Anyone who was paying attention to cover songs a decade ago will remember The A.V. Club’s “Undercover” series. In the vein of the BBC Live Lounge and Triple J Like a Version, the entertainment web site would bring bands into their Chicago offices to cover a song. The concept, though, was the site started with a masters list of songs and the band had to pick one. The later they came in, the fewer song choices remained. It went on for years and the covers were ubiquitous (we must have posted a million of ’em). Practically every indie band of the era stopped by (many several times), and they often delivered something great.
“Covering the Hits” looks at covers of a randomly-selected #1 hit from the past sixty-odd years.
Few embraced their one-hit wonder status as enthusiastically as New Orleans R&B singer Ernie K-Doe. “Mother in Law” went to number one in 1961 – the first ever chart-topper out of New Orleans – and he never again came close. Eventually, he stopped trying, and leaned into it. With the help of his wife, he founded the live music venue Mother-in-Law Lounge in New Orleans. He would perform there regularly – and if people wanted to hear “Mother in Law” a whole bunch of times during one set, he’d play it a whole bunch of times during one set!
Back in 1961, the song became a standard almost immediately upon release. That didn’t help Ernie all that much, though; he didn’t write it. The great Allen Toussaint did, but he considered it a throwaway – so much so that he literally threw it away, before a backing singer rescued it from the trashcan and handed to K-Doe. Here’s a video of K-Doe performing with the song’s writer on piano in the ’90s (starts at the ten-minute mark):
“Mother in Law” has been covered hundreds of times (maybe thousands if you count cheeky wedding bands). Here are some of the high points…
The heart of rock n’ roll is still beating in 2020, at least if Huey Lewis and the News have anything to do with it. The famed ‘80s stars, who once ruled MTV with their blend of retro rock, new wave and soul, recently released their first new album in a decade – Weather. Among the original recordings, the group included a cover of one seemingly forgotten hit, Eugene Church’s “Pretty Girls Everywhere.”
To determine just how obscure the track is, I consulted a leading authority on ‘50s pop: my Dad. He remembered the song itself, could even sing the chorus, but had no idea who sang it.
Five Good Covers presents five cross-genre reinterpretations of an oft-covered song.
The movie Ghostbusters has never been without controversy. Dan Aykroyd’s original premise, featuring himself and John Belushi, was seen as financially prohibitive, and was sent back for a re-write. Casting issue abounded. The studio doubted it would make its money back. (Spoiler alert: it did.) The very idea of the 2016 reboot was met with derision, and the reboot itself fell far short of its financial goals. On a somewhat higher profile, the band that director Ivan Reitman wanted to provide songs for key segments, Huey Lewis and the News, turned the job down. Reitman finally tapped Detroit guitarist Ray Parker, Jr., a former session musician who had found commercial success with his band Raydio, to come up with a theme song. That theme, while a massive hit (three weeks at Number One on the Billboard Hot 100), provided further controversy, as Huey Lewis later sued Parker, claiming the Ghostbusters theme was plagiarized from his song “I want a New Drug.”
The case was settled out of court, but the controversy didn’t end there. Several years later, Ray Parker Jr. sued Huey Lewis for violating the original settlement’s non-disclosure agreement by discussing it on VH1’s show Behind the Music.
None of this drama should, nor does, detract from the song itself. The Ghostbusters theme is easily one of the most popular, hook-filled, memorable movie themes of all time, and it’s a Halloween staple at parties and on the radio. Popularity, of course, invites imitation; secondhandsongs.com identifies about 40 cover versions, from artists as disparate as David Essex and Andrew Gold to the Leningrad Cowboys. There are lots of note-for-note recreations, and many that reflect the style of the performer. Here are five of them, in no particular order, each bringing something a little bit different to the party.
Mark Kozelek is no stranger to finding the gourmet meal in what others might consider fast food. A prolific songwriter whose own tunes have gotten progressively less melodic and lyrics have gotten more and more literal, Kozelek has not lost his touch in turning rock songs into acoustic vignettes. Here, he takes the Huey Lewis and the News 1985 pop rock song “The Power of Love” and, with the help of singer/violinist Petra Haden, he finds the beauty at its core.
Wrapping up a 2018 that saw him release the critically acclaimed album Tell It To The Judge and open for Spoon at Nashville’s iconic Ryman Auditorium, Austin singer-songwriter Walker Lukens recently played a concert for local radio station KUTX. Before the show, the station polled their listeners on what song Walker and The Side Arms should cover. The Huey Lewis and the News hit “I Want a New Drug” was the clear audience favorite, winning over Fiona Apple’s “Sleep to Dream,” “Cinnamon Girl,” “What’s Love Got To Do With It,” and “Crazy in Love.”