In honour of Carly Simon’s induction into the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame over the weekend, Olivia Rodrigo was tasked with performing one of Simon’s biggest hits “You’re So Vain” for the induction ceremony. The cover itself is very straightforward, as you’d expect for a ceremony of this type – Rodrigo’s voice is on fully display here, and seemed to be a good choice for the track, given her track “good 4 u” being of similar sentiment.
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.
If a horse could sing in a monotone, the horse would sound like Carly Simon, only a horse wouldn’t rhyme “yacht,” “apricot,” and “gavotte.” – Robert Christgau
It’s definitely not about James [Taylor]… but he had the unfortunate experience of taking a jet up to Nova Scotia after I’d written the song. He was saved by the fact that it wasn’t a Lear. – Carly Simon
Rolling Stone: A musical question. As per legend: “You’re So Vain” — did you think the song was about you?
Warren Beatty: [Laughs, 15-second pause] Who wrote that?
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 on you (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…
Two years ago, I ranked the 24 best covers of James Bond theme songs for the 24 movies to date. The original plan was to include one cover of every song, but that quickly became untenable. There were a million good covers of “You Only Live Twice,” and zero of Chris Cornell’s “You Know My Name” (and I haven’t seen anyone pick up the mantle since his death either).
If only I’d waited.
A new Bond tribute album came out earlier this month, and it includes a cover of every single Bond theme. Yes, including the ones from Sheryl Crow, Madonna, and of course Cornell. It’s called Songs. Bond Songs: The Music Of 007 and, in honor of Roger Moore’s passing today, we thought we’d post all the new covers of the themes from Moore’s seven movies.
Welcome to Cover Me Q&A, where we take your questions about cover songs and answer them to the best of our ability.
Matthew Vadnais lives in Beloit, Wisconsin. He’s been writing for Cover Me since 2015. Of all his Cover Me essays, he especially likes his reviews of the albums paying tribute to Blind Willie Johnson, Uncle Tupelo’s No Depression, and Jason Molina.
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!
Back in the late 1980s, as the alt-country/No Depression sound began to spread, a group of bands centered in the Minneapolis area often played in the same venues. Sometimes members of these bands would do cover shows for fun. Although even the members of the band remember the band’s fittingly murky origins differently, ultimately, some of these friends began to perform as “Golden Smog” (originally a Flintstones reference), mostly playing covers. The core membership coalesced as Gary Louris and Marc Perlman of the Jayhawks on bass, Dan Murphy and Dave Pirner of Soul Asylum, Kraig Johnson of Run Westy Run (and later the Jayhawks) and Chris Mars of the Replacements (although the drum chair in the band has a near Spinal Tap-level rotating door), often augmented by guest musicians and singers. It was like seeing an incredibly talented bar band.