Jul 162021
 

Dave McMurrayCovering the Dead means a whole lot more than just playing the tunes; to give their songs credibility, there also needs to be a recreation of their spirit. That Dave McMurray has it in spades is immediately apparent from the first few bars of “Fire on the Mountain,” the opening track on his new album Grateful Deadication. That faithful dancing-bear swagger, halfway between a lope and a canter, is indubitably present, correct and reporting for duty. Few bands have such an unmistakable footprint, and to reproduce that–and with your own voice, yet–is little short of remarkable.

McMurray’s “voice” is his saxophone, predominately tenor, and a thing of beauty it is, as is Grateful Deadication as a whole. McMurray is the real deal, a dyed in the wool jazzman with a long and parallel career in sessions; it is his sax on records as diverse as the Stones’ Voodoo Lounge and Brian Wilson’s I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times.

Remarkably, he had never really heard the Dead and their music until a chance encounter with Bob Weir, leading to his playing alongside him and the Wolf Bros at 2019’s Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival. Intrigued by the odd chord structures and quirky time signatures that litter the songs of the Dead, Mcmurray immersed himself in their back catalog. He found he was able to fully get into their music, and to appreciate its closeness to the jazz of artists he had greater awareness of–Miles Davis, Weather Report, even Soft Machine.

This, in turn, led to Grateful Deadication, which features his own regular sidemen as well as cameos from Bettye LaVette and Weir, and is his second album for acclaimed jazz label Blue Note. (His first, Music Is Life, featured a cover of the White Stripe’s “Seven Nation Army.”)
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Jul 022021
 

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

girl group covers

The matching outfits. The perfectly coiffed hair. The synchronized finger-snapping. The beautiful faces. And, of course, the angelic voices. Just saying the phrase “Girl Groups” conjures images of these well-styled ladies from the past singing their hearts out, dreaming of those young boys they hoped to marry.

Many of the group names are legendary. The Supremes, The Ronettes, The Crystals, The Shirelles, and Martha and the Vandellas have been fixtures of “oldies” format radio for decades. Leading these groups were great frontwomen like Diana Ross, Ronnie Spector, and Martha Reeves, as well as Darlene Love, who sang for multiple groups unbeknownst to the record buying public. There were also countless ladies who did not become household names, such as Arlene Smith, lead singer of the Chantels, who belted out the group’s classic “Maybe.”

For the purposes of this list, we decided to focus on the period known as the “Golden Age of Girl Groups.” Though we’re calling it ’60s in the headline, it really spanned from roughly 1955 to 1970. In this era, the music was transported from the street corners and dance halls to the radio, which broadcast it into living rooms across the country. The songs blended elements of doo-wop, early rock ‘n’ roll, pop, gospel, and rhythm & blues. When melded together, it created a sound as fresh and new as the 45s and transistor radios that blasted out the music.

Most of the best-known girl groups were women of color (with a few notable exceptions, such as the Shangri-Las). These women not only topped the charts, they broke down barriers as they helped to integrate segregated audiences across the country, including the Deep South.

Behind the scenes were equally legendary songwriters, musicians and producers. You know their names, too: tunesmiths such as Carole King and Gerry Goffin, and the Motown song and production trio Holland/Dozier/Holland (Lamont Dozier and brothers Brian and Eddie Holland).

Such a shiny veneer had a dark side, though, in the form of the notorious Phil Spector. He was a brilliant producer who presided over many of the era’s biggest hits, but he was also a truly terrible human being who physically and emotionally abused his charges, including his ex-wife Ronnie Spector. He would eventually be convicted of murder and died in prison earlier this year.

The music has continued to inspire covers by both male and female artists – or boys and girls, in the parlance of the genre. Our list features covers by everyone from Aerosmith to Amy Winehouse, the Beatles to Bananarama (a girl group of another era), as well as ska bands, punk bands, indie bands, and countless Rock and Roll Hall of Famers who have covered tracks from the era.

That’s probably because the songs were so darn powerful. Love songs that captured the ecstasy and agony of teenage emotions like “Will You Love Me Tomorrow,” “Please Mr. Postman” and “You Can’t Hurry Love.” Party favorites such as “Dancing in the Streets” and “Heat Wave.” And songs that dealt with more complex social issues such as “Love Child,” and the disturbing “He Hit Me (And It Felt Like a Kiss).” Such great songs inspire great artists to record fantastic covers. Here’s a selection of our favorites.

