Nov 042022
 

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

dolly parton covers

Dolly Parton is a singer and a songwriter. I mention that obvious truth because these days it tends to get overshadowed by her other titles: Icon. Inspiration. National Treasure. The Only Human Being Alive Everyone Agrees On (Radiolab produced an entire nine-part radio series based on that premise). And she is all those things, but first and foremost she’s a working 9-to-5 musician who has been perfecting her craft for seven decades.

Parton says she wrote her first song as a five year-old in 1952. She hasn’t stopped writing songs since. She one estimated she’s amassed 10,000. Maybe that’s an exaggeration, but the verifiable numbers speak for themselves: 52 studio albums, 25 Number One songs, 100 million records sold worldwide. Just as important a tribute to her gifts, though, are how often her songs get covered. Not just the obvious ones, the “Jolene”s and “I Will Always Love You”s (though plenty of those, lord knows), but the album cuts, the singles that didn’t top the charts, and the songs she didn’t write herself but made into Dolly Parton songs anyway.

Some of the below covers sound a little bit like Dolly’s own music. Most do not. She considers herself straight country, not, as she made clear when first nominated for the Rock Hall earlier this year, rock and roll. But, in this list, she is rock and roll. And folk and pop and hip-hop and soul and a whole host of other genres. Dolly Parton may indeed be the only human being everyone agrees on. What a way to make a living.

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Sep 302022
 

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

beach boys covers

If you were to look at the charts, the Beach Boys basically stopped having giant hits after 1966’s “Good Vibrations” (with the obvious exception of 1988’s “Kokomo”). They’re a singles band whose singles mostly dried up six years into their sixty-year career. They had a brief run of good-time hits about girls, cars, and surfing, then faded. They’re the band preserved forever in that cornball publicity photo up top.

But that’s not the story these covers tell.

The big hits are here, sure. “Surfer Girl” and “Fun Fun Fun” and “I Get Around” etc. But so are many now-iconic tunes that weren’t hits. “God Only Knows,” the Beach Boys’ most covered song, peaked at #39. By their standards, that’s a straight-up flop. Many other covered songs didn’t even make it that high. But “God Only Knows” has of course belatedly been recognized as one of the great pop songs of the 20th century. As has the album it came off of, Pet Sounds, itself a relative commercial failure.

Pet Sounds, of course, has long since been recognized as a classic. So some artists dig even deeper. “Lonely Sea” is an album cut off their 1963 album Surfin’ U.S.A. “Trader” comes off the 1973 album Holland. Three separate songs here originally came off Surf’s Up, now the go-to pick for artists who want to show they know more than Pet Sounds. Even a song not released until the ‘90s, “Still I Dream of It,” gets a killer cover.

You can trace the story of the Beach Boys’ reputation through these covers. A group once perceived as a lightweight singles act have been fully embraced as musical geniuses, all the way from the hits of the ’60s through the then-overlooked gems of the ‘70s and beyond. Some of these songs below you probably won’t know. Others you will know every single word of…but you’ve never heard them sung like this.

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Jul 132022
 

Welcome to Cover Me Q&A, where we take your questions about cover songs and answer them to the best of our ability.

a cappella cover

Here at Cover Me Q&A, we’ll be taking questions about cover songs and giving as many different answers as we can. This will give us a chance to hold forth on covers we might not otherwise get to talk about, to give Cover Me readers a chance to learn more about individual staffers’ tastes and writing styles, and to provide an opportunity for some back-and-forth, as we’ll be taking requests (learn how to do so at feature’s end).

Today’s question: What’s your favorite instrumental cover?
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Jun 182022
 

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

paul mccartney covers

There are a lot of weird and wacky images within Alan Aldridge’s 1969 cult classic book The Beatles Illustrated Lyrics. One of the most memorable is a drawing imagining what John, Paul, George, and Ringo will look like as senior citizens. In this fantastical portrait, John and George are depicted as eccentric elders. Ringo, in keeping with his everyman persona, is shown as a shopworn sad sack. But it is Paul McCartney who offers the most disturbing vision of the future. “The cute one” appears as a conservative besuited and well-fed bank manager. His smug grin suggests he is proud to have finally outgrown all that silly pop music nonsense. Continue reading »

Aug 162021
 

Colin HayFirst things first: don’t be so hard on yourself. Sure you know who Colin Hay is; he’s the chirpy singer from Men At Work, his slightly husky and agreeable tenor singing about a land where women glow and men plunder. A Scot, who found fame in Australia, he has lived and kept his career going in the US, a resident of Los Angeles for many a long year. Men At Work still exist, sporadically, with Hay the last man standing from the original line-up, but he also has a bevy of solo recordings, amiable and pleasant fare, with a great live show to boot. Now he’s got a new cover collection out, called I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself.

