Dec 152023
 

Follow all our Best of 2023 coverage (along with previous year-end lists) here.

I like to think that badass lady in the artwork up there (done by our own Hope Silverman!) embodies the spirit of this year’s list. Not that they’re all CBGB-style punk songs—though there are a couple—but in her devil-may-care attitude. “Who says I shouldn’t do a hardcore cover of the Cranberries? A post-punk cover of Nick Drake? A hip-hop cover of The Highwaymen? Screw that!”

As with most good covers, the 50 covers we pulled out among the thousands we listened to bring a healthy blend of reverence and irreverence. Reverence because the artists love the source material. Irreverence because they’re not afraid to warp it, bend it, mold it in their own image. A few of the songs below are fairly obscure, but most you probably already know. Just not like this.

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Oct 272023
 

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

Velvet Underground and Nico

On October 27, 2013, ten years ago today, Lou Reed died. I happened to be in New York City at the time, and his passing was a lead story on the 11 o’clock news. It was as though a part of the city itself had died. Which, inescapably, it had. Reed embodied NYC, from its seedy back rooms to its secret heart, in a way few other people, let alone musicians, ever did.

While Reed’s solo career is highly and deservingly accoladed, it still got overshadowed by the Velvet Underground. Reed’s first band featured Welsh musician John Cale, guitarist Sterling Morrison, and drummer Maureen Tucker, with Nico singing on the first album and Doug Yule replacing Cale in 1968. The band’s four studio albums started ripples that turned into tsunamis; they went from secret-handshake status to Hall of Fame giants, their influence right up there with the Beatles.

We’re honoring Lou and Company with this collection of covers. Some covers couldn’t hold a candle to the original (you’ll find no “Heroin” here), but many of the originals were receptive to another artist’s distinctive stamp. Whether you prefer the first or what followed, you’ll hear the sound of immortality as it opens yet another path of discovery.

–Patrick Robbins, Features Editor

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Jul 072023
 

Nick DrakeWhen tasked with covering a Nick Drake song, your first thought might very well be, are my finger-picking skills up to scratch? Then you’d likely be anxious that your acoustic guitar isn’t tuned in the strange and unorthodox way it should be, while under pressure to do justice to Drake’s deeply poetic lyrics. You might also be tempted to slur the occasional word for jazzy effect, as you basically try to honor a uniquely melancholy acoustic sound that’s become a sacred thing since the English singer’s death in 1974, aged just 26, from an overdose of antidepressants.

The message behind The Endless Coloured Ways – The Songs Of Nick Drake, however, is this: don’t sweat all that stuff.

The newest Drake tribute album curators are Cally Callomon, Manager of the Nick Drake Estate, and Jeremy Lascelles, co-founder of Blue Raincoat Music, who are both keen to popularize Nick Drake posthumously in major new ways. Indeed, now that the Estate has agreed to a global publishing deal with Blue Raincoat Music Publishing, why wouldn’t they be? Lascelles, therefore, claims to have issued “one simple brief to each of the artists” involved in paying tribute to the musician barely recognized in his lifetime, which was to “ignore the original recording of Nick’s, and reinvent the song in their own unique style.”
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Mar 092023
 
fontaines

“‘Cello Song” is one of the more distinct cuts on Nick Drake‘s debut album Five Leaves Left. Shockingly, it features a prominent cello part, in addition to congas, augmenting Drake’s guitar and voice. For the rest of the album, Drake is accompanied usually by a string section or a bass instead. It’s one of his more frequently covered songs, perhaps because of its distinctness within his catalogue or perhaps because it’s just very pretty.

Irish rock band Fontaines D.C., who we last saw on Cover Me with a version of U2’s “One,” have decided to mostly omit the cello from their version of “‘Cello Song.” That’s hardly a surprise given their post-punk-influenced sound, but it still makes the title a little funny. (Perhaps Nick Drake should have properly named his song.) They’ve recorded their version as part of the upcoming tribute to Drake, The Endless Coloured Days.

There is some feedback or other ambient noise at the very beginning, before the drums kick in, that vaguely resembles a cello, but it’s there only for a moment. And then the drums kick in and you know this is not your typical Nick Drake cover. The (electric) guitars are angular and vaguely twangy. And the vibe is much more early ’80s than late ’60s.

But then Grian Chatten starts humming the refrain melody, as Drake does in the original, and things calm down considerably. When Chatten starts singing the actual lyrics, around the 1:40 minute, the song actually starts to resemble the original a little bit, with an acoustic guitar roughly approximating Drake’s own guitar part. The drums kick back in for the hummed refrain but otherwise, the feel is more of a rocked up, vaguely hazy version of the original, rather than a complete rethinking. A cello, or perhaps a viola, does eventually come in at the very end.

So the intro actually is a bit of a misdirection, setting us up for a radical revision but then revealing a reasonably faithful version of the song, albeit with more drums and way more electric guitar. Check it out below:

Mar 312022
 
best cover songs of march 2022
Avhath – Cool / Levitating / Don’t Start Now (Dua Lipa covers)

What’s better than one Indonesian black-metal Dua Lipa cover? Three Indonesian black-metal Dua Lipa covers! Not that you’d ever know these were Dua Lipa songs unless you were listening really closely to the lyrics (and could manage to make them out).

The Band of Heathens – El Paso City (Marty Robbins cover)

During lockdown, Band of Heathens hosted a regular livestream variety show called Good Time Supper Club. One segment, “Remote Transmissions,” featured them covering a new song every episode – over 50 in all. They’re collecting some of the best on a forthcoming album of the same name: Remote Transmissions. “Making records is always about cataloging any point in time. We wanted to celebrate the unique collaborative aspect of the show,” guitarist Ed Jurdi told American Songwriter. “What better way to document the last year than with these songs?” First up is this take on a Marty Robbins country classic. Continue reading »

Sep 282021
 

i'll be your mirror tributeI love the old chestnut that everybody who ever saw the Velvet Underground started a band. Certainly, were that the case, their shows must have been jampacked with underage punters, with children, even, since most of those in bands and who most keenly rate them and cite their influence would have been far too young. Many would have been in the wrong country, likewise. But, hey, it’s a great tale and, who knows, had they all actually been there, the band may have been a lot bigger and more successful in their lifetime.

For, undoubtedly, their imprint on rock music has been hugely out of proportion to their actual footprint. I forget, maybe it was all those who bought their first album started a band, but again, the numbers don’t really stack up until you collate the cumulative sales, decade on decade after the initial release. (Ed: It was, in fact, no less than Brian Eno who made this assertion, in 1982.) Hampered by a brace of lawsuits, relating to the copyright of some of the cover photos, the album limped out in 1967, taking some time to ratchet up many sales at all, trashed by critics and ignored by the record label publicity machine. Lyrics about sado-masochism, IV drugs and prostitution were seen as anathema to the mores of the day, and the linkage to Andy Warhol, then enfant terrible of the American art-house film movement, will have hardly have warmed them to any mainstream audience. But maybe that was the point. Be that as it may, in the half century plus since, the star of this still sometimes difficult record has shone ever more brightly. That first album was, to give it its full title, The Velvet Underground and Nico, with the iconic banana logo, and it is this record that is here recreated and revisioned, revalidated and recalibrated. Continue reading »