Hüsker Dü’s sound helped define post-hardcore in the ‘80s – if they didn’t invent it outright – and, for better or worse, helped give birth to emo. Though pretty under-known, they were one of the most influential American “punk” bands of the ’80s. “The Girl Who Lives on Heaven Hill” is one of their poppier and more straight-forward numbers from their third album, New Day Rising. But much of its commercial appeal is sapped by the band’s rather um…let’s call it “deliberate,” production.
Others can offer more on Anthony Bourdain’s massive impact on the worlds of food, or travel, or recovery, or just living life to the fullest. But anyone who followed his work closely knew in additional to all that, he was a music superfan. He adored 1970s punk from his early days working in New York kitchens in particular; he wrote a must-read essay on that thirty years later for SPIN.
So we’re going to pay tribute the only way we know how: With covers of Bourdain’s favorite songs. Which we know from playlists he made over the years for Rolling Stone and KCRW. We hope he would have liked these covers of the soundtrack to his life.
In Pick Five, great artists pick five cover songs that matter to them.
Next year marks the fiftieth birthday of Robert Christgau’s “Consumer Guide” record reviews. His blurbs pioneered the idea of giving albums letter grades, and he’s graded thousands over the years. In the 2010s, though, he’s only awarded a coveted A+ four times. The recipients: A Tribe Called Quest, Laurie Anderson, Vampire Weekend, and… Wussy. As if that wasn’t high enough praise, in that Wussy review for 2014’s Attica! he dubs them “the best band in America.”
He’s not alone, either. This Ohio band, based around the duo of Chuck Cleaver (formerly of Ass Ponys) and Lisa Walker – middle and left in that top photo, respectively – has become a critics’ darling in recent years. Their new album What Heaven Is Like should only continue that trend. Billboard’s already called it “a concise 10-song meditation on hope and fear,” and it doesn’t come out until tomorrow.
Two of those ten songs are covers, the first time the band’s included any on a proper album. Not that most listeners will probably realize that they’re covers; these music superfans dig deep into the vaults, covering cult favorite folkie Kath Bloom’s “Oblivion” and 1970s garage rockers The Twinkeyz’ “Aliens in Our Midst.” Listen to the latter:
In Memoriam pays tribute to those who have left this world, and the songs they left us to remember them by.
Last week Grant Hart, who first won fame as the drummer for Hüsker Dü and went on to release music on his own and with Nova Mob, died of liver cancer at the age of 56. His bandmate Bob Mould, with who he shared a fractious but fruitful relationship, paid tribute by calling him “a gifted visual artist, a wonderful story teller, and a frighteningly talented musician. Everyone touched by his spirit will always remember.”
The list of those touched by Hart’s spirit number in the thousands upon thousands – not just the legions of fans who latched onto his songs back in the ’80s, but the musicians who were inspired enough by his work to cover it. What follows are some of those covers – and one cover of Hart’s.
Welcome to Cover Me Q&A, where we take your questions about cover songs and answer them to the best of our ability.
It’s been great writing and editing for Cover Me, not just because I like cover songs so much, but because it’s led me to discover so many great ones I never would have heard otherwise. My thanks to Ray for taking me on, and to all of you for reading what I have to say about my finds. Here are ten of them that I’ve made over the years, which all struck significant chords in my life for various reasons…
Follow all our Best of 2016 coverage (along with previous year-end lists) here.
2016 in music will be most remembered for one thing: death. It seemed like an unprecedented list of major musical figures left us this year: David Bowie, Prince, Merle Haggard, Leonard Cohen. The list, sadly, goes on and on.
Prominent passings affect many aspects of the music world, but the impact is particularly clear in the world of cover songs: When an artist dies, a lot of people cover his or her songs. The world was hardly hurting for Prince covers before April 21, but afterwards, to paraphrase the man himself, we went crazy. Bruce Springsteen alone became a one-man tribute machine, covering Bowie, Prince, The Eagles’ Glenn Frey, and Suicide’s Alan Vega after they died (it’s a shame his tour ended before Cohen passed because he’d do a great “Everybody Knows”). Our list this year features a number of these tribute covers – though both the Cohen covers listed were actually released before his death, proving there’s no need to wait to honor one of the greats.
Our list also features fantastic final covers by the recently departed, brilliant song-interpreters like Sharon Jones and Allen Toussaint. The fact that they died may add extra meaning to these new songs, but they’d make the list regardless. Whether they performed wonderful covers or wrote wonderful songs for others to cover, we miss these artists because they were great. They don’t need any “death bump.”
The year wasn’t all dire though. Our list features many covers by and of artists who are alive in every sense of the word. Kendrick Lamar and Drake represent the new world of hip-hop, Kacey Musgraves and Sturgill Simpson in country, Animal Collective and Joyce Manor in indie rock, and in too many other genres to name. Jason Isbell currently holds a streak here, making his third consecutive appearance this year.
We also have plenty of artists whose names I won’t highlight here, because you probably won’t have heard of them…yet. We’re not in the business of predicting fame – the music industry is far too fickle for that – but some of our past best-cover winners have gone on to big things this year, like Chance the Rapper (2014 winner) and The Weeknd (2012 winner). Hell, Sturgill (#3 in 2014) just got an Album of the Year Grammy nomination!
Those early covers may have helped kick off such success. A revelatory cover song can help a musician attract early attention. When I interviewed Mark Mothersbaugh recently, he said no one understood what Devo was doing until they covered “Satisfaction.” A familiar song done Devo-style finally made the connection for people. “Whip It” and other original hits would not be far behind.
Maybe some of this year’s under-the-radar names will go on to Weeknd-level superstardom. But even if they don’t, all these covers, by household names and Garageband geeks alike, deserve recognition. We’ll miss all the great musicians who left us this year, but it’s gratifying to see so many promising younger artists coming in to fill their shoes.
– Ray Padgett, Editor in Chief
(Illustration by Sarah Parkinson)
PS. Last year in this space, I mentioned I’m writing a book about cover songs. Well, Cover Me (the book, that is) is finished and will be out next year! In addition to the aforementioned Mothersbaugh, I interviewed Roger Daltrey about “Summertime Blues,” David Byrne about “Take Me to the River,” and many more. Follow our Facebook for updates on preorder, etc. Now, on to the countdown…