Apr 052024
 

Cover Classics takes a closer look at all-cover albums of the past, their genesis, and their legacy.

Labour of Love

I’m on a bit of a Nick Lowe bender at present, provoked by a question I was asked around how many versions there are of the timeless glory of (“What’s So Funny About) Peace, Love and Understanding.” (A: 70, as a bare minimum, and counting.) And no, here on this page, surely I don’t have to explain that isn’t him covering Elvis Costello, do I? Take it from us.

Lowe has had a curious career, currently riding the wave of celebrated elder statesman, something that, at one time, seemed inconceivable. Indeed, pub-rock was never deigned or designed to build legendary status, being more about a rowdy night out, three-minute songs and sticky carpets. For pub-rock is where he emerged first, that early ’70s response to the prevailing mood of the music of the day, then all sprawling epics, awash with endless lookatme solos and preening prima donna frontmen, more in touch with their accountants than their audience. Pub rock was fun and uplifting, by people that looked like you, for people that looked like you, a good time, recycling the best of rock and roll, rhythm and blues, country and soul. Solos were for sissies and the chorus was king.

Brinsley Schwarz, the band, had a shaky start fifty-four years ago today, but they picked themselves up and dusted themselves down. Songs and haircuts shortened, they joined a joyous circuit of largely London pubs, along with Dr. Feelgood, Ducks Deluxe, Chilli Willi and the Red Hot Peppers and many more. Predating punk by a year or three, the enthusiasm and excitement was the same, if garbed with a touch more experience and age. Nick Lowe was bassist, lead singer and main songwriter for Brinsley Schwarz, and they made a good run for themselves before splitting. Schwarz, the guitarist who gave his name to the name of the group, hooked up with Graham Parker and was the linchpin of his band, The Rumour, whilst Lowe joined forces with Welsh retro-rock guitar man Dave Edmunds to form Rockpile.

The Rockpile years saw a stellar uplift in Lowe’s writing. Whilst his influences remained obvious, his magpie tendencies with a melody were less overt, and the run of records, whilst short, was wonderful. (Rockpile, the band, only really made one record, but Edmunds and Lowe’s solo albums were Rockpile records in everything but name, as was, arguably, Musical Shapes, an album by Lowe’s then-wife Carlene Carter.) As that band subsided, so Lowe advanced on a solo career, with more acclaim than sales.

The story goes that, down on his luck and thinking of jacking it all in, plop, a letter arrived in his mailbox. Unbeknownst to him, a cover of “Peace, Love and Understanding” had been picked up for a film. Curtis Stigers, in case you didn’t know.) And when that film is The Bodyguard, with Whitney Houston and Kevin Costner, a massive worldwide hit, with the soundtrack album going likewise global, the royalties on that one song were rather more than just an unexpected bonus, effectively paving the way for his career to continue.

Since then, Lowe has continued to ply his idiosyncratic path, with almost deliberately unfashionable songs of self-deprecation and sly humor, allied to melodies culled from musical styles seldom at any cutting edge, becoming a UK national treasure. His production work, with early Elvis Costello and the Pretenders, has also planted a reputation for a sound yet simple approach, where the melody is master, the surroundings there merely to reflect the song rather than to divert attention elsewhere. Content to follow his own muse, he is as likely to play live in a solo setting, just his voice and an acoustic guitar, rattling through his “hits,” as to turn up with oddball Tex-Mex rockabilly renegades Los Straitjackets, who have become an unofficially regular backing group for him.

Labour of Love is one of at least three Lowe tributes, there having been also Lowe Profile, featuring the likes of Dave Alvin and old Brinsley’s bandmate, Ian Gomm, and Lowe Country, with Amanda Shires, Ron Sexsmith and Chatham County Line, amongst others. I could have featured any of the trio, but collectively, I think this tops the other two. Curated by L.A. power popper Walter Clevenger, himself in thrall to the styles embraced by Lowe, and to the singer himself, this 2001 double disc captures most of Lowe’s moods and re-presents them in the hands of his peers, the affection often palpably obvious.

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Feb 192021
 

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!

birthday

Hi, I’m Patrick Robbins, the features editor here at Cover Me, and today’s my birthday. Please forgive the self-indulgence of a one-year-older guy for putting up a post that’s about me.

2021 is kind of a big year for me. Not only am I having one of those milestone birthdays – you know, one of those ones that ends in a zero – I’m also having a milestone anniversary. This year marks ten years since I joined the Cover Me staff. In all that time, I’ve gotten off a few good lines here and there (my favorite: a song had “more hooks than Moulty’s closet”), but far more importantly, I’ve found some great covers that I never would have discovered if I hadn’t been looking for them to share and talk about here.

