August 16 has long been a day of infamy in the history of American popular music. It started in 1977 when Elvis Presley, the King of Rock n’ Roll, passed away. Forty-one years later, another member of rock royalty also died: Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul. Though she was older and her death less of a shock to the cultural landscape, I still remember the exact moment when I heard the news. I was with my family driving home from Sesame Place in Pennsylvania listening to the Beatles channel on SiriusXM. The DJ interrupted to tell us the sad news and in Franklin’s honor played her version of “Let It Be.”Continue reading »
The era in German history known as the Weimar Republic lasted just a few years from 1918 to 1933, but it’s impact on world history and culture is still felt today. The unstable political situation, combined with rapid inflation, contributed to the rise of Adolf Hitler and the Nazis. Amidst the political chaos, the arts flourished. The period saw the establishment of the Bauhaus and Dada artistic movements. Novelist Christopher Isherwood captured the underground nightlife scene in his famed The Berlin Stories, which would serve as the basis for the Cabaret musical and film. On the theater front, Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill penned The Threepenny Opera. The musical introduced the standard “Mack the Knife” as well as “Pirate Jenny,” a song Bob Dylan cited in his memoir as an inspiration for his songwriting.Continue reading »
Angie McMahon – Knowing Me, Knowing You (ABBA cover)
It comes too late for our Best ABBA Covers countdown, but Angie McMahon’s low-simmer version of “Knowing Me, Knowing You” would make a worthy addition. Though it comes coated in a layer of rock grit, the band’s vocal harmonies stand up to the Swedes. And just wait for Angie McMahon’s cover-closing holler.Continue reading »
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.
My Morning Jacket has turned cover songs and tribute-album appearances into a cottage industry, playing tunes by everyone from Buddy Holly to the Frogtown Hollow Jubilee Jug Band. So it comes as no surprise that frontman Jim James will drop an album of covers on December 8 called Tribute to 2.
James recently released the lead track from the album, a cover of the Beach Boys’ majestic “I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times” from their 1966 magnum opus Pet Sounds. The tune was co-written by Brian Wilson and Tony Asher and sung by Wilson. The moody song, with its dark, introspective lyrics, signalled a stark change for the band from its happy blend of Chuck Berry and doo-wop inspired surf-pop. James channels Wilson’s falsetto in such a way that he almost sounds like a lost Wilson brother.Continue reading »
Some covers are more equal than others. Good, Better, Best looks at three covers and decides who takes home the gold, the silver, and the bronze.
Who does the best version of “God Only Knows”?
Accepting that the true answer is probably “Beach Boys, Beach Boys, Beach Boys,” this is a song oft covered and rarely, if ever, bettered, such is its beauty and ubiquity, as reliant on the arrangement as the melody, the lyrics as the singer. Most who have met the cover-me challenge have failed, duplicating and copying, facsimiles falling and failing at the shrine of St. Brian. And at the feet of St. Carl, for it is his sublime vocal that nails it. Some of these are pleasant enough – come in, Elvis Costello and Michael Stipe – but leave a memory that just longs for the original. A distinctive or different voice isn’t enough, as both Joss Stone and P.P.Arnold have discovered. Continue reading »