guitar and organ are also acutely apt, as Wexler’s vocal gradually take on more treatment. Judy Wexler is a jazz chantoozie with a back catalog that has usually strayed little from standards of that tradition, and that can become a bit supper club. This, however, comes from a 2021 LP entitled Back To the Garden (yes, that garden), celebrating the songs of the ’60s into ’70s. True, some are a bit anodyne, but by and large it pays a listen. Hell, she even makes “Big Yellow Taxi” bearable.

Nils Lofgren – Mr. Soul (Buffalo Springfield cover)

Wanting mainly to avoid the progressively corrupted facsimile copies of this proto-metal-punk songs that prevail, who better than Nils to offer this rather more nuanced acoustic take? Lofgren, of course, the teen prodigy who, years ahead of gracing Bruce’s E Street Band, was adding his piano to Young’s After the Gold Rush, and who is now, again, a member of the mighty Crazy Horse. Perhaps Young’s simplest song, it is a righteous snarl on the BS version, offering few clues as to the songwriting the author was capable of, but still remains as one of the more likeable songs within his canon. Lofgren, arguably more a player than a singer, has just the right gruffness required, that not always so successful on the rest of the album from whence it comes, The Loner: Nils Sings Neil. (Whither Nils Sings the Boss?)

Donny Osmond – Sit Down, I Think I Love You (Buffalo Springfield cover)

WTAF!! Donny pejorative Osmond? I know, I know, it’s hard to believe but don’t go. Popping away any of the punch in this second Stills song, it is actually OK. Sure, it is sappy and mindless, as is much of the power of pop music, and should be. Making the Mojo Men version seem positively hardcore by comparison, it has a beguiling and simple charm, allied to the litest of reggae lite backbeats. I am not sure I could listen to the whole album, if indeed it comes from one, but, if hearing this, unknown, I could appreciate quite what he, or his producers, have done with the source material. (Should you need to know, it comes from the Don’s 1971 record, To You With Love, Donny.)

Percy Sledge – Kind Woman (Buffalo Springfield cover)

Unexpected cover number two. I think Sledge absolutely nails this song, the sole Richie Furay song on the album. In the inimitable church organ style of the “When a Man Loves a Woman” hitmaker, with sympathetic brass and a choir in full collusion, it is as far removed from the tasseled buckskin jackets of Buffalo Springfield as I can imagine. Indeed, the idea of Neil, Stephen and Richie, all in tuxes and white silk scarves, sweating in the spotlight, becomes quite appealing, especially if all with appropriately short and brilliantined hair. Percy Sledge may have only ever done one song, but he did it so well that it warrants him doing it all over, even with different words and lyrics.

Sugarcane Jane – Bluebird (Buffalo Springfield cover)

You could say it takes forever for this live version of Stills’ second-finest BS song to get going. And that, don’t you feel, is part of the appeal. It certainly looks a lot of fun. The band are based around husband and wife Anthony Crawford and Savana Lee, who it is here, pregnant and playing the snare drum. Crawford has actually appeared as a sideman on many of Neil Young’s various recordings, as well as for Dwight Yoakam, Eddie Rabbitt, and Steve Winwood. They have a plethora of their own recordings as well, being a top draw in the Gulf Coast circuit.  I guess it is maybe unfair to judge them on a live barroom show alone, but even if you did, I bet you’d stay to the end. And, as support for Dwight’s forthcoming tour, I’d get in early to catch them.

