What do all of those “B” artists have in common? Not much, except for this: They all have a lot of different songs that get covered by a lot of different people.
But there are some artists who will likely never get their own list here. Why not? Maybe they just don’t get covered enough. Or maybe they get covered often — but people mostly just cover a single song. These are the artists we colloquially call One Hit Wonders. And in a special series starting today, we’re celebrating covers of their songs.Continue reading »
“Downtown Train.” “Ol ’55.” “Jersey Girl.” These are just three of the Tom Waits songs better known for their covers (respectively: Rod, Eagles, Bruce) than for Waits’ own performances.
It probably doesn’t need saying that Tom’s recordings are, in the best way possible, idiosyncratic. So it makes sense that, like Dylan, like Cohen, his songs often become more popular when more “traditional” voices sing them. Many of the best covers, though, keep some of that strangeness. No, they don’t do “the Tom Waits voice” – most people wouldn’t be able to talk for a week after attempting that. But they don’t sand off the strangeness.
Tom’s debut album Closing Time came out 50 years ago this month; he’s doing a reissue to celebrate. It, and its successor The Heart of Saturday Night, are in some ways his least representative albums, though. The songwriting is already strong on these, but it comes in – if you can believe it – a fairly conventional package. His voice hasn’t revealed its true character (to pick one among many memorable descriptions: “a voice like it was soaked in a vat of bourbon, left hanging in the smokehouse for a few months, and then taken outside and run over with a car”), and he hadn’t discovered that hitting a dumpster with a two-by-four makes great percussion.
Some of those very early songs get covered in our list below. But his later, weirder, songs abound, too. Tom’s wife Kathleen Brennan, his musical co-conspirator for decades now, said her husband has two types of songs: “Grim Reapers” and “Grand Weepers”. On his Orphans box set, Tom divided them up another way: Brawlers, Ballers, and Bastards. You’ll find some of all flavors below. (And, if you want more new writing on Tom Waits music, subscribe to a newsletter called Every Tom Waits Song that – full disclosure – I also run).
– Ray Padgett
PS. Find Spotify and Apple Music playlists of this list, and all our other monthly Best Covers Ever lists, at Patreon.
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.
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 »
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…