– Curtis Zimmermann

The list begins on Page 2.

Jun 302021
 
best cover songs of june
Adia Victoria – On and On (Erykah Badu cover)

Adia Victoria recorded this powerful Badu cover for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. She said of the time she discovered the song, “I was looking for something that was bigger and deeper and felt more warm than the idea of a Christian God. And I dove into my imagination. And the first time I heard ‘on and on’ it felt like Erykah Badu was waiting for me to be her there.” Continue reading »

May 282021
 
bombay bicycle club terrapin station

The title track of the Grateful Dead’s 1977 album Terrapin Station is arguably the group’s most intricate studio creation. Clocking in at 16 minutes, the song blends elements of folk, prog rock, baroque music and jazz, along with extensive percussion tracks and a classical symphonic and chorale finale. The multi-part odyssey features a level of studio precision that the band could never replicate on stage, which may explain why they never played the track in its entirety in concert. Continue reading »

May 242021
 

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

best bob dylan covers

When we began our Best Covers Ever series a little over three years ago, Bob Dylan was about the first artist who came to mind. But we held off. We needed to work our way up to it. So we started with smaller artists to get our feet wet. You know, up-and-comers like The Rolling Stones and Nirvana, Beyoncé and Pink Floyd, Madonna and Queen.

We kid, obviously, but there’s a kernel of truth there. All those artists have been covered a million times, but in none of their stories do cover songs loom quote as large as they do in Bob Dylan’s. Every time one of his songs has topped the charts, it’s been via a cover. Most of his best-known songs, from “All Along the Watchtower” to “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door,” didn’t get that way because of his recordings. In some cases fans of the songs don’t even realize they are Bob Dylan songs. That’s been happening since Peter, Paul, and Mary sang “Blowin’ in the Wind,” and it’s still happening almost sixty years later – just look at the number of YouTube videos titled “Make You Feel My Love (cover of Adele)”.

So needless to say, there was a lot of competition for this list. We finally narrowed it down to 100 covers – our biggest list ever, but still only a drop in the bucket of rain. Many of the most famous Dylan covers are on here. Many of them aren’t. The only criteria for inclusion was, whether iconic or obscure, whether the cover reinvented, reimagined, and reinterpreted a Dylan song in a new voice.

With a list like this, and maybe especially with this list in particular, there’s an incentive to jump straight to number one. If you need to do that to assuage your curiosity, fine. But then come back to the start. Even the 100th best Dylan cover is superlative. Making it on this list at all marks a hell of a feat considering the competition. (In fact, Patreon supporters will get several hundred bonus covers, the honorable mentions it killed us to cut.)

In a 2006 interview with Jonathan Lethem, Dylan himself put it well: “My old songs, they’ve got something—I agree, they’ve got something! I think my songs have been covered—maybe not as much as ‘White Christmas’ or ‘Stardust,’ but there’s a list of over 5,000 recordings. That’s a lot of people covering your songs, they must have something. If I was me, I’d cover my songs too.”

The list begins on Page 2.

Apr 192021
 

That’s A Cover? explores cover songs that you may have thought were originals.

Tom Dooley

Yes, “Tom Dooley” is a cover song. Should this even be a surprise, given its age? But even the oldest version you can think of is unlikely to be the original. Were you to ask me, a stripling of a lad, the version I presume to be the original is always going to be the Kingston Trio 1958 chartbuster. As I was 1 at the time, I have this knowledge only on the good authority of my ex, who sang it to me whilst courting, it having been sung to her by her mother as she lay in her cot. Indeed, whenever the song was prompted to her by her daughter, my mother in law was, and probably still is, capable of piping up into a few verses.

Younger readers have maybe had to make do with more recent renditions, Mr. Dooley surprisingly still having wings, popping up all over, and not always where and from whom you would expect. I say this as it is, let’s be fair, pretty limp fare. Cutting edge, perhaps, in 1958, but maybe not the trigger to awake the inspiration of the icons of the ’60s folk explosion, you know, Bob Dylan and that sort of artist. Well, we’ll see….
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