Aug 252022
 

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

Elvis Costello Covers

When Elvis Costello first appeared on the scene, the press fell over themselves not only to praise him, but to pigeonhole him. He was a punk. He was a new waver. He was a nerd, what with his glasses and gawky suits (Dave Marsh memorably said that “Elvis Costello looks like Buddy Holly after drinking a can of STP Oil Treatment”). Most commonly, he was lumped in with Graham Parker, Joe Jackson, Billy Joel, and others as an Angry Young Man. “I’m not angry,” Costello protested on My Aim Is True, and everyone nodded and smiled and patted his head.

Costello wasn’t interested in living on that particular cul-de-sac. He began expanding his musical palette, making more complex songs with more complex rhymes. He delved into other genres, starting with country & western (to the dismay of both Costello fans and C&W fans, and to the pleasant surprise of music fans) and moving on to blues, jazz, orchestral, classical pop, and more. As he became a greater student, he became a greater teacher, giving credit in word and action to his influences, penning a well-received autobiography, and hosting the talk/music show Spectacle, where he interviewed and played with his peers. He continues to record – his most recent album, The Boy Named If, was released earlier this year – and has settled into the role of elder statesman that his talent earned him long ago.

Costello turns one year elder today, his 68th birthday. We’re celebrating with a collection of the fifty best Elvis Costello covers we could get our hands on. They reflect his wide range of styles, revel in his literacy, plumb his depths. Most of all, they reveal his heart, showing over and over again how his love of song can lift, wrench, open up the people who listen to him and to his music. We hope you find this list as worthy of celebration as Elvis Costello is.

– Patrick Robbins, Features Editor

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May 232022
 
yumi zouma missing cover

The Todd Terry remix of “Missing” changed Everything But the Girl’s entire career. “Missing” was the band’s biggest hit ever, going to #3 in the UK and #2 in the US. Originally a jangle-pop/alternative pop duo with a bit of a jazz, they altered their sound to follow up on the surprise success of the remix, and they began incorporating much more dance music. Continue reading »

Jan 282022
 

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

best smiths covers

Who was the first band you felt truly understood you? The one who seemed to verbalize your every inexpressible thought with such pinpoint precision, who from the moment you first heard them made every other band that previously occupied your heart cease to matter? If you happened to have come of age in the ’80s, there was only one band in the entire universe that truly understood your pining and suffering. They were called The Smiths, and they totally got you.

The Smiths weren’t like the other (’80s) boys whose blonde highlights, synthesizers, and colorfully androgynous sartorial choices were dominating the pop charts and MTV. While Duran Duran and Wham! swanned on glamorous beaches and aimed themselves straight at your, uh, parts, The Smiths actively avoided the sun and made a beeline for your heart, mind, and bookcase. They didn’t care to make silly videos to promote their wares. Their metaphorical MTV was the music press and Morrissey’s eminently quotable interviews were the key pieces of catnip used to promote the band.

Of course, for all the intellect on display in the magazines, Morrissey was still an immaculately-coiffed heartthrob who knew how to work it in the pictures (Did I write him an unanswered fan letter in 1984 to tell him I loved him? Yes). But the music required no hard selling. Morrissey’s lyrics were revelatory, a magical mix of misery, humor, bitterness, and the embarrassing truth. Who among us hasn’t suffered at some point from “a shyness that is criminally vulgar” or had a “murderous desire for love” or wanted to “hang the DJ”? The union of Morrissey’s immaculate words with Johnny Marr’s chiming guitar melodies made rejection, frustration, and self-loathing sound positively majestic.

Over the years, The Smiths have become something of a code word used to describe the first band that became your friend, the first that looked you straight in your misty eyes, clutched both your hands to their chest, and said “I feel the same way.” This is why the band continues to be covered at such a relentless clip by artists old and new. And it’s why the songs being chosen to cover aren’t confined to the usual cluster of greatest hits. When it comes to The Smiths, it’s just a little more personal.

The Smiths are never, ever getting back together. The years of inter-band sniping far exceed the number that the band was actually together. Hell, as we were finalizing this list this week yet another Moz-Marr dustup occurred. But that’s okay. We don’t need more than they’ve already given. Let’s just celebrate the good times. We now present the 40 most triumphant and charming Smiths covers in the universe. Ready, handsome devils? Let us begin…

– Hope Silverman

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Nov 012021
 
best cover songs 1991

As regular readers know, every year, at the end of the year, we do a big year-end covers list. This tradition started in 2007 and will continue in a couple months with the best covers of 2021.

But there are so many years before 2007 where we weren’t doing year-end covers lists (and, as far as I’m aware, no one else was either). So once a year, we do a big anniversary post tackling the best covers of a year before Cover Me was born. So far we’ve done 1969, 1978, 1987, 1996, and, last year, 2000.

And for 2021, we look back thirty years, to the heady days of 1991. The days of grunge and acid house, of parachute pants and ripped denim, of The Gulf War and Home Alone. Country music and hip-hop increased their cultural dominance (or really just making their existing dominance known; 1991 is also the year Soundscan made the Billboard charts more authoritative). In a single day, Nirvana released Nevermind, Red Hot Chili Peppers released Blood Sugar Sex Magik, and A Tribe Called Quest released The Low End Theory. Think that’s a fluke? The week before saw massive albums from Mariah Carey, Hole, and Guns ‘n’ Roses (two albums, no less). The week before that came Garth Brooks, Talk Talk, and Saint Etienne.

