Aug 132021
 

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!

everything but the girl covers

Confession: I was not happy when Everything But the Girl traded in their jangly, moody, melodic guitar pop to “go electronic” in the mid-’90s. While I wouldn’t equate it to what Dylan purists apparently felt when he infamously decided to “go electric” back in the ’60s, my eternally ’80s teen self thought it sucked and felt downright betrayed. EBTG had been one of my absolute favorite bands, and here they were forsaking their nerdy identity to go hang with the cool kids, leaving behind the introspective and geeky brethren and sistren who loved them.

The song that changed it all, “Missing,” began its life innocently enough. It was just another perfectly constructed, poetic and winsome track on an album that was chock-full of them, 1994’s Amplified Heart. This original version was released as a single, but only got as high as #69 on the UK pop chart. Then, in 1995, this crazy thing happened. The duo gave the track to DJ-Producer Todd Terry to remix for club play. But calling it a “remix” is underselling what it really was: a resurrection. Terry expertly sculpted “Missing” into an sleek, housed-up, heartbreaking dance anthem for the ages. It sold millions of copies all over the planet and has since become a permanent fixture on every “Best Songs of the ’90s” playlist in existence.

The success of “Missing” paved the way for the duo’s stylistic shift from earthy acoustic sounds to cooler electronic ones. The duo debuted the updated sound on their very next album, 1996’s Walking Wounded; its heartbreaking charms were undeniable, and all it took was one listen for me to fall back into the fold of hardcore EBTG fandom, never to depart again. Tracey (Thorn) and Ben (Watt) were still EBTG, after all, and the songs were as regal, poetic, and beautiful as they had ever been, even in this new and different guise (inside joke there for you EBTG nerds), a guise they maintained until they decided to close the book on the EBTG partnership in 2000 and just focus on their respective solo endeavors.

Now the reason I bring all this history this up is to note that pretty much all of the covers they did were recorded before this famous stylistic change; hence, their sound harkens back to the jangly days. Fact is, they pretty much stopped doing covers once they started exploring the electronic/dance side of things. So by default, the best EBTG covers all happened during the era we’ll call EBTG b.c. (before clubland), as opposed to the latter-day incarnation, EBTG a.d. (after dance).

In keeping with the longstanding tradition of all pop music ever, the most popular EBTG covers aren’t necessarily the best ones. Their cute ‘n’ groovy version of Cole Porter standard “Night And Day” and jaunty run-through Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Only Living Boy In New York City” are nice, as is their duet on Tom Waits’ “Downtown Train.” But if you want to hear EBTG at their interpretative best, swivel the chair around from the openly cool, famed and critically acclaimed and cast an ear toward the unabashedly POP heartbreakers–Mom favorites and oddball deep cuts. Let’s get driving…
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Sep 042020
 

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

Zuma Crazy Horse Neil Young

Was Zuma the album that finally allowed Neil Young to ditch the encumbrance of being just the fourth name in a list of four?

Before the cloud fills with angry retorts, exhorting Shakey’s eternal place as King of the Gods, back down a little and let me explain.

For sure Young was huge before Zuma‘s 1975 release, that’s obvious, but he wasn’t, how you say, massive. Young made his name in Buffalo Springfield, alongside Stephen Stills; on that band’s implosion, their solo recordings each got notice and were garnished with praise. Stills arguably leapt ahead when he teamed up with Crosby and Nash, even if it then took Young joining to make the supergroup a superlative group. Fast forward past the post-Four Way Street wreckage: Manassas was giving Stills some huge credibility, and Young was in need of a band. Of course, he already had one, but they were arguably just background noise up until this point. Nerds (yes, that’s us) knew all about Crazy Horse and possibly had their separate records, but only with Zuma did Young bring them in the forefront and put them in sizable writing on the cover.

I would assert that this made the difference, catapulting Young ahead his onetime partner. Manassas may have had all the classy talent, but the Horse had pure, um, horsepower. Never again would Stills equal his rival, no matter how long he may run. Young didn’t even need the Horse to maintain his pole position, but, give or take the International Harvesters or Promise of the Real, Booker T’s MGs even, it seems only with these guys does Neil really fly. Unless, paradoxically, he is entirely alone.
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Aug 122016
 

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

After The Gold Rush

Surely After the Gold Rush, this “uniformly dull” record, as Rolling Stone magazine put it at the time, is the peak of Neil Young’s output?

Yet somehow I always seem to forget it, tending to immediately opt for the feistier, zeitgeistier options of Zuma and Ragged Glory, and the civilians always go for the milquier toast of Harvest. But nowhere is there such simple beauty as on this 1970 record, his third solo album after leaving Buffalo Springfield. It captures most of Shakey’s tropes on one disc – his ragged guitar, his playing always suggesting playing in mittens if not boxing gloves, his delicate acoustic whimsy, and the left-field oddness, exemplified here by “Cripple Creek Ferry.” True, volume and feedback are restrained, maybe 8/10 rather than his later 11 (at least), and it’s possible that the record is even the better for that.

So when I do remember After the Gold Rush, when I come back to it, it astonishes. I can play it side to side (yes, of course vinyl) and be instantly transported to a teenage me, dreaming of a future I couldn’t ever quite picture (and indeed haven’t quite yet), all hopes and fears, intermingled with tears and joy.
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Dec 212012
 

Adele dominated the cover song landscape in 2011, but Two-Aught-Twelve saw no similar galvanizing figure. Yes Lana Del Rey got covered a lot, but Leonard Cohen and Arcade Fire also seemed to garner an unexpected landslide of great covers (and speaking of landslides, so did Fleetwood Mac). “Call Me Maybe” was a huge hit that didn’t lead to much in the way of classic covers, and few seem to have even bothered attempting the Korean raps on “Gangnam Style.”

Which means that cover songs in 2012 were more diverse, ambitious, and left-field than ever before. A given YouTube search or Hype Machine browse would be as likely to turn up forgotten hits or underappreciated songwriters as it would the latest Top 40 smash. Find a sampling of all the diversity in Cover Me’s official Best Cover Songs of 2012 countdown. Start with #40-31 on the next page, and check back daily as we’ll be adding more til we hit #1.

Dec 172012
 

This year’s cover albums offered ambition on a scale we’ve never seen before. Moving beyond the normal “cover a bunch of random songs we like” tossoff, 2012 offered deeply thought-out conceptual collections. One updated kiddie folk songs for raved-out rockers, others reworked complete albums to their own ends. Even the all-star tributes that pop up every year aimed higher – one of the year’s most high-profile had 70+ tracks! So today we count down the best of the bunch, the ones that swung for the fences and got there. With every passing year there seems to be less sigma attached to the phrase “cover album,” and these sets move that needle even farther forward. Continue reading »