Singer-songwriter, guitarist and producer Bhi Bhiman has released Substitute Preacher II, an offbeat and artful new covers EP that follows the first installment in 2013. In spite of the eight-year gap, Bhiman’s approach to producing covers has stayed remarkably consistent. Substitute Preacher II’s performances mostly feature just Bhiman’s acoustic guitar and mighty vocals, captured in live takes with minimal overdubs. Bhiman saws straight through the trunks of some towering classic rock picks that might at first seem impenetrable to solo-acoustic interpretation: “Back in Black” by AC/DC, Steppenwolf’s “Magic Carpet Ride.” But with the craft of a master carpenter, he also has the foresight and ingenuity to build something novel from the shreds he’s chopped.
They Say It’s Your Birthday celebrates an artist’s special day with covers of his or her songs. Let someone else do the work for a while. Happy birthday!
Nancy Sinatra, ‘60s pop icon and elder daughter of Frank Sinatra, celebrates her eightieth birthday today! To celebrate, we’ll swing, baby, through some of her biggest hits. But before we dig in, let’s take a look at the impact she’s made as an artist in her own right.
Sure, it helped being the daughter of the most famous entertainer of all time, but Nancy’s bona fides are legitimate. She charted 21 Billboard Hot 100 singles between 1965-72 and added multiple high-ranking exposures for many of those songs on Adult Contemporary and Country charts; one of those coming as late as 1981. Along the way, she became the epitome of feminine cool by co-starring in films with Elvis Presley and Peter Fonda, singing a Bond theme, even appearing in Playboy as a 50-something. Although her music output has slowed, she continues to consistently release new and remixed material. For the past 13 years she’s heard weekly on SiriusXM’s “Nancy For Frank” show with 3-hour episodes on the Siriusly Sinatra channel.
But it was in early 1966 when Nancy, and eventual longtime collaborators Lee Hazelwood and Billy Strange (now both deceased), really cemented her pop legacy. “These Boots Are Made for Walkin” (included on her debut studio album “Boots”) went to #1 on US, UK, and worldwide charts. The song – supported with one of the earliest examples of a music video – has been credited with ushering in the era of woman in rock & roll. And for nearly 55 years, the prevalent themes of independence and free thinking – which never seems to wane – have sustained its popularity in pop culture!
So, with that… are you ready, boots? On this birthday, let’s start walking–right over to Nancy’s biggest hits…
Angelique Kidjo – Beds Are Burning (Midnight Oil cover)
In Memoriam pays tribute to those who have left this world, and the songs they left us to remember them by.
Frank Sinatra hailed from an era where singers were singers and songwriters were songwriters, and rarely the twain did meet. Great American Songbook standards penned by the likes of Irving Berlin, the Gershwin brothers, and Cole Porter were tailored to Sinatra’s specifications by master arrangers like Nelson Riddle, Gordon Jenkins, and Billy May, and brought to life by Sinatra’s formidable interpretive skill. “I’m a real stickler for perfection, in my work and most other people’s work too,” Sinatra said of his approach in 1956. “I find myself picking whatever I do apart, which I do believe is quite healthy.”
This marks the fourth year I’ve done a big anniversary countdown (after 1996, 1987, and 1978). It also proved to be the most challenging. There were a lot of covers released in 1969. In fact, according to covers-and-samples database WhoSampled, there were more than in any of the other years we’ve done. Their database lists 3,110 covers, which is surely still a small fraction.
The reason for the cover song’s proliferation seems clear to me after going through them all: Popular bands released a lot more music back then. Aretha Franklin released two albums in 1969. So did The Byrds, Elvis Presley, Joe Cocker, Johnny Cash, Johnny Winter, and Nina Simone. Creedence Clearwater Revival and Merle Haggard released three albums apiece. James Brown topped them all with four. To get that kind of output, artists would pad their albums with covers. Every 1969 album by every artist I just mentioned includes at least one cover. Many include several. A few are all covers. It adds up.
Impressively, many of those covers reinterpreted songs that had come out within the previous year. This entire list could easily have been “Hey Jude” covers. “Wichita Lineman” and “Light My Fire” came up constantly too (the latter song slightly older, but it had hit the charts again in 1968). Even songs from 1968’s soundtrack to Hair got covered endlessly in 1969.
Even beyond “Hey Jude,” Beatles covers dominated the year. I’m not going to go back through the entire 3,110 covers and count, but if you told me Beatles covers made up a full half of those, I wouldn’t be shocked. Add Bob Dylan covers to that side of the scale and it’s probably true. Beatles songs got covered in every conceivable genre for every conceivable audience. Jazz and swing and folk and proto-metal Beatles covers everywhere the eye can see. Plenty of people cover the Beatles these days, sure, but trust me: It’s nothing like it was in 1969.
So wheedling all those down to the top 50 proved incredibly difficult. But it means this is maybe the top-to-bottom strongest set thus far, and it killed me to leave some off (that’s why our Patreon supporters will get a set of 69 bonus tracks – so join now).
One note: I left off Woodstock performances. For one, we counted down the 50 best covers performed there last month. But more importantly, most people did not actually hear those covers until the movie and soundtrack came out in 1970. Jimi Hendrix performed his iconic Star-Spangled Banner – pretty much everyone’s top cover of the weekend – to a nearly empty field. Most of the audience had left before he punched in at 9 AM that Monday morning. That said, several of the classic covers performed at Woodstock were released as singles or on albums the same year – including Joe Cocker’s “With a Little Help from My Friends” – and those studio versions make this list.
Now, let the sunshine in with the 50 best covers of 1969.
The temptation to dismiss Chrissie Hynde’s new album Valve Bone Woe as aging rockstar populist folly might be tempting. But I would beseech you not to, at least not yet, no matter how the rocky (rockers?) road to hell may be littered with many a late career jazz diversion of dubious content, however lucrative. (As in, please don’t sing it again, Rod.) This is more in the territory of a respectful nod to another genre, rather than any bandwagoneering, and is perhaps a brave choice for Hynde, if certainly unexpected. Plus, this album comes at a time when her day job is far from faltering, the Pretenders currently riding a prolonged late summer of renewed acclaim. So what has she got to prove?