Nov 262021
 

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

Harvest covers

Harvest is the one Neil Young album that everybody knows of. The reason? Almost undoubtedly “Heart of Gold,” that era-defining song of the early ’70s, all acoustic whimsy, swaying on a stool. Of course it is a terrific song, if a little diminished by ubiquity, but not hugely typical of, at least, Young’s latter-day work, especially when he saddles up with Crazy Horse.

But, by golly, that sweet acoustic ditty has done ol’ Shakey well. At last count there were over a hundred “Heart of Gold” covers, some of them good enough to warrant a yearly check of no small size passing through his mail slot. It did pretty well in its author’s iteration too, mind, hitting the coveted number one spot in the US singles chart (Young’s only sojourn there) and top ten in many other territories. Considering Young had only started dabbling with acoustic songs in response to a back injury, necessitating his sitting to play, how serendipitous must that fall have been? Mind you, his own comments as to where it took him were less than generous: “This song put me in the middle of the road. Traveling there soon became a bore so I headed for the ditch.”

On the back of the single, so too did Harvest flourish, likewise becoming a chart topper with Young’s biggest LP sales to date. Characteristically, given the sheer cussedness of the man, it contains a number of styles, some harking back to previous album After the Gold Rush, some more akin to future more country-inflected excursions. This reflected the musicians recruited, largely country session men making their first outing as the Stray Gators. Pedal steel player Ben Keith, bassist Tim Drummond, and drummer Kenny Buttrey helped shape Harvest‘s sound. So did Jack Nitzsche, the producer and pianist who also played a part with Crazy Horse. Nitzsche decided to orchestrate a couple of the songs as well, an odd move at the time for an artist in other than easy-listening territory. And then there was the stark and bleak beauty of “The Needle and the Damage Done,” gaunt in its unadorned voice and guitar, a song as chilling as Bert Jansch’s clearly influential “Needle of Death.”

A year shy of its half century, how, then, has Harvest fared? How well have the songs lasted? How do they fit into the differing tastes of this century? These more recent interpretations help reveal the answer: better than expected. The original Harvest is an album I listen to for a wallow in nostalgia; these ten covers stand on wholly different ground.
Continue reading »

Aug 022021
 

‘The Best Covers Ever’ series counts down our favorite covers of great artists.

billy joel covers

When Bruce Springsteen invited Billy Joel to play with him at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 40th anniversary concert, he described their meeting as the “Bridge and Tunnel Summit.” This crossover surprised no one; the two artists are similar in many ways, riding careers that exploded from modest singer-songwriter origins playing dive bars to filling stadiums across the world. But one of the ways their trajectories have diverged: The Tunnel side of that equation (that’s Bruce from New Jersey) is about 100 times cooler than the Bridge side (Billy from Long Island). As a result, Springsteen songs have been covered far more often than Joel tunes, despite both having quite a few household-name hits under their belt.

Or maybe they’ve just been covered differently. When we did our Springsteen list, we had an abundance of genre-spanning covers to choose from, the hippest artists around finding meaning in Bruce’s work from every conceivable direction. Doing this month’s Joel list, we had an abundance too – of lounge piano. So much lounge piano.

Joel’s songs deserve better treatment than they often get. So we had to dig deep for this list, sifting through the schlock. There’s a little jazzy piano sprinkled in here and there, sure, but there’s also hardcore punk, ’90s R&B, spectral folk, robot electronica, south-of-the-border disco, and more. Turns out there are plenty of revelatory Billy Joel covers out there; they’re just lurking a little below the surface.

Dive in.

The list begins on Page 2.

Apr 102020
 
new john prine covers

For our third edition of Quarantine Covers, we pay tribute to the man every musician is paying tribute to: John Prine. Artists, including many he worked with and mentored, have covered his songs since his tragic passing. And not just the hits, but songs from throughout his deep catalog. Here are some we caught – let us know of others in the comments.

Rest in Peace, John. Here’s hoping you finally got that nine-mile-long cigarette. Continue reading »

Aug 152016
 
leonardcohen

A few days ago, country star Eric Church treated a crowd at Colorado’s Red Rocks Amphitheater to a new cover: Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” He said it had special meaning for him there: “Last time I was here — this is a true story — I played here, and…I was leaving here, and we pulled out, and the light was still on the rocks, like it is right now, and this song was playing in my headphones.”

Church did the cover solo on electric guitar, and did a fine job. But “Hallelujah” has been covered thousands of times, and it’s hard to argue that this one adds much. Which isn’t to knock Church: it was probably exciting if you were there! And it’s fun to watch once even if you weren’t. But I doubt we’ll be playing this video again in a year’s time. Continue reading »