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!
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.
Last week, Donald Trump gave his headlining speech at the Republican National Convention. Right after, fireworks exploded over the Washington Monument, soundtracked by a cover of “Hallelujah.” A few minutes later, a second singer covered “Hallelujah” while the entire Trump family watched. Both covers were unauthorized, and Leonard Cohen’s estate quickly said they are exploring legal action. (It must also be said that the covers weren’t very good – you won’t find either one on this list.)
Though hardly a shining moment in the history of Cohen covers, this event speaks to the cultural ubiquity of his work, and of “Hallelujah” in particular. For an artist who never sold that many records, Cohen has become about as iconic as icons get. Humble to the end, he would no doubt object – politely, of course – to that statement. But it’s true. His songs transcend his albums, they transcend his performances, they even transcend Leonard Cohen himself.
There’s never a bad time to talk about Leonard Cohen covers, but they’ve really been on my mind the past couple years. Why? Because I’ve been writing an entire book on the subject, which is out today. It’s in the 33 1/3 series of small books on specific albums. The album I selected? The 1991 tribute album I’m Your Fan: The Songs of Leonard Cohen. Without it, you probably wouldn’t even know “Hallelujah”… but we’ll get to that later.
In the book, I explore not just that one tribute album, but the entire history of Leonard Cohen covers generally. It’s a long and fascinating story, but suffice to say here that Cohen wouldn’t have had anywhere near the reach he did without others covering his songs. Covers gave him his start – Judy Collins’s, in particular – and resurrected his career more than once.
There are far too many great Cohen covers to fit in a list like this (and our Patreon supporters will soon get a bonus list of 100 more of them). But we all dug deep to pull the highlights, both the best of the totemic covers as well as brilliant but lesser-known interpretations. The covers span his entire catalog too. Plenty of “Hallelujah”s, of course, and versions of the ’60s songs that made him famous, but also covers of deeper cuts from albums throughout his recording career, up to and including his very last. We hope you’ll discover some new favorites, and maybe be able to listen to the classics you already know in a fresh light.
Full Albums features covers of every track off a classic album. Got an idea for a future pick? Leave a note in the comments!
I should probably start this with a pop music true confession: the first Joni Mitchell album I ever bought and listened to in full was 1974’s Court And Spark, and the sole reason I purchased it was because I’d heard Prince, whom I was obsessed with (this was the early ’80s), say that he loved it and thought she was a genius (or something to that effect). Basically, if the person who made my #1 favorite album (Purple Rain) with my # 1 favorite song (“I Would Die 4 U”) loved her, there had to be a reason, and I needed to know what that reason was. I bought the album, and by the time I’d finished playing it, like most humans upon exposure to Joni, I’d been transformed into a complete devotee, snarfing up every album and playing them endlessly forever. That Prince, he knew what he was talking about. Continue reading »
Andrew Leahey & the Homestead – Lips Like Sugar (Echo and the Bunnymen cover)
Nashville Americana musician Andrew Leahey first heard “Lips Like Sugar” a couple years ago while touring through Texas. Dozing in the van, he woke up to a bandmate blasting the Echo and the Bunnymen hit. “I remember thinking, ‘I hope we don’t crash right now, because I absolutely need to learn how to play this,'” he said. “We’ve been playing it ever since.” He recorded it for his new album Airwaves, out tomorrow.
Bill Frisell and Thomas Morgan – You Only Live Twice (Nancy Sinatra cover)
Guitar great Bill Frisell first recorded the classic James Bond theme a couple years ago for his album (one of our favorites of that year). He revisits it now for a live album with bassist Thomas Morgan. Like any jazz musician worth his martini, Frisell changes and expands the Bond song the second time through. It’s barely recognizable much of the time, but would still be worth a spot on our Best Bond Covers list.Continue reading »
Emel Mathlouthi knows her cover songs. The Tunisian singer-songwriter, who first gained fame when a viral protest song got her dubbed the “Voice of the Arab Spring” (she performed at the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony – take that, Grammys), told us about her five favorite covers last year. She also, on pretty short notice, pulled together a rare “All Along the Watchtower” cover that sounds nothing like all the other “All Along the Watchtower” covers for my book party (no joke, friends still mention her performance to me two years later). But her newest cover may be her best yet. Certainly her most unrecognizable.
She’s sort of covered Jeff Buckley before, performing a pretty straightforward interpretation of his “Hallelujah” cover early in her career. But that finger-picked ballad wouldn’t prepare listeners for what she’s done to Buckley’s lesser-known song “New Year’s Prayer,” also called “Fall in Light.” Dark and electronic and storming, her cover, rechristened “Fallen,” sounds like Nine Inch Nails or Portishead. Anyone but Jeff Buckley.Continue reading »