All of those trends are reflected in the list below. Many of these covers scream “1991!” LL Cool J raps Disney. Courtney Love shrieks Joni. Aretha Franklin tries to new jack swing. A spate of early tribute albums (in fact, last year I wrote a 33 1/3 book about a 1991 tribute album). Other covers are more timeless, from veteran artists doing great work several decades into their careers, or way-underground artists who never even approached the mainstream. The only criteria was quality. Thirty years later, these 50 covers Hole-d up the best.

Check out the list starting on Page 2, and stay tuned for the best covers of this year coming in December.

The list begins on Page 2.

Oct 132021
 

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

best paul simon covers

“I usually come in second to Dylan,” Paul Simon once said, “and I don’t like coming in second.” Indeed, he’s had to deal with it literally ever since he was born, in 1941. We already celebrated Bob Dylan’s 80th birthday in May, and today we turn to the man Dylan has called “one of the preeminent songwriters of the times,” Paul Simon, as he hits his own 80th. Simon’s in the rarified air of someone whose songs get covered almost as much as Dylan’s (ugh – second place again), so for this month’s Best Covers Ever, we’re diving into covers of the entire Paul Simon catalog, both solo and with Simon and Garfunkel.

Another thing Dylan once said about Simon, in relation to his own music, is this: “I’m not Paul Simon. I can’t do that. My songs come out of folk music and early rock n’ roll, and that’s it. I’m not a classical lyricist, I’m not a meticulous lyricist. I don’t write melodies that are clever or catchy.”

False modesty aside, Dylan hits on some of what makes Simon’s work so beloved by other musicians. His melodies are clever and catchy. His lyrics are meticulous. In both words and music, Simon can use a little to say a lot. His songs have strong cores, but leave a lot of space for other artists to play around with. So it’s no surprise that the list below spans genres from punk, dance music, gospel, and more. You’ll hear every sound except one: Silence (sorry). No matter how afield the songs roam, though, they still sound like Paul Simon.

So enough talk about Simon being a perennial silver medal winner. His craft and his talent have earned him and his songs a place at the top of the medal podium, and these fifty covers prove it.

The list begins on Page 2.

Aug 132021
 

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!

everything but the girl covers

Confession: I was not happy when Everything But the Girl traded in their jangly, moody, melodic guitar pop to “go electronic” in the mid-’90s. While I wouldn’t equate it to what Dylan purists apparently felt when he infamously decided to “go electric” back in the ’60s, my eternally ’80s teen self thought it sucked and felt downright betrayed. EBTG had been one of my absolute favorite bands, and here they were forsaking their nerdy identity to go hang with the cool kids, leaving behind the introspective and geeky brethren and sistren who loved them.

The song that changed it all, “Missing,” began its life innocently enough. It was just another perfectly constructed, poetic and winsome track on an album that was chock-full of them, 1994’s Amplified Heart. This original version was released as a single, but only got as high as #69 on the UK pop chart. Then, in 1995, this crazy thing happened. The duo gave the track to DJ-Producer Todd Terry to remix for club play. But calling it a “remix” is underselling what it really was: a resurrection. Terry expertly sculpted “Missing” into an sleek, housed-up, heartbreaking dance anthem for the ages. It sold millions of copies all over the planet and has since become a permanent fixture on every “Best Songs of the ’90s” playlist in existence.

The success of “Missing” paved the way for the duo’s stylistic shift from earthy acoustic sounds to cooler electronic ones. The duo debuted the updated sound on their very next album, 1996’s Walking Wounded; its heartbreaking charms were undeniable, and all it took was one listen for me to fall back into the fold of hardcore EBTG fandom, never to depart again. Tracey (Thorn) and Ben (Watt) were still EBTG, after all, and the songs were as regal, poetic, and beautiful as they had ever been, even in this new and different guise (inside joke there for you EBTG nerds), a guise they maintained until they decided to close the book on the EBTG partnership in 2000 and just focus on their respective solo endeavors.

Now the reason I bring all this history this up is to note that pretty much all of the covers they did were recorded before this famous stylistic change; hence, their sound harkens back to the jangly days. Fact is, they pretty much stopped doing covers once they started exploring the electronic/dance side of things. So by default, the best EBTG covers all happened during the era we’ll call EBTG b.c. (before clubland), as opposed to the latter-day incarnation, EBTG a.d. (after dance).

In keeping with the longstanding tradition of all pop music ever, the most popular EBTG covers aren’t necessarily the best ones. Their cute ‘n’ groovy version of Cole Porter standard “Night And Day” and jaunty run-through Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Only Living Boy In New York City” are nice, as is their duet on Tom Waits’ “Downtown Train.” But if you want to hear EBTG at their interpretative best, swivel the chair around from the openly cool, famed and critically acclaimed and cast an ear toward the unabashedly POP heartbreakers–Mom favorites and oddball deep cuts. Let’s get driving…
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