Jan 142022
 

Cover Genres takes a look at cover songs in a very specific musical style.

Carla Thomas

Musical obsessions are not always as cut and dried as “this is my favorite song/ album/ band/ genre.” Occasionally you will find yourself in uncharted territory, involuntarily drawn to something so specific and esoteric that it doesn’t fall under the umbrella of an actual existing category. Hmmm… I’m making this sound way more dignified than it is. What I’m trying to say is, most dyed-in-the-wool music nerds have what I’m going to call an imaginary friend. By that, I mean that they have an obsession with some weird-ass thing or self-invented category, one that may not be audible to the ears of others, but feels oh so real to them.

I am now going to introduce you to my imaginary friend, my Harvey, my Snuffleupagus, my Drop Dead Fred. It’s a “thing” I’m obsessed with, which, while exceedingly specific and adhering to a strict set of self-invented rules, doesn’t technically exist as an established, formalized entity.

In a nutshell, I have an insatiable fascination with R & B covers of ’70s Soft Rock songs. Specifically, those recorded in the same era as the originals, when the originals themselves were still young, topical, and ubiquitous.

This oddball interest has roots in all the times I spent as a captive backseat passenger in my Mom’s 1972 white Chevy Nova with the sunflower painted on the side (only one word for that car: bitchin’). It was in this magical machine that my musical foundation was established and my taste was, some might say tragically, molded into shape. Meaning I was exposed to a helluva lot of ’70s AM pop radio as a kid. And there were two things being churned out in ample quantities back then that I especially loved:

1. R&B aka Soul Music (the first single I ever bought was by The Spinners, the first LP was by Billy Preston)

2. Soft Rock, primarily the candy-coated version (“Shannon is gone, I heard…”)

For a specific subgenre, “Soft Rock” is a pretty broad descriptor. The term has come to characterize the adult incense burning-cool babysitter sounds of Carole King and James Taylor, as well as the candy-coated, big-chorus-ed corniness of Barry Manilow and the Captain and Tennille. While we tend to draw a distinction between these two types of Soft Rock (the former is “cool,” and the latter… isn’t), back then, to my kid ears, they were the same damn thing, 100% equal in terms of their artistic credibility. They were all served up on the same radio stations, so in my world, Jackson Browne and Helen Reddy were as one. It was all pop music.

My sloppy love for both the Soul and the Soft did not trigger a lightbulb moment where I thought, “hey, I love these two things and I wonder if there are artists who have perhaps married the two.” Lord no. That would have been far too sophisticated a notion to have ever sprouted up in my eight-year-old peanut brain. My fascination with the marriage was a more random pursuit that defined itself over time. I think it may have been triggered by hearing The Four Tops’ incendiary cover of Fred Neil’s “Everybody’s Talking” on some compilation in the ’80s. I honestly can’t remember. What I do know is that as technology advanced, my pursuit grew more and more fanatical with each passing day.

Once I could get at discographies with the touch of a button, the nerd assembly line kicked into high gear. Stores were scavenged for Soul-ified Soft Rock treasures. Mixtapes were assembled, followed by mix-CDs, finally culminating in an immense iTunes playlist I pathetically titled, yup, Soul in the Middle of the Road, that grew to feature hundreds of songs. They ran the gamut from transcendent (some rivaling or surpassing the originals in terms of beauty) to horrible (oh man) to just straight-up bizarre (you’ll see).

As alluded to earlier, my main interest is in covers that were recorded during the same era as the originals, in or on the edges of the ’70s. These covers offer a direct nod to the ubiquity of the originals and capture the spirit of that swingin’ era in a way that is impossible for a latter-day cover to achieve (to me, anyway).

I now humbly offer you 30 of the finest, weirdest, and “what the holy hell was that” soul-infused covers of classics and beloved deep cuts from the sweet ‘n’ vast Soft Rock canon. Now I’m sure some of the artists I’m about to mention would bristle at having one of their works characterized as “Soft Rock,” but hey rock star, you made a Soft Rock song, so you know, that’s on you (also thank you, you sexy thing). At the end of the day, they should all feel grateful and flattered to have had their sweetest sounds so soulfully celebrated.

As for me, I hear love in every one of the covers that follow and genuinely hope you can too. Take it away, Tops

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Jul 242020
 

Full Albums features covers of every track off a classic album. Got an idea for a future pick? Leave a note in the comments!

CSNY

Crosby, Stills and Nash had already staked their claim as a bona fide supergroup courtesy their first release, cemented by their appearance in the Woodstock documentary. Of course, Neil Young had already joined the band by the time they got there, if mysteriously missing from the film in its initial iteration. His second gig, he appeared for the electric second part of the set. To me he always seemed their secret weapon. Old compadre and sparring partner of Stephen Stills in Buffalo Springfield, there was always the fear he could engineer the gig to being as big a draw in his own right as the trio he joined. Maybe he did; however much I loved the trio, they were always in a different league with Young’s fiery presence on board.

Deja Vu came out in 1970, after being put together in different studios and at different times, with only selections of the four featuring at any one time. All the vocals save “Woodstock” were recorded separately and then spliced together, amid much argument and revision. Young did everything on the half of the album he appears on all by himself, then took away the contributions of the others to mix as he saw fit. Completion took hours, days and weeks.

