For a certain ilk of artist, boutique destination music festivals in Mexico have become a recent mainstay of the January/February touring cycle (or lack thereof — who wouldn’t want to scuttle off to Mexico for a lost weekend rather than tour in the depths of winter?). Acts like Wilco, Brandi Carlile and an array of others in the indie/jam/rock firmament have been parading down south of the border to the all-inclusive resorts of Riviera Maya. Though Dead & Co.’s plans were thwarted this winter by the Omicron variant in the final hour, many other acts were still able to perform without snafus or health scares. Atop the heap of performers who made their way successfully to Riviera Maya, Mexico this February were My Morning Jacket, Dave Matthews & Tim Reynolds, and Phish.
I am uncertain how much traction the Specials had outside the UK, where they are rightly considered national treasures, riding a wave of energy since their most recent regrouping and reiteration. Now down to the core trio of Terry Hall on vocals, Lynval Golding on guitar and vocals, and Horace Panting on bass, here they are again aided and abetted by much the same cast who crewed 2019’s Encore, the touring of which had been rudely interrupted by Covid. Rather than sitting home and ruing, the band fired up their default setting of righteous indignation.
As a multiracial band in the English midlands city of Coventry, on the cusp of the 1980s, the Specials became famous, not just for their infectious bluebeat, but also as bastions in the burgeoning fight against racism, generally and in music, appearing, on occasion, on the Rock Against Racism platform. Their response to the George Floyd case last year, was to utilize lockdown and raid their record collections, putting together Protest Songs 1924-2012, a collection of covers which, in some way or form, cast a reflection on the circumstances that could allow such a thing to happen. Protest songs, one and all, if sometimes not necessarily appreciated as so, with about as eclectic a selection as could be, with source material including the unlikely triad of the Staples Singers, Frank Zappa and Leonard Cohen. The one style absent is of ska, the band’s erstwhile calling card and M.O., with any number other of genres embraced in its wake. If nothing else, this displays the broad grasp of musical strengths available within the Specials, yet without losing the strident declaratory croon of Hall, or, indeed, the collective identity. Ska or not, this could be no other band.
We’re not generally in the practice of publishing reader mail at Cover Me (doesn’t mean we don’t appreciate getting it!). There’s no Letters to the Editor page like you’d see in an old magazine. The comments section and social media serve that function well enough. But today, we’re making an exception.
Last summer, a German reader named Karsten Schroeder wrote in offering to share some cool covers he liked by German bands. We said sure – we’re always looking to discover new stuff, after all. We didn’t hear much after that and, to be honest, forgot about it. Then, a full ten months later, he emailed an exhaustive look at the covers scene in Germany. Across 123 songs, Karsten explored covers spanning punk – his favorite genre – to hip-hop, folk to pop to a few genres that are Germany-specific (“Fun-Punk,” “Deutschrock”). It was so rich and detailed, full of amazing covers that we – and, I expect, you – had never heard before that we asked him if we could publish it.
In Pick Five, great artists pick five cover songs that matter to them.
Lou Barlow broke his collarbone.
That’s the sort of thing that would slow down most musicians, but not Barlow. He kept right on touring the UK with Dinosaur Jr. after the mishap this spring, posting a celebratory video when he made it the whole way through without the metal pin popping out. Now he’s about to embark on a June solo tour; hopefully the pin will stay in for that too. In April, he even released a new 7″ with a photo of him in the hospital on the cover. Watch the self-directed video for “Love Intervene”:
In the middle of all that touring and healing, he took some time out to tell us about his favorite cover songs. As anyone who’s followed his career with Sebadoh and Dinosaur Jr. will not be surprised to learn, he knows his stuff. From alt-rock peers like Mudhoney to more-unexpected personal favorites (an Ace Frehley solo cut?), Barlow digs deep. And, never one to do the bare minimum, he picked six cover songs for his Pick Five. We just hope he didn’t have to use his collarbone to write ’em.
Let’s be blunt: No one needs novelty songs.
Loosely defined as “a satirical or comedic parody of popular music,” most people instinctively leave the room – or the house – at the first whiff.
Or do they? What, then, explains the enduring popularity of Dr. Demento, querulous-voiced prankster and legitimate, if puzzling, cultural icon? A rock ’n roll writer, label A&R man, and sometime roadie, he began broadcasting a rock and oldies show at Pasadena station KPPC in 1970. He quickly found that the novelty songs he slipped in – notably Nervous Norvus’ “Transfusion,” a truly demented tale about reckless driving, and a precursor to the Cramps’ psychobilly – were what his listeners really wanted to hear.
Now 76, Dr. Demento – a.k.a. Barret Eugene Hansen – ceased terrestrial radio broadcast in 2010, though his program persists online. And now we’re treated to Dr. Demento Covered in Punk, by some counts his 15th official album release. If you’re already hooked on the good doctor’s offbeat charms, you’re likely not in need of encouragement to purchase this collection of supposedly “punk” covers (more on that later) interspersed with the Doctor’s commentary. But can we rightfully recommend this 2+ hour compilation to the rest of the record-buying public? The answer, surprisingly, is: “Yes!” Sort of.
Cover Classics takes a closer look at all-cover albums of the past, their genesis, and their legacy.
Richard Thompson is a Cover Me favorite, and for good reason. His songwriting and playing are brilliant, and his songs are often covered by musicians who recognize his genius, even if he has escaped widespread popularity. Not only that, he has, since his early days as a teenaged guitarist in Fairport Convention, performed many wonderful covers of other artists. Thompson also has a wicked sense of humor, which is hinted at in his lyrics, but more often displayed in his writings, interviews and stage shows. Rarely does Thompson perform without unleashing a zinger or ten, often directed at audience members who mistakenly believe they can best him in a battle of wits.
So when Playboy magazine came to him in 1999 and asked him to join other musicians in providing a list of the ten greatest songs of the millennium, it is not surprising that he mischievously took them literally. As Thompson wrote:
Such pretension, I thought. They don’t mean millennium, do they? Probably about 30 years is the cut-off: Tears for Fears might sneak in, Cole Porter probably not.
He called their bluff and did a real thousand-year selection, starting with a song from 1068 and including one effort from the 20th century. Playboy, which is rumored to have articles, chose not to print Thompson’s list, sparing their “readers” the opportunity to consider a toe-tapper by St Godric.