Jan 142022
 
Carla Thomas

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

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Nov 042021
 
The Muppets Dr. Teeth Electric Light Orchestra

It’s fifty years in, and The Muppets‘ house band Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem are still chooglin’ along. The group counts seminal Muppets Animal (on drums) and Janice (guitar and harmony vocals) among its ranks, and they’ve performed on-screen with the likes of Elton John, Dave Grohl (playing Foo Fighters’ “Learn To Fly”) and Jack White. In recent years, they’ve even broken through the fourth wall to perform some notable real-life festival gigs of their own. For their latest cover, Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem keep the flame of classic rock alive with a version of Electric Light Orchestra’s “Mr. Blue Sky.” Continue reading »

Oct 162019
 

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.

Electric Light Orchestra

The 1977 hit “Mr. Blue Sky” was ELO’s fourth movement in the “Concerto for a Rainy Day” on its 1978 double album Out of the Blue. It enjoyed a #6 position in the UK, a #8 position in the Dutch charts, and peaked at #35 on the Billboard Hot 100.

The song is the most upbeat of the “Concerto.” That’s a fitting and welcome change in a suite that is about the gloom of a soggy day. It’s often been seen as a “Beatlesesque” pop song, with flashes of musical hall revelry. That is an apt description, given that Jeff Lynne was determined at the outset of ELO to bridge pop songs a lá The Beatles with more high-cultured orchestral arrangements.

If we are to look at the numerous covers that Second Hand Songs has compiled, most artists tap into the upbeat nature of the tune. Even Weezer couldn’t resist, featuring the song on their Teal album. Some covers border on bubblegum. Other have it stuck to the bottom of their shoe.

But today I write this review of covers while the sky is overcast, and the humidity is thick. And now that it is autumn, I wondered if there were any covers that cut against the grain and featured a more somber or dark take on “Mr. Blue Sky.” And indeed there are. So, here is my list of the Good, the Better, and the Best.

Continue reading »

Jan 252019
 

As anyone who checked Twitter yesterday is well aware, Weezer shocked the internet with a surprise covers album, dubbed the Teal Album for its absurd yacht-rock cover. The album precedes the band’s long-promised Black Album, set to release March 1st.

Weezer spent 2018 stoking the social media flames with their famous covers bout with Toto, and I think we all just expected “Africa” to be the end of it. But Weezer clearly saw an opportunity to generate some buzz for their new album and upcoming tour with The Pixies. Twitter flames aside, how do the covers on the album actually stack up? Let’s take a look at The Good, The Bad, and The (Really) Ugly. Continue reading »

Jul 182014
 

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!

Matthew Sweet’s career is a textbook example of what happens if you are exceedingly good at something that is not considered to be cool. In this case, that thing is the musical genre of “power pop.” Sweet is almost universally considered to be a master of the genre (usually defined as being a cross between hard rock and pop, with serious Beatles influences), and his best album, 1991’s Girlfriend, is generally considered to be a masterpiece, even by people who generally look down their noses at “power pop.”

As a result, Sweet is a cult hero to some critics and fans who appreciate the tight, hook-filled yet intelligent songwriting that typifies the genre, while remaining unknown to the masses who may – may – have heard one of the two or three Sweet songs that occasionally sneak into a radio or streaming playlist. Of course, the music geeks who write for Cover Me are Sweet fans; we’ve featured his cover work repeatedly, even giving him a birthday tribute featuring covers of his songs by other artists. But never before has he received the sort of career-affirming fawning adulation that can only be found in an “In the Spotlight” feature.
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Jul 092014
 

Welcome to Cover Me Q&A, where we take your questions about cover songs and answer them to the best of our ability.

Here at Cover Me Q&A, we’ll be taking questions about cover songs and giving as many different answers as we can. This will give us a chance to hold forth on covers we might not otherwise get to talk about, to give Cover Me readers a chance to learn more about individual staffers’ tastes and writing styles, and to provide an opportunity for some back-and-forth, as we’ll be taking requests (learn how to do so at feature’s end).

Today’s question: What’s a song you didn’t know was a cover song?
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