Feb 182022
 

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.
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Jul 302021
 
best cover songs july
Alex Cameron ft. Roan Yellowthorn – Islands in the Stream (Kenny Rogers / Dolly Parton cover)


For a new single, Australian singer Alex Cameron, who has worked with everyone from The Killers to Foxygen, decided to take on two Kenny Rogers tunes written by Barry Gibb. One, “Midsummer Nights,” is comparatively obscure. The other – the one above – is not. Playing the Dolly Parton role to Alex’s Kenny is Roan Yellowthorn aka Jackie McLean, daughter of “American Pie” singer Don McLean.

Annie – Just Like Honey (Jesus and Mary Chain cover)


Norwegian pop musician Annie doesn’t release much music – 2020 saw her first album in 11 years – but she’s got a new EP out in September, Neon Nights. It features some originals and covers. One is the Dirty Dancing song “She’s Like The Wind.” Another is this discofied, but still shoegazy in a more electronic way, take on the Jesus and Mary Chain’s most often-covered song. Continue reading »

Jul 012021
 
av undercover

Anyone who was paying attention to cover songs a decade ago will remember The A.V. Club’s “Undercover” series. In the vein of the BBC Live Lounge and Triple J Like a Version, the entertainment web site would bring bands into their Chicago offices to cover a song. The concept, though, was the site started with a masters list of songs and the band had to pick one. The later they came in, the fewer song choices remained. It went on for years and the covers were ubiquitous (we must have posted a million of ’em). Practically every indie band of the era stopped by (many several times), and they often delivered something great. Continue reading »

May 172021
 

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

Ram

As album reviews go, Rolling Stone writer Jon Landau’s take on Paul & Linda McCartney’s Ram in 1971 was exceptionally brutal. Its opening barb, “Ram represents the nadir in the decomposition of Sixties rock thus far,” was a mere taster for what was to follow. Landau asserted that Ram was a “very bad album… unbearably inept… unpleasant.” He ended the review with a direct kick to Paul’s (apparent) hubris; “McCartney (the first solo album) and Ram both prove that Paul benefited immensely from collaboration and that he seems to be dying on the vine as a result of his own self-imposed musical isolation” (translation: you suck without the band that YOU broke up).

Landau was by no means alone in his disdain. Joining the pile on were NME’s Alan Smith, who declared Ram to be “the worst thing Paul McCartney has ever done,” and his own ex-bandmate John Lennon, who stated that it was “awful.” Speaking of the latter, even Ringo, our sweet beloved Ringo, weighed in with a “I don’t think there’s a tune on it.”

Oh boy. These assessments have not aged well, to put it mildly. The 21st century has seen Ram’s  homespun charm endlessly lauded everywhere from Pitchfork to, yes, Rolling Stone. The album’s seeming lack of concern for shiny sonic commerciality has led many folks to refer to it as the one of the first real “indie” albums (debatable, as its self-titled predecessor went even further in that direction, but you get the idea).

What led to the critical sea change? Well, the simplest answer is that enough time passed that people stopped looking at Ram through the fog of despair over The Beatles’ break-up. It’s no longer characterized as an album by the villainous Beatle destroyer, but is instead regarded as prescient masterpiece by one of the greatest artists of all time. For maybe the truest sign that humanity has come full circle in terms of recognizing the merits of Ram, look no further than arguably the world’s biggest pop star.

In 2019, Harry Styles was asked by writer Rob Sheffield to describe the recording process and inspiration for his soon to be platinum album Fine Line and offered up this little nugget:

We’d do mushrooms, lie down on the grass, and listen to Paul McCartney’s Ram in the sunshine.

There you have it. This muddy Wellington sporting, wet dog scented, Fair Isle sweater wearing album from 1971, the album that everyone hated, helped inspire a #1 retro pop album recorded in sunny southern California in 2021. “Monkberry Moon Delight” begat “Watermelon Sugar.” Yup.
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Feb 102021
 
death cab tlc cover kimmel

Revisiting TLC’s 1995 smash hit “Waterfalls” is like stepping into a time machine. Once inside you come face to face with many of the societal fears that defined the ‘90s. The song and video address both the drug war and AIDS crisis head on. The lyrics delve into a whirlwind of topics from faith, love, sex and death, all packaged together with a pastoral refrain and a hypnotic R&B slow jam. Continue reading »

May 192020
 
quarantine covers
Amy Helm – Twilight (The Band cover)

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