Over our time tracking cover songs (13 years this month!), we’ve written about hundreds of new tribute albums, across reviews, news stories, and, when they’re good enough, our best-of-the-year lists. We also have looked back on plenty of great tribute albums from the past in our Cover Classics series. But we’ve never pulled it all together – until now.
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!
Emily Saliers, of the folk duo Indigo Girls, turns 57 today. She and Amy Ray have enjoyed a long collaboration. They have known each other since elementary school and have been playing together since high school in 1985. Since then they have recorded 16 studio albums, including their most recent Look Look that they released in May.
As Karen Tongson writes in her Turning the Tables piece on the band’s influence: “To know if you are an Emily or an Amy is akin to declaring a strong preference for Wordsworth or Coleridge, as much as for Lennon or McCartney.” The pair write songs individually but then join together to perform, building albums with a mix of both of their songwriting styles and points of view. Despite never really becoming mainstream, these two as individuals and as part of their iconic duo have had a powerful impact on their fans and on the culture of music itself. Want to know more about their legacy? Check out the band’s Tumblr blog that documents the history of their work together.
As our contribution to Saliers’ birthday celebration, we’ll hear a cover by the Indigo Girls, covers of three Indigo Girls hits written by Saliers, and a cover of one of their particularly political collaborations.
Cover Classics takes a closer look at all-cover albums of the past, their genesis, and their legacy.
Deadicated is so much more than a great covers album; it’s a great album, period. But more, it also heralded the era for covers albums to be more than a leg up for aspiring musicians to get a grip on the slippery pole, by riding on the laurels of another more established act. This was one of the first tribute albums where the great and the good lined up to salute their peers.
But I’ll get back to that. My reasons for it attaining classic status stemming a whole lot more than from the fearsome reputation of the Dead. As a… well, whatever I was, I loved the idea of the Grateful Dead. But over here in Britain, there was no Deadhead culture as such. They came over, what, once? (Yup, Bickershaw Festival, 1972, as at least one contributor to the album knew only too well.) As an avid reader of New Musical Express and Melody Maker, the UK “inkies”, the musical press within whose hallowed pages they were ensured good copy, to me they were just the coolest dudes ever. I’d also read Tom Wolfe’s The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test and was smitten.
But where to start? In truth, I was daunted, happier to wear the T-shirt than buy the music. I didn’t want it spoilt by any risk of finding the idea to be less than the reality of the dream.
Luckily a trip to Orlando, circa 1987, solved that conundrum, around about the time of In the Dark. Of course, the big hit single helped, even if there were more filler tracks than killer tracks on the album. Clearly I hadn’t quite got that the Dead were more a live experience than a studio band. Still haven’t, really; to this day, listening to live records has never been a great immersive for me. But, praise be, I loved the studio records, snapping up the back catalog.
When Deadicated dropped in 1991, I bought it, unheard. The roster of artists included an impossible array of my favorites: Elvis Costello, Los Lobos, Suzanne Vega, Dr. John, Indigo Girls, Cowboy Junkies and more. Catnip and heaven combined. (Deadicated also served as a benefit for Rainforest Action Network, active to this day, a charity dedicated to the preservation of these vital once macro-climates, shrinking by the day through the scourge of deforestation.)
‘The Best Ever’ series counts down our favorite covers of great artists.
The first big film to to emerge in the post-Bohemian Rhapsody biopic boom is Rocketman. Compared to the Queen movie, critics like Rocketman better (somewhat), fact-checkers call it more accurate (somewhat), and LGBT advocates praise it for more honestly addressing the star’s sexuality (somewhat). Also – and hopefully this is unrelated – it has fared worse at the box office. Again, somewhat worse; it’s done fine, but does not seem to be the smash Bohemian Rhapsody was.
Unlike Queen, though, Elton John didn’t really need a mega-blockbuster to return to the public eye. He never left (after all, it’s hard to look away from clothes that sparkly). The farewell tour he launched last year will take him through 2020, and 2018 also saw two tribute albums featuring megawatt performers: from Lady Gaga to Ed Sheeran on the pop one, Miranda Lambert to Willie Nelson on the country one. For Elton, the Rocketman biopic is just the latest tribute in a career full of them.
And nowhere has tribute been paid more often than in the world of cover songs. From his second, self-titled album onward (no one covers songs off his 1969 debut), Elton’s songs have been covered constantly. Hell, Three Dog Night released their cover of that second album’s “Your Song” a month before John’s original even came out. Though artists inevitably gravitate towards the huge hits, John’s songbook boasts a long tail, with even some relative deep cuts generating classic covers. So this month we count down the thirty best Elton John covers ever.
Best so far, at least. At the rate he earns tributes, it won’t be long before the next batch lands.
‘The Best Ever’ series counts down our favorite covers of great artists.
Neil Young released his self-titled debut solo album on January 22, 1969. Well, technically he re-released it that day. It had initially landed without much fanfare the previous November, only for Young to quickly pull it from shelves due to what he deemed a subpar mix. Even in his professional infancy, decades before Pono and the Neil Young Archives, he was a stickler for quality control.
We hope this list would pass muster with him. At 50 songs, it’s our longest to date (tied only with The Rolling Stones) and still barely scratches the surface. We could have quite easily listed the best 50 covers of “Heart of Gold” or “Like a Hurricane” alone. He gets covered about as much as any songwriter alive, and about as well too.
Neil hasn’t slowed down in his own age, and neither has the flow of new covers. Some of the covers below came out near 50 years ago themselves. Others only landed in the last year or two. No doubt another contender will arrive tomorrow. Neil never stops, and, thankfully, neither do covers of his songs.
Ten years ago Brandi Carlile released her second album, The Story. Lovingly produced by T-Bone Burnett, The Story is heavy on relationships, heartbreak, and unrealized potential. Songs so beautiful they can float right on past unless you’ve recently fallen in or out of love or struggled with a complex friendship. But if your guard is down, your heart is broken, or your confidence rattled, The Story can be a powerful and cathartic experience. Last month we shared songs from Dolly Parton, Pearl Jam, and Adele, when we teased the latest War Child benefit project in which a hand-picked, all-star cast covers The Story in its entirety. That album, Cover Stories: Brandi Carlile Celebrates 10 Years of The Story-An Album to Benefit War Child, is released today.