Aug 042014

An expanded version of this article – with a new Lenny Kaye interview! – appears in my new book ‘Cover Me: The Stories Behind the Greatest Cover Songs of All Time’. Buy it at Amazon.

Before there was a song called “Gloria,” there was a poem called “Oath.” And the transition from one to the other might never have happened without forty bucks and one loud bass note.
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Jan 312014

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

The oft-covered Chuck Berry gem “Memphis, Tennessee” was never meant for stardom, taking a back seat to Berry’s “Back In The U.S.A,” which was the A to “Memphis”’s B on the 1959 single they shared. Chart success would eventually happen in England, where it was released as a double A-side with “Let It Rock” and climbed to #6 on the UK charts. With this history, it’s no surprise that a who’s-who of the British invasion has covered it – the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Animals, the Dave Clark Five, and The Hollies have all taken a stab, turning the trip through “Memphis” into a rite of passage.
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Mar 092013

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!

The history of rock is littered with stories of old soldiers who faded away after they were ousted from their bands. Pete Best, Glen Matlock, Henri Padovani – the list goes on. But one name that list will never include is John Cale’s. After leaving the Velvet Underground, he went on to produce the debut albums of the Stooges, the Modern Lovers, Patti Smith, and Squeeze; he’s played on works from Nick Drake to the Replacements to LCD Soundsystem; he’s released more than thirty albums, the most recent just six months ago; he knows his way around a cover, having performed exorcisms on “Memphis” and “Heartbreak Hotel” and created the template cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” Cale has completed his allotted threescore and ten; today he turns 71, and if his idiosyncratic past is any indication (and it is), we’ve good reason to expect more greatness from him in the years to come. Continue reading »

Nov 302011

Quickies rounds up new can’t-miss covers. Download ‘em below.

When L.A. punk band the Bronx formed side project Mariachi El Bronx, many assumed it was a gag. Two albums into their new mariachi-band career, they clearly aren’t joking. Their new Roy Orbison cover shows some serious Mexicali chops (though we still want to hear what a punk-Bronx cover of this would sound like).
MP3: Mariachi El Bronx – Only The Lonely (Roy Orbison cover) Continue reading »

Mar 182011

In Defense takes a second look at a much maligned cover artist or album and asks, “was it really as bad as all that?”

When the Watchmen movie came out in March 2009, my primary job consisted of owning and operating a comic book store. Because that film is based on one of the most acclaimed graphic novels of all time, the few weeks that followed its release saw me inundated with complaints about its content. The number one gripe: an overabundance of Dr. Manhattan’s junk. Number two: “Why did they play that corny ‘Hallelujah’ cover during the sex scene?”

As anyone familiar with that scene can attest, of course, Watchmen — in keeping with its mostly retro soundtrack — employed the original Leonard Cohen track from 1984’s Various Positions. In fact, that instance marks one of the only major uses of the original recording in a mass-media production. Thanks to Shrek, The O.C., X Factor and a host of others, though, the song’s become inescapable via its many covers. Jeff Buckley, Rufus Wainwright, k.d. lang and more have all had their say on this one. In a 2009 interview with Jian Ghomeshi of The Guardian, Cohen revealed that he’d felt sympathy for a review of Watchmen which asked for a moratorium of “Hallelujah” in popular culture. Quoth Cohen: “I think it’s a good song, but I think too many people sing it.” Continue reading »

Mar 182011

John Cale just turned 69 and several cover tributes have emerged to the legendary Velvet Undreground violist. Noah and the Whale covered Cale on his birthday, and Danish singer Agnes Obel did it a few months before that (but just released it for free in honor of the legend). Sadly, neither chose “The Man Who Couldn’t Afford to Orgy,” but the tunes they picked prove a lively, just-dissonant-enough tribute. Continue reading »