Just hearing the opening riff to Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car” has an instant calming effect. The lyrics kick in, and you’re on a joyful soft rock journey for the next five minutes. Or, in Jim O’Rourke‘s case, 33 minutes.
This cover by the experimental musician, recorded live in Japan in 2002, uploaded to YouTube in 2016, and brought into wider view by a in a Washington Post article last week, lulls you into a false sense of security. The classic riff starts us off, and it seems like it’s going to be a straightforward cover, but after a minute or so, the riff starts to be looped, just out of sync of the main melody. By six minutes, the loop has started to turn into a swelling drone, filling your ears and blocking out the rest of the world. By the half-way point of this 33-minute (!) track, the riff has disappeared, with a new droning tone and guitar melodies swirling around the space.Continue reading »
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…
Today is Bob Dylan’s 75th birthday and, if you follow us on social media (or just about any other music site), you know last week was the 50th birthday of his iconic album Blonde on Blonde. To celebrate, Mojo magazine’s new issue contains a tribute CD with covers of every song. Hear a selection of highlights below.Continue reading »
Full Albums features covers of every track off a classic album. Got an idea for a future pick? Leave a note in the comments!
Writing about Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot seems a little like eating at a buffet right before closing. There may be a few good things left, but it is pretty well picked over, and what’s left has lost its flavor. Few rock albums of the past 20 years have been discussed and analyzed as much as YHF. Yet we proceed, undaunted, because what we do is different. And maybe, just maybe, listening to a full set of covers of each song of this great album will allow you to hear it anew. Because you never know when the buffet is going to get restocked with something fresh. Continue reading »
Over the past three decades, Bill Fay was, as he refers to it now, “deleted.” His albums went out-of-print; his music was forgotten by the very few who knew it in the first place, and his legacy seemed destined for the 25-cent bargain bin.
It’s a good narrative, and it’s mostly true. One group, though, never forgot Fay. Like-minded musicians twenty years his junior carried the torch throughout his absence with covers and shout-outs. Jeff Tweedy and Wilco led the pack, covering “Be Not so Fearful” in concert regularly over the years, even once dragging the reclusive Fay himself onstage. Pavement’s Stephen Malkmus titled a song “Bill Fay” (though he later changed it to “Share the Red”).Continue reading »