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 other people singing his or her songs. Let others do the work for a while. Happy birthday!
This shouldn’t be as difficult as it turned out to be. A cover song birthday tribute to someone as talented as Jill Sobule, someone who has one of those songs that everybody seems to know, one that, in the benighted era of 1995, was considered a milestone in the mainstreaming of same-sex relationships (predating the famous Ellen kiss by a couple of years), should be a piece of (birthday) cake. Someone like that, with nearly a dozen studio releases and multiple soundtracks and compilation album appearances, should be pretty widely covered, making our job easier. Because that’s what we do here to commemorate artists’ birthdays — we write about cover versions of their songs. And yet, covers of Jill Sobule songs are surprisingly difficult to come by. I thought about asking for a dispensation from the Cover Me Powers That Be to write instead about Sobule’s covers of others, which are plentiful and interesting. But my pride refused to let me cave in, so after some hard work mining the Internet and wading through way too many YouTube videos of (mostly) young women sitting in their bedrooms strumming ukuleles or acoustic guitars into webcams (and an unfortunate number of covers of Katy Perry’s inferior copycat girl kissing song), I was fortunate to discover a few worthy covers for this piece.
In the Spotlight showcases a cross-section of an artist’s cover work. View past installments, then post suggestions for future picks in the comments!
Warren is a profoundly mysterious man, and I have learned not to argue with him, about hockey or anything else. —Hunter S. Thompson
The fact that Hunter S. Thompson was a friend of Warren Zevon’s really shouldn’t surprise anybody: his crazy songs of headless mercenaries and KGB waitresses sound like Fear and Loathing on vinyl. Starting out as a songwriter for groups such as the Turtles in the ’60s (he said that the B-side he wrote for “Happy Together” paid his rent for years), Zevon struggled with his own songwriting identity until releasing his Jackson Browne-produced eponymous album in 1976, and its follow-up, 1978’s Excitable Boy. Although never really recapturing the fire that those two albums kindled for him, he went on to have sporadic success between long bouts of drug and alcohol addiction, and became known for his rambunctious live shows attended by equally rambunctious fans.
Last night, at 10:45pm, the health care bill passed by a vote of 219-212. It’s been a hard fight and I think even the bill’s most ardent supporters will be glad to move on. The “debate” never recovered any sense of maturity after a particularly nasty summer, but hopefully once the dust settles the benefits will win out over the rhetoric.
Fatima Mansions – Lady Godiva’s Operation (The Velvet Underground) [Buy]
Hearing John Cale and Lou Reed go back and forth about this operation is enough to make one a Christian Scientist. You’re not sure if you’re in an E.R. or a torture chamber.
Soul Asylum – Sexual Healing (Marvin Gaye) [Buy]
This song came out in 1982, but for some reason the FDC still hasn’t approved sexual healing as a legitimate medicinal procedure. They must still be conducting tests…
Jeffries Fan Club – Healthy Body (Operation Ivy) [Buy]
Operation Ivy only released one proper album, but their songs have been covered by everyone from Green Day (“Knowledge”) to the Cherry Poppin’ Daddies (“Sound System”).
The Detroit Cobras – Insane Asylum (Koko Taylor and Willie Dixon) [Buy]
The Detroit Cobras are the best cover band around. It’s not even close. Who else would have inspired an entire blog devoted to unearthing the songs they cover?
Garland Jeffries – Washington D.C. Hospital Center Blues (Skip James) [Buy]
It’s not surprising that Skip James has only good things to say about hospitals. After all, his career was resuscitated in one when blues archivists John Fahey, Bill Barth and Henry Vestine came for a bedside visit in 1964. He died five years later, but not before being covered by Cream and performing at the Newport Folk Festival. [more delta blues covers]
Soda & His Million Piece Band – St. James Infirmary Blues (Trad.) [Buy]
This song is actually included on a White Stripes tribute album because of how often they performed it. Soda fills out the garage song with lowdown dirty horns and a duet with a girl who sounds like she might just be St. James herself. [more White Stripes covers]
Florence and the Machine – Hospital Beds (Cold War Kids) [Buy]
I called Florence and the Machine’s recent album Lungs the twelfth best album of 2009, but if they became a covers band I would have on complete. The Kids’ bloozy crunch gets an AED jolt from one of the most powerful voices in music today. [more Cold War Kids covers]
Hell Blues Choir – I Don’t Need No Doctor (Ray Charles) [Buy]
The great thing about Hell Blues Choir is how little they sound like a choir. We heard them swing through “Downtown Train” a few weeks ago, but “I Don’t Need No Doctor” sounds even less choral. It even has a guitar solo! [more Ray Charles covers]
Foetus in Excelsis Corruptus – Faith Healer (Sensational Alex Harvey Band) [Buy]
Foetus varied their name often throughout their career, taking on such unpleasant pseudonyms as You’ve Got Foetus on Your Break and Scraping Foetus off the Wheel. You get the sense they might have been on Rep. Bill Stupak’s side on the no-coverage-for-abortions issue.
Jill Sobule – Don’t Let Us Get Sick (Warren Zevon) [Buy]
This song breaks my heart every time. Warren Zevon had a lifelong phobia of doctors, avoiding checkups until it was too late. Even when he was diagnosed with cancer, he refused treatment, choosing instead to record one more album. The Wind was released on August 26, 2003. Warren died twelve days later. [more Warren Zevon covers]