Rainy Day – On the Way Home (Buffalo Springfield cover)

It takes quite a bit to de-escalate one of Neil Youngs’s more wistful downbeat whimsies, but, by Jove, this lot manages it, turning this gentle and somber song into altogether a bit of an anticlimactic snooze fest. All the more so, as you realize who was, or may have been, on board. Rainy Day seems mainly to have been an all-star Paisley Underground collaborative, put together, perhaps, to fill such a rainy day in L.A., making it feel more like a week. However, Discogs tells me that this “On the Way Home” was largely a David Roback solo slot, the late Mazzy Star man, which goes some way to explain the narcoleptic presentation. Makes it better, in fact, but I would like to see how would have fared, had he enrolled other rainy Day alumni, such as Susannah Hoffs and Steve Wynn. Rainy Day’s sole product, self-titled, came out in 1984, and included one other Neil Young song, as well as covers by Dylan, the Who, and the Beach Boys.

Scott the Hoople – Nowadays Clancy Can’t Even Sing (Buffalo Springfield cover)

I guess the album art is a give-away, this appearing on an all Shakey tribute album, that could actually manage the loss of the ‘e’ and still be accurate. Indeed, we covered the parent album here. Put together by Scott McCaughey, sometime multi-instrumental sideman for R.E.M. until a devastating stroke in 2017. This album was part his therapy, the deliberate Youngian shambles is a perfect fit for the songs, rather than, I hope, all his condition allows. Maxing the inherent psychedelia from the melody and infusing the meter with a lope-legged wobble, it perfectly captures how Neil might have tackled it himself, away from the rest of the band, not least the ham-fisted rhythmic cadences in the original. The organ and the phased guitars exude the atmosphere of a perma-stoned Haight to degree that way transcends the New Christy Minstrelisms in its first iteration. One question: who the hell was Clancy?

Kate Rogers – Broken Arrow (Buffalo Springfield cover)

Perhaps Neil Young’s most ambitious song ever, this meandering epic of a song is never going to be open much to covering. Possibly not unwisely, Rogers here is covering more the song in its demo version, “Down Down Down,” as revealed in the (Young curated) BS boxset of 2001. However, she brings in some slight flavors from the wide ranging original that is enough to remind the eccentricity of the song, her delivery sufficient to recall the inherent beauty. Rogers is a Canadian singer who has paddled in only the shallower waters of fame, rather than gaining any full immersion, perhaps coming up against unfair comparisons with the likes of Dido. In covers land we know her best for her 3rd record, Seconds, which is where this song comes from, along with creditable versions of songs by as varied a cast as the Pixies and the Smiths, throwing in Blink-182 and Radiohead for good measure. Worth a listen.

The Beach Boys – Rock and Roll Woman (Buffalo Springfield cover)

The other, I guess, 2nd best known Stills BS song, I was as excited as you to think Burbank’s finest may have done a full-blown vocal cover version of this, wondering quite how it would sound. Sadly that wonder remains untapped, as not a vocal cord is strained in this rendition. Indeed, beyond the guitar motif that introduces the song, lifted verbatim from Stills, that is all you get. Buoyed by the anticipation that Carl and the boys might chime in at any moment, I listened to the end, getting the feel that Carl too had been hoping that, perhaps setting it up as a click track for that very purpose. (I keep saying Carl, as this comes from 2018’s Friends sessions boxset, a time when Brian was, although nominally in control, beginning to retreat a little into the sandbox.) I’d still love to hear the harmonies as or if the Boys joined in.

The Meat Puppets – I Am a Child (Buffalo Springfield cover)

Well, that was a bit different, wasn’t it?! And, whilst other opinions may be available, or even reflex, it has, um, something. Whether it is sufficient that the something is to totally deconstruct and destroy perhaps the most delightful and childlike of Neil Young’s songs is uncertain, but that they certainly achieve. Compared, actually, to the wishy-washy would be copycat performances out there, I prefer it, as I can never see anyone but Neil getting away with the lyrics or the general ambience. Or at least to make it as believable as only he can do. Whether I like it, per se, is another story, which is a shame, as I want to like both the version and the idea of the Meat Puppets. With a name so gross, surely some goodness must arise? The brainchild of the brothers, Curt and Cris Kirkwood, and the initial drummer Derek Bostrom, he now back in the band after a 24 year hiatus, they have had an astonishing 41 year career, nominally still going, and with fans touting for a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction (unsuccessful) last year. This comes from the expanded version of their 1980 eponymous debut. I especially like that Meat Puppets II contains a song called “I Am a Mindless Idiot.”

