May 272022
 

Rarely Covered looks at who’s mining the darkest, dustiest corners of iconic catalogs.

bob dylan 1990s

Today concludes our weeklong series celebrating the weirdos who skip over “Mr. Tambourine Man” and “Make You Feel My Love” to cover the strangest, oddest, most obscure songs in the vast Bob Dylan catalog.

We’re cramming a couple decades into this finale, for a simple reason. If you’ve been following along, you know the primary criteria for inclusion has been that the song hasn’t been released on an album. Well, recent years simply don’t have that many non-album tracks. And some of the best – “Huck’s Tune,” “Tell Ol’ Bill,” etc – haven’t ever been covered well. So we’re loosening the restrictions a little bit today, mixing covers of some recent-album deep cuts in with the usual oddities and outtakes. Continue reading »

May 132022
 

‘The Best Covers Ever’ series counts down our favorite covers of great artists.

stevie wonder covers

For some artists we look at for these lists, it seems like every time someone covered one their songs, it turned out pretty good. Leonard Cohen was like that; the quality of the average Cohen cover is fairly high. John Prine, too.

Stevie Wonder is not one of those artists.

It’s not his fault, or the fault of his songs, but his material often gets sucked into the same cocktail-jazz muck that fellow piano man Billy Joel’s does. Nothing wrong with that sort of lounge jazz-pop when done well – and there are a few times on this list when it is – but there’s a lot of mediocrity to wade through. Stevie’s performance and production skills are so sharp that, when placed in lesser hands, his songs can come off as sentimental shlock. All the “Isn’t She Lovely”s alone are so sugary sweet you feel like you’ll get diabetes.

But here’s the good news: Covers of Stevie Wonder’s songs are so ubiquitous that, even when you weed out the bad and the just-okay, you’re still left with plenty of greatness. The fifty below span funk, bluegrass, rock, hip-hop, jam band, jazz, and into galaxies beyond. So here they are, signed, sealed, and delivered to knock you off your feet.

P.S. Join our Patreon to get this entire list – and every other Best Covers Ever – in playlist and MP3 formats!

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Mar 302022
 

Full Albums features covers of every track off a classic album. Got an idea for a future pick? Leave a note in the comments!

On April 7, 1972, the Grateful Dead hit the stage at Wembley Empire Pool in London, kicking off a multi-city European tour. The 22-date outing would eventually be immortalized in the three-LP live album it spawned: Europe ‘72.

The tour has been chronicled heavily in band members’ memoirs, remembered for both its great musical output as well as its levels of unbridled debauchery, excessive even by the standards of the Dead. For the band at the time, the tour felt like a monumental undertaking that included both scores of people and mountains of gear. In A Long Strange Trip: The Inside History of the Grateful Dead, Dennis McNally cataloged everything that came along for the journey, which included: “seven musicians, ten crew, five staff, seventeen assorted friends, wives, girlfriends and children … They brought themselves and fifteen tons of instruments, a sound system, and a sixteen-track recording system which they would install in a truck as a mobile studio. There was also lighting gear and their first traveling lighting designer.”

That spring, the band’s lineup was in a state of evolution. It was their last tour to include founding member Ron “Pigpen” McKernan, who would pass away in 1973. The husband and wife duo, pianist Keith Godchaux and vocalist Donna, were firmly entrenched in the band. Mickey Hart was on hiatus after his father had stolen money from the band, leaving Bill Kreutzmann as the band’s lone drummer. Given both this blend of musicians and the high quality of the recording equipment, the shows have a unique sound that differs from other eras of the band’s music.

While many bands use live albums as an easy way of fulfilling their contract or rehashing their greatest hits, Europe ‘72 is very much a complete work in its own right. The 17-track, three record set contained practically a full album’s worth of new material mixed in with older tracks. There are six new songs that were never even included on any studio records, three previously unreleased covers and two instrumental jams. Given the album and tour’s popularity among Deadheads, in 2011 the band released a more exhaustive collection, Europe ‘72: The Complete Recordings, a 73-CD box set.

As Deadhead nation marks the album and tour’s 50th anniversary, we decided to put together our own form of celebration. Here’s a breakdown of live covers of every single track on the album.
Continue reading »

May 242021
 

‘The Best Covers Ever’ series counts down our favorite covers of great artists.

best bob dylan covers

When we began our Best Covers Ever series a little over three years ago, Bob Dylan was about the first artist who came to mind. But we held off. We needed to work our way up to it. So we started with smaller artists to get our feet wet. You know, up-and-comers like The Rolling Stones and Nirvana, Beyoncé and Pink Floyd, Madonna and Queen.

We kid, obviously, but there’s a kernel of truth there. All those artists have been covered a million times, but in none of their stories do cover songs loom quote as large as they do in Bob Dylan’s. Every time one of his songs has topped the charts, it’s been via a cover. Most of his best-known songs, from “All Along the Watchtower” to “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door,” didn’t get that way because of his recordings. In some cases fans of the songs don’t even realize they are Bob Dylan songs. That’s been happening since Peter, Paul, and Mary sang “Blowin’ in the Wind,” and it’s still happening almost sixty years later – just look at the number of YouTube videos titled “Make You Feel My Love (cover of Adele)”.

So needless to say, there was a lot of competition for this list. We finally narrowed it down to 100 covers – our biggest list ever, but still only a drop in the bucket of rain. Many of the most famous Dylan covers are on here. Many of them aren’t. The only criteria for inclusion was, whether iconic or obscure, whether the cover reinvented, reimagined, and reinterpreted a Dylan song in a new voice.

With a list like this, and maybe especially with this list in particular, there’s an incentive to jump straight to number one. If you need to do that to assuage your curiosity, fine. But then come back to the start. Even the 100th best Dylan cover is superlative. Making it on this list at all marks a hell of a feat considering the competition. (In fact, Patreon supporters will get several hundred bonus covers, the honorable mentions it killed us to cut.)

In a 2006 interview with Jonathan Lethem, Dylan himself put it well: “My old songs, they’ve got something—I agree, they’ve got something! I think my songs have been covered—maybe not as much as ‘White Christmas’ or ‘Stardust,’ but there’s a list of over 5,000 recordings. That’s a lot of people covering your songs, they must have something. If I was me, I’d cover my songs too.”

The list begins on Page 2.

Mar 022021
 

Five Good Covers presents five cross-genre reinterpretations of an oft-covered song.

Midnight Train to Georgia covers

If you live and die known for but one song, it better be a good one, and in “Midnight Train to Georgia” Jim Weatherly, who just died last month, wrote one of the best. The song is far and away best known in the iconic version by Gladys Knight. Never forgetting the Pips, for it is they who lift the song from merely great to transcendent. OK, the arrangement is pretty damn fine too, the orchestration and backing exuding all the desolation and disappointment of Amtrak by night. But it wasn’t always that way. Continue reading »

Sep 132019
 

Full Albums features covers of every track off a classic album. Got an idea for a future pick? Leave a note in the comments!

Oh Mercy

Oh Mercy characteristically pops up in lists of later Dylan records deemed decent. Sure, everything he produces is briefly heralded as a return to form – if, that is, he has written any of the songs, which takes away anything really recent – but a couple of listens and most are back down in the crate alongside Shot of Love and Planet Waves. But Oh Mercy has stuck, at least with me, arguably hindered no little by the typically crickets and crayfish production of Daniel Lanois. So, then, guess, how old is it? Ten, fifteen years? Nope. Thirty years. As in, THIRTY YEARS!!! How can that be, it’s half a life, well half mine, but, there you have it, it is.
Continue reading »