So, as a little birthday present from me to you, I thought I’d pick out some of my favorite discoveries I’ve made over the years. What follows are some of my all-time favorite covers that I found specifically for Cover Me posts (as opposed to covers I already knew about), and links to the pieces in which I originally wrote about them. There’s a lot of songs here, but they’re only about one percent of the songs I’ve written about. So think of these as the cream of my cover crop.

Thanks to all of you for reading Cover Me – without you, this post wouldn’t exist – and here’s to many more birthdays and anniversaries to come.

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Sep 232019
 

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

bruce springsteen covers

To quote a Bruce song, this list has been a long time comin’. After all, twelve years ago we borrowed one of his song titles to name this site (a song that, surprisingly, doesn’t actually get covered very often). And over those twelve years, we’ve posted hundreds, maybe thousands, of Bruce covers: “Full Albums” tributes to Born in the U.S.A., Darkness at the Edge of Town, and Tunnel of Love; tributes to the tributes, honoring several classic Boss tribute records; a spotlight on the best “Born to Run” covers; and a million news posts. It’s time to pull it all together.

Appropriately enough for a man whose concerts routinely top three hours, this list is long. Fifty covers long, and even then we still found ourselves left with dozens of killer bonus tracks for our Patreon supporters. The hits are all here, of course, but Bruce’s catalog runs deep. This list includes many covers of lesser-known cuts and more recent songs – even one from his just-released solo album Western Stars. Though he turns 70 today, the man is not slowing down, and neither are the artists paying tribute to him. As Bruce famously sang, he learned more from a three-minute record than ever learned in school. Well, here are fifty artists who learned something from his three-minute records.

The list starts on Page 2.

Nov 012018
 

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

best nirvana covers

Nirvana released its first single 30 years ago today. Well, today-ish. That single was the first installment in the now-legendary Sub Pop Singles Club, so I imagine its “release date” was whatever day it landed in the mailbox for the 1,000 lucky people who got it (you can get it too, but you’ll have to drop $3,300 on Discogs).

And what was that very first Nirvana single? Whaddya know, it was a cover! The band launched their recording careers with “Love Buzz,” originally by Dutch psychedelic-rockers Shocking Blue. Not the most obvious start for the most iconic band of the ’90s (apparently it was Krist’s idea). Already a staple of their raucous live show, “Love Buzz” did represent, according to Sub Pop founder Bruce Pavitt, “an indicator of some of their direction in songwriting.”

Three decades on, that songwriting has generated a few covers of its own. “Smells Like Teen Spirit” has of course been covered thousands of times, but some other Nirvana songs aren’t as far behind as you might think. “Lithium,” “Come As You Are,” and “In Bloom” remain perennial cover selections, and “Territorial Pissings” seems surprisingly popular. (“Rape Me,” not so much.) Heck, half the artists we hear covering David Bowie’s “The Man Who Sold the World” or Leadbelly’s “In the Pines” seem to really be covering Nirvana’s MTV Unplugged versions.

So today, we continue our Best Covers Ever series by whittling down the moshing masses of Nirvana covers to the best thirty. Here we are now. Entertain us!

Honorable Mention: Nirvana – Lithium

No, not that Nirvana. The 1960s British band of the same name covered “Lithium” when they reunited in the 1990s. A cute nod, made less cute when you realize this older group had sued over the grunge band’s use of the name only a few years prior (Sub Pop reportedly had to pay them $100,000). At any rate, this Nirvana’s cover is not that good, but this psych-pop spin on “Lithium” perhaps paved the way for a much better version in the same vein a few years later. But we’ll get there… Continue reading »

Oct 302015
 

Cover Classics takes a closer look at all-cover albums of the past, their genesis, and their legacy.

Light_of_Day

Bruce Springsteen may not be rock ‘n’ roll’s future anymore, but he’s been so prolific – by 1998, three-quarters of his catalog consisted of unreleased songs – that we could very well see new albums coming out from him long after he’s gone. That abundance of gifts he’s given have not only made him a natural for the tribute album treatment, they’ve also given the covering artists a lot to work with – top-ten hits stand shoulder to shoulder with the barely bootlegged, and with no loss in song quality. The 2003 tribute album Light of Day: A Tribute to Bruce Springsteen showcased the breadth of Springsteen’s catalog – two and a half hours long, holding over three dozen songs – just as surely as it showcased the depth of his songwriting.
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Nov 182014
 

They Say It’s Your Birthday celebrates an artist’s special day with other people singing his or her songs. Let others do the work for a while. Happy birthday!

In the 1950s and 1960s, the concept of the “angry young man” took hold in Britain; they had a lot to be angry about in the bleak, post-war period. The resentment of the lower and middle classes about issues of income inequality, upper class privilege, and the lack of consumer goods led to a remarkable outpouring of socially conscious theater, books, movies, and (most important for our purposes) music.
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