One of the biggest stories in cover song news this week was Miley Cyrus teaming up with David Byrne to perform a cover of David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance” on Cyrus’ New Year’s Eve special. Coincidently, I actually spent most of Dec. 31 thinking about Byrne and the Talking Heads’ musical legacy. Continue reading »
Musically speaking, Yoko Ono (“ocean child” in Japanese) is still predominantly recognized as a primal screamer, an avant-garde provocateur, and an agent of harsh, visceral noise as a kind of feminist weapon. She’s accepted, in such terms, as a key influence in the development of female-fronted alt-rock along the lines of grunge and the riot grrrl movement, with Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth, Courtney Love of Hole, and Kathleen Hanna of Bikini Kill having all spoken of her importance to them. Her shrieking, confrontational sound may, indeed, be considered her signature style. But it’s also a stereotype. One that’s been reinforced in Peter Jackson’s recent Get Back documentary, where Yoko’s to be seen, in footage from 10 January 1969, leading Beatles John, Paul, and Ringo in an impromptu freak-out session by wailing and howling into George Harrison’s recently vacated microphone.
Death Cab for Cutie frontman Ben Gibbard is all too aware of the blinkered perspective many people have of Yoko’s music, doubtless aggravated by the fact that her songs still never get played on the radio. It’s this that’s driven him to curate Ocean Child: Songs of Yoko Ono, a tribute album to coincide with the New York-based artist’s 89th birthday. He’s all about doing justice to her more underappreciated musical achievements here, contending that “the tallest hurdle to clear has always been the public’s ignorance as to the breadth of Yoko’s work.” He’s aware, at the same time, that the dust has long settled on previous collaborative efforts born of similar concerns, from the Every Man Has a Woman Who Loves Him tribute record of 1984 (for Yoko’s 50th birthday), to remix projects Yes, I’m a Witch and Open Your Box in 2007, and Yes, I’m a Witch Too in 2016. This is not to forget tribute album Mrs Lennon: Songs by Yoko Ono in 2010, consisting solely of female Brazilian artists.
Gibbard, then, resumes the good fight previously fought on albums that pitched Yoko as a versatile songwriter variously relevant to the genres of new wave, experimental pop, Brazilian pop, and dance music. Over 14 tracks, he aims to convince listeners of her particular skills in composing melodies “as memorable as those of [the] best pop writers,” as well as lyrics of “poignance, sophistication and deep introspection.”
And you know what? He makes you wonder.
Continue reading »
The release of the new Beatles documentary Get Back has revived one of the greatest musical debates of all time. Just why did the Beatles break up? One thing that seemed clear (at least to me) when watching the mammoth film is that the fault does not lie with John Lennon’s soon-to-be spouse Yoko Ono. While she was there for the majority of the Let It Be sessions, she mostly appeared to be hanging out. A constant presence for sure, but hardly a distraction for Paul, George and Ringo.
Given this new documentary evidence, I was excited to learn about the upcoming tribute album Ocean Child: Songs Of Yoko Ono. If the public is reevaluating Ono’s role in the Beatles’ demise, then certainly it is time to take another look her musical output as well. Ono was an accomplished musician before she ever met Lennon, a classically trained vocalist and pianist who had collaborated with John Cage and LaMonte Young. In the decades since her husband’s murder, she has continued to record and release music at a steady pace. Continue reading »
Alex Kapranos & Clara Luciani – Summer Wine (Lee Hazlewood & Nancy Sinatra cover)
Clara Luciani is Nancy Sinatra and Franz Ferdinand frontman Alex Kapranos is Lee Hazlewood on this charming cover. Kapranos wrote, “When the lockdown started, we decided to record [‘Summer Wine’] — more for ourselves than anything else. We wanted to create the atmosphere of an imaginary world away from the confinement we were experiencing. Not that we were unhappy, but the imagination is the greatest medium for escape and adventure… After the lockdown eased off, we got together to film the video with our friends Adrien, Leo, Fiona and Hugo. I love the ideas they had, which suit the mood of the song and reflect our… well, our love of karaoke!” Continue reading »
Talking Heads only ever recorded one cover, and when I talked to David Byrne about it for my book, he seemed to have mixed feelings on the subject. “There’s always a little bit of resistance to recording a cover like that because it’s kind of a crowd pleaser,” he told me. “I’d seen it happen before, where radio DJs who pick what they’re going to play will often pick a cover song… So then a band gets known for covering somebody else’s song as opposed to writing their own material. They have to go through a struggle for years to get identified with their own songs.”
Talking Heads recorded “Take Me to the River,” it became their biggest hit up to that point, and Byrne said: That’s it. No more covers. The band never followed it up with a second.
He’s relaxed the rules a bit more in his solo career, most recently covering Janelle Monae’s “Hell You Talmbout” on tour (he says he’s bringing the cover to Broadway, too). And clearly he’s been listening to covers. For his DB Radio show on his website, he just compiled a wonderfully eclectic mix of his favorite covers. The theme, he says, is artists doing the unexpected, from Sonic Youth covering The Carpenters to Miley Cyrus covering Nine Inch Nails. And when the song choice itself may not be surprising – Patti Smith covering the Rolling Stones, say – the arrangements are. Here’s what he wrote on his website: Continue reading »
Two things strike me as I scan through our list this year. This first is that many of the highest-ranking covers are tributes to recently-deceased icons. No surprise there, I suppose. But none actually pay tribute to artists that died in 2018. They honor those we’ve been honoring for two or three years now – your Pettys, your Princes, your Bowies. Hundreds of covers of each of these legends appeared in the first days after their deaths, but many of the best posthumous covers took longer to emerge.
Good covers take time. That principle – the cover-song equivalent of the slow food movement, perhaps – holds true throughout the list. Sure, a few here appear to have arisen from sudden moments of brilliance, flash-arranged for some concert or radio promo session. But many more reveal months or even years of painstaking work to nail every element. Making someone else’s song one’s own isn’t easy. These 50 covers took the time to get it right.
– Ray Padgett, Editor-in-Chief
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