But it was all worth it. Somehow Deja Vu holds together cohesively, in no small part down to the rhythm section, the excellent Dallas Taylor and Greg Reeves. Certified gold within a fortnight, partly on the back of $2 million presales, it spent nearly two years in the Billboard chart, despite largely grudging and lackluster reviews. It still seems the pinnacle of their collective career, the only real instance wherein the deceitful artifice of any group collective manages fully to convince, melding individual directions with a combined corporacy.

Like most of our Full Cover posts, we have near-endless options for some songs and had to go scrounging for others – no trouble finding covers of “Teach Your Children,” but how many versions of “Everybody I Love You” have you heard? See what you think of the ten songs we pulled together here…
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May 122020
 

They Say It’s Your Birthday celebrates an artist’s big day with cover tributes to his or her songs. Let others do the work for a while. Happy birthday!

Steve Winwood turns 72 today, so we have quite a few candles to light. The multi-instrumentalist singer and songwriter has had so many different incarnations that surveying his career makes you dizzy. It’s not just that Winwood tried his hand at different genres, it’s that he helped define those genres. These things can happen when a gifted artist jumps in on the action early —Winwood was famous for his music by the age of 16—and then keeps evolving in ways that matter. Add to that some serious staying power, and you have an impressive career–one that is still going strong six decades in.

In fact, last year may have been Winwood’s best ever, in a funny way. DJ-producer Kygo remixed Whitney Houston’s cover of Winwood’s “Higher Love,” and released it digitally; the song now has about 350,000,000 hits on Spotify alone. More about that song later, but for now just imagine that a small number of Kygo’s followers are asking themselves, “Who wrote this?” What will they find, and like, once they go down the Winwood rabbit hole?
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Jun 142019
 
 crosby stills nash covers

Before Woodstock made them legends. Before the drugs took control. Before the rivalries, the breakups and the reunions. Before the memoirs, the biographies, the documentaries, and yet another breakup. Heck, before Neil Young joined the party. Before all that, there was simply Crosby, Stills & Nash.

Fifty years ago, in May 1969, the supergroup comprised of David Crosby, Stephen Stills, and Graham Nash released their self-titled debut album. It catapulted the three singers, all of whom had enjoyed success in other bands, into superstardom. As band biographer Peter Doggett put it, “They cut a debut album that caught the mood of the times.” In retrospect, the record could have been called Greatest Hits: Volume 1. The album contains numerous classics, including “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes,” “Helplessly Hoping,” “Marrakesh Express,” “Wooden Ships” and “Long Time Gone.”

Surprisingly, given this record and CSN’s place in rock history, the songs haven’t been covered that much. Secondhandsongs.com lists only 77 known covers of all the tracks on the album. By comparison, there are 208 covers of the tracks from Déjà Vu (that includes 86 versions of “Woodstock,” which was written by Joni Mitchell). Stills’ solo track “Love the One You’re With” has inspired 69 covers. These numbers do not provide a complete picture, as the site usually does not include music on YouTube or SoundCloud. But they give you an idea of just how few artists have decided to tackle these songs.

Still, we found some great covers by such luminaries as Stan Getz, Miles Davis, Richie Havens, and Trey Anastasio. There are also countless home recordings by guys and gals with acoustic guitars and one of best harmonizing bar bands you’ve never heard of. Let’s “set a course and go”…

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Apr 122018
 

In Pick Five, great artists pick five cover songs that matter to them.

juliana hatfield covers

Juliana Hatfield is an old hat at making an unlikely song her own. Earlier this year, she made both our Best Cover Songs of January and March roundups. A couple years before that, her version of “Needle in the Hay” was a high point of a Wes Anderson tribute album. A couple years before that, she released a terrific self-titled covers album of her own. I mean, how far back do we want to go here? Hell, she even made our Best Cover Songs of 1996 list! Suffice to say, she knows how to crush a great cover.

That’s why we were so excited to hear about Juliana Hatfield Sings Olivia Newton-John, which comes out tomorrow. It more than lives up to our high expectations. Hatfield takes on hits like “Physical” alongside plenty of deep cuts that prove this is not some gimmick; she’s a genuine fan. Continue reading »

Feb 162015
 

Sweet Judy “Blue Eyes” Collins is still majestic at 75.  Judy’s new release, Both Sides Now- The Very Best Of includes 28 beautiful original songs and interpretations of legendary songs. Her first single, “Helpless”, is a Neil Young cover, and a duet with Rachael Sage. Judy has called Neil Young a master songwriter. She has been connected to Neil and the rest of Crosby, Stills, and Nash for many years.  It’s her on-again off-again romance with Stephen Stills that inspired Stills to pen the lyrics “change my life, make it right, be my lady…” on “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes”.  This was a failed attempt to get Judy back in the late ’60s. But the song was a hit in 1969 and made Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of all Time. You can hear a Collins-Stills duet on the song “Last Thing on My Mind” (2010) on Both Sides Now.

Judy’s been an inspiration to musicians and politicians alike. Bill and Hillary Clinton named their daughter Chelsea after Judy’s rendition of Joni Mitchell’s Chelsea Hotel.

Judy has had her share of struggles; depression, alcoholism, bulimia, and the suicide of her son to name a few battles. She’s triumphed beautifully and is not at all helpless like the title of her first single.  Judy’s graceful collaboration with a very young, virtually unknown artist, Rachael Sage, on her first duet is a testament to her humble and true devotion to music.

 

To read more about Judy, click here.