Elvis Presley hadn’t had a #1 hit in the US in 7 years when he topped the charts with “Suspicious Minds.” Though his comeback was already in full swing thanks to a TV special and “In the Ghetto,” “Suspicious Minds” was really the affirmation that he was back. Of course, Elvis Presley didn’t write “Suspicious Minds” nor did he record the original version. Songwriter Mark James recorded the original the year before. but the song died because nobody knew him and his label didn’t have the money to promote it. James’ version is remarkably similar to Elvis’, but it’s the Elvis version that everyone has heard, and the one every cover references.
Cover Classics takes a closer look at all-cover albums of the past, their genesis, and their legacy.
Albert King is one of the undisputed Kings of the Blues, but he didn’t get to that point overnight. It took ten years, hundreds of nightclub gigs, numerous day jobs, and one name change (an attempt to present himself as a relative of B.B. King) before King was able to record his first album, The Big Blues, in 1962, for the appropriately named King Records. After that, it was another five years of hard graft on the road before King finally settled into his home-for-life, Stax Records. At Stax, King formed a formidable partnership with Booker T. & The MGs, with whom he finally recorded his second album, Born Under A Bad Sign, in 1967.
It’s not entirely clear whose idea it was for Albert to record an album of Elvis covers for this, his sixth album on Stax, but the decision was an inspired one. Since Elvis’s brand of rock ‘n’ roll in part derived from the blues, Albert would simply be “bringing it all back home.”
Amy Helm – Twilight (The Band cover)
“I got into Elvis because I hated going to school, so I would play hooky a lot or cut school, and I’d stay home and watch old movies,” he recently told Rolling Stone. “I remember one day watching Jailhouse Rock. And just going, ‘Whoa.’ By the end of the movie, I was like, ‘This guy’s cool. This is what I want to do’.” He recently paid tribute to his hero by releasing an album of Elvis covers, aptly titled Danzig Sings Elvis.
Danzig first came to prominence in the ‘80s as the frontman and founder of the Misfits. He then went on to lead the band that bears his name, Danzig. With this group, he scored a series of hard rock hits in the ‘80s and ‘90s and was just as famous for his well-greased pecs as his music.
There’s nothing particularly punk or metal about the new record. It’s a collection of root-music-style covers one would usually attribute to the likes of Steve Earle or Marty Stuart. At times, it feels like Danzig is auditioning for an Elvis tribute act. He does his best to channel Elvis’ baritone-heavy vocal style. Danzig mostly eschews Elvis’ greatest hits and instead plays some deeper cuts. Given that Elvis released many covers throughout his career, a better name for this album might have been Danzig Sings Songs Elvis Covered. Although uneven at times, the record serves as a solid tribute to the man who inspired countless artists across the rock n’ roll spectrum.
In Defense takes a second look at a much maligned cover artist or album and asks, “Was it really as bad as all that?”
Dylan is Bob Dylan‘s first break-up album. Out of print for decades before eventually being issued on CD in 2013, the LP was a result of Bob’s defection from Columbia Records to the fledgling Asylum Records in early 1973. While the split ultimately proved to be a temporary separation, it appeared at the time to be a permanent divorce.
The resulting album is often framed as an act of revenge on Columbia’s part, a collection of poor-quality outtakes specifically designed to reduce Dylan’s stock with record buyers. However, this theory doesn’t add up. Columbia still owned Bob’s valuable back catalogue, which they presumably intended to continue profiting from, and releasing an intentionally substandard Dylan album would have been counterproductive. What was probably going on, as Jon Landau suggested in his review for Rolling Stone, was that Dylan would have been the first in a series of “new” Bob Dylan albums comprised of outtakes from previous Columbia sessions. Decca Records was concurrently doing the same thing with their trove of unreleased recordings by The Rolling Stones.
But why these recordings? The track selection on Dylan is perplexing, especially since Columbia already possessed much of the material that would later surface on the successful Bootleg Series. A likely explanation is that whoever compiled the album (possibly Mark Spector, who assembled an abandoned early version) was under pressure to get the record out before Dylan’s first release for Asylum – which was being recorded at that very moment – and therefore had no choice but to simply grab some of the most recent tapes off the top of the pile. The tapes in question, as it happened, were from the sessions for Dylan’s 1970 albums Self Portrait and New Morning.
Columbia’s ploy worked. Dylan reached No.17 on the Billboard chart and was certified gold, despite overwhelmingly negative reviews. Were the critics right? Let’s take another look.
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, from staffer Jordan Becker: What’s a great cover of a cover?