Buddy Woodward – Go and Say Goodbye (Buffalo Springfield cover)

Am I surprised or disappointed it has taken so long to get to a bluegrass cover, this and so many of the Springfield songs so open to such interpretation? Be that as it may, this has just the right mix of hokum and sawdust to have feets a’tapping. A Stills song, this, even in his band’s own rendition, forewarns of the country leanings he later explored deeper, if better, in Manassas. Buddy Woodward seems to have been operating a largely off-grid career in bluegrass and Americana, operating out of New York City, and has performed with many a performer of higher repute, Emmylou Harris and Steve Earle for two. He has also been a voice artist for the Pokémon series and appeared in the long running TV series of Nashville.

Jakob Dylan feat. Regina Spektor – Expecting To Fly (Buffalo Springfield cover)

Along with “Broken Arrow,” this is the other song that has Young demonstrating his inability to fully engage in any concept of being a team player. Whilst the former has some backing vocals from Furay, this is Young and Young alone, the others possibly even unaware of the stuff he was cutting whilst they were away. I think it ideal that is should be Bob’s boy, Jakob, offering this tribute, as this operates at a level above that of a mere cover, and Jakob’s daddy is perhaps the only artist with a catalog that surpasses even Young’s. Regina Spektor adds a glorious second verse vocal, ahead of the pair coming together for the swooping chorus, or parts of it. It comes from a documentary soundtrack curated by Dylan, the documentary, Echo In the Valley, made by Andrew Slater, and being about the Laurel Canyon neighborhood of the 60s, that proved so elemental in the development of folk into rock of that moment in time. Dylan was instructed to produce the accompanying music, reprising and recalibrating the music made there at that time. Featuring a panoply of other guests, Cat Power, Beck, Fiona Apple, the author of this song also pops up, on a cover of the Byrds’ David Crosby song “What’s Happening.”

Aug 032021
 

Native SonsIn two years time Los Lobos, as a band, will be an astonishing fifty years old, with a staggering seventeen albums to their name between 1978 and now, let alone a myriad of other appearances, including dozens of cover versions and a host of tribute recordings. Few bands are as able to flit between genres so effortlessly, as their presence on projects as varied as records in praise of Fats Domino, Richard Thompson, and the Grateful Dead displays. Now, with their new release Native Sons, they’re putting their latest varied covers in one place.

Native Sons is by no means the band’s first all-covers project either, thanks to Ride This, a covers EP of seven songs in 2004, and the frankly astonishing Los Lobos Go Disney, a 2009 album of nothing but Disney soundtrack favorites, played in their inimitable East L.A. sound. Flitting between an abrasive rock music, Tex-Mex stylizations and full on conjunto Tejano, they have a massive footprint in modern roots based musics.

The theme here is Los Angeles, the L.A. music they grew up listening to, the music on the radio as they honed their trade. So we get songs by big hitters like the Beach Boys and Buffalo Springfield, alongside some of the popular Chicano fare from the barrios. Like so many releases this year, it arose out of the sense of claustrophobia inflicted by the coronavirus; unable to play, unable to tour, the band hit on the idea of a playlist of all those L.A. songs that had inspired and fed their appetite for music. Whittled down from a longlist of around 60 songs, here are the top 12, which must surely give hope for a second volume or so, or at least for a later deluxe edition.(By the way, top 12, but 13 songs on the record, the title track being a newly written original, which sums up the point and the purpose of the whole exercise.)
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Jun 212021
 

Dylan LeBlanc PastimesLike 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.
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Apr 302020
 

Check out the best covers of past months here.

best cover songs april 2020
Arlo Parks – Redondo Beach (Patti Smith cover)