Why a cover album? Well, his choice for the title track gives a clue–that’s right, it’s another quarantine album, where the artist is stuck at home and wants nothing to do with idle hands. It seems these are the songs that have inspired and uplifted Hay over the years. Unsurprisingly, most stem from his teens, with the Beatles, the Kinks, and even Gerry and the Pacemakers all represented. And nothing off-center in the song choices, they all being staples and standards.

Which is perhaps the problem. Songs as ubiquitous as this cry out for something a bit different from the the love and respect he clearly has for them. Individually, they are all polished and presentable. Thrown singly into a performance amidst his own or his band’s stuff, you’d sit up and take note. Together, not so much, it all becoming a little M.O.R. Inoffensive. Bland, even. Having said that, I dare say they would fly off the merch table at a gig, and maybe that is the target demographic.

The title track is a strong start, initially just strummed guitar and Hay’s straining but never strained voice. The piano and strings are then a bit Bacharach. As I guess they would be, he being the author and the originator of the original presentation. A bit too Bacharach, frankly, way more Dusty than the White Stripes. Likewise, when it’s just Hay’s unadorned vocal, “Waterloo Sunset” is fine, but then the strings and some sort of backing chorale gloop in and drench the beauty within this old chestnut.

Strangely, “Wichita Lineman” just about works within this production style, Hay’s vocal endearingly and plaintively sad. Whereas “Norwegian wood” really doesn’t. Here Hay sounds like a busker who has strayed into a an easy listening orchestral jam session. Ghastly.

“Don’t Let The Sun Catch You Crying”? I had to catch myself here, trying to recall the original, before remembering this was peak Gerry and the Pacemakers at their cloying best. Which actually means that Hay here has, after all, done something surprising with it, excising no small amount of the sickliness that Gerry Marsden regularly injected into it during his later cabaret years. Similarly, I like his rendition of “Ooh La La,” a more “modern” song, sort of. His voice is closer to Ronnie Lane’s, who sang the original for the Faces in 1973, and thus infinitely preferable to Rod Stewart’s latter-day revamp of his old band’s song. I’ll go further, I like this a lot. And like even more the next song, Del Amitri’s “Driving With The Brakes On.” No extraneous strings, just voice, guitar, and piano. Well, most of the way through, the conductor unable to keep his hands of the baton, if with more restraint than earlier on this disc. Are things looking up?

Sadly not, as that busker is still here, this time mangling “Across The Universe,” aided and abetted by Mantovani-alike again. With that bloody wretched choir. Beam me up, Scotty, a fast forward just quick enough to find a not-bad “Can’t Find My Way Home.” As in not that good, just (that word again) inoffensive.

Final track is the Jimmy Cliff classic “Many Rivers To Cross.” Methinks he bases this telling on the Linda Ronstadt version, the piano and guitar broadly redolent thereof. Which is no bad thing, it’s OK, and as good a place as any to close the album.

I think this is a great shame: Hay still has the voice and this is for the most part a good sound song selection. But just who is he listening to on production? The PR says his “frequent collaborator/producer” Chad Fischer, who seems a big cheese on TV themes. Figures.

Heck, what do I know, but, if I did, Colin, I’d say “it’s a mistake”…….

I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself tracklist:
1. I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself (Dusty Springfield cover)
2. Waterloo Sunset(Kinks cover)
3. Wichita Lineman (Glen Campbell cover)
4. Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown) (Beatles cover)
5. Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Crying (Gerry & the Pacemakers cover)
6. Ooh La La (The Faces cover)
7. Driving With The Brakes On (Del Amitri cover)
8. Across the Universe (Beatles cover)
9. Can’t Find My Way Home (Blind Faith cover)
10. Many Rivers to Cross (Jimmy Cliff cover)

Jun 212021
 

Dylan LeBlanc PastimesLike many a performer, Dylan LeBlanc spent the pandemic lockdown to good intent, producing Pastimes. This six-song EP consists entirely of covers, songs that have “inspired him musically and spiritually,” drawing back, as they do, on his childhood and the music he was exposed to by his father, a jobbing Nashville songwriter. Father and son spent Dylan’s teenaged years in the Nashville clubs, where LeBlanc senior was plying his trade as a writer and session man. And one, I might say, with a mighty fine taste in music.

Self-produced in Muscle Shoals, the performances on Pastimes are all live in the studio, with sympathetic backing from a mix of musicians, guitars, keyboards, steel and, gloriously, a string quartet. Strings can often over egg the work of sensitive singer-songwriters, the label most often attached to LeBlanc, but here they complement and complete the arrangements delightfully. These are not dramatic reframings of largely well-known songs; rather, these fall more into loving recreations, the respect for the songs–and, by default, the authors–hugely evident.
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