I’ve wanted to do a “Full Albums” on Patti Smith’s Horses for years. But it, and she, gets covered less than you’d think. This beautiful piano “Redondo Beach” gets me one step closer. Though, admittedly, I already had Courtney Barnett’s recent cover for that slot. Someone cover “Break It Up” already! Continue reading »

Sep 172019
 
cover songs 1969

This marks the fourth year I’ve done a big anniversary countdown (after 1996, 1987, and 1978). It also proved to be the most challenging. There were a lot of covers released in 1969. In fact, according to covers-and-samples database WhoSampled, there were more than in any of the other years we’ve done. Their database lists 3,110 covers, which is surely still a small fraction.

The reason for the cover song’s proliferation seems clear to me after going through them all: Popular bands released a lot more music back then. Aretha Franklin released two albums in 1969. So did The Byrds, Elvis Presley, Joe Cocker, Johnny Cash, Johnny Winter, and Nina Simone. Creedence Clearwater Revival and Merle Haggard released three albums apiece. James Brown topped them all with four. To get that kind of output, artists would pad their albums with covers. Every 1969 album by every artist I just mentioned includes at least one cover. Many include several. A few are all covers. It adds up.

Impressively, many of those covers reinterpreted songs that had come out within the previous year. This entire list could easily have been “Hey Jude” covers. “Wichita Lineman” and “Light My Fire” came up constantly too (the latter song slightly older, but it had hit the charts again in 1968). Even songs from 1968’s soundtrack to Hair got covered endlessly in 1969.

Even beyond “Hey Jude,” Beatles covers dominated the year. I’m not going to go back through the entire 3,110 covers and count, but if you told me Beatles covers made up a full half of those, I wouldn’t be shocked. Add Bob Dylan covers to that side of the scale and it’s probably true. Beatles songs got covered in every conceivable genre for every conceivable audience. Jazz and swing and folk and proto-metal Beatles covers everywhere the eye can see. Plenty of people cover the Beatles these days, sure, but trust me: It’s nothing like it was in 1969.

So wheedling all those down to the top 50 proved incredibly difficult. But it means this is maybe the top-to-bottom strongest set thus far, and it killed me to leave some off (that’s why our Patreon supporters will get a set of 69 bonus tracks – so join now).

One note: I left off Woodstock performances. For one, we counted down the 50 best covers performed there last month. But more importantly, most people did not actually hear those covers until the movie and soundtrack came out in 1970. Jimi Hendrix performed his iconic Star-Spangled Banner – pretty much everyone’s top cover of the weekend – to a nearly empty field. Most of the audience had left before he punched in at 9 AM that Monday morning. That said, several of the classic covers performed at Woodstock were released as singles or on albums the same year – including Joe Cocker’s “With a Little Help from My Friends” – and those studio versions make this list.

Now, let the sunshine in with the 50 best covers of 1969.

The countdown begins on page 2…

Jan 312019
 

‘The Best Ever’ series counts down our favorite covers of great artists.

best neil young covers

Neil Young released his self-titled debut solo album on January 22, 1969. Well, technically he re-released it that day. It had initially landed without much fanfare the previous November, only for Young to quickly pull it from shelves due to what he deemed a subpar mix. Even in his professional infancy, decades before Pono and the Neil Young Archives, he was a stickler for quality control.

We hope this list would pass muster with him. At 50 songs, it’s our longest to date (tied only with The Rolling Stones) and still barely scratches the surface. We could have quite easily listed the best 50 covers of “Heart of Gold” or “Like a Hurricane” alone. He gets covered about as much as any songwriter alive, and about as well too.

Neil hasn’t slowed down in his own age, and neither has the flow of new covers. Some of the covers below came out near 50 years ago themselves. Others only landed in the last year or two. No doubt another contender will arrive tomorrow. Neil never stops, and, thankfully, neither do covers of his songs. Continue reading »