Manchester is on a roll. Manchester City is the best football team in Europe, and probably the planet. In addition to sport, music plays a central role in Manchester’s vibrant recovery. On a recent weekend, fans sang along at separate stadium gigs from Coldplay and Arctic Monkeys. Sir Elton John had an arena farewell on. Cover Me fans might have been at Scary Pockets‘ triumphant first visit to the city. Next year, a concert venue with input from Bruce Springsteen and Harry Styles aims to be the best venue in the UK for acoustics and attendee experience. Manchester icon, and City Fan, Noel Gallagher’s visit to The Radio 2 Piano Room to pay homage to one of the city’s most treasured songs had potential, at least.
The Flowers of Hell – Atmosphere (Joy Division cover)
Toronto-London ensemble The Flowers of Hell first released this cover on their 2012 orchestral-pop covers album Odes, but, in honor of its first vinyl release on Record Store Day, it got a new music video. If you missed this wonderful Joy Division cover the first time around, it’s a perfect time to catch up. There’s a new “Calling Occupants Of Interplanetary Craft” video too.
The big story in 2022 covers came from a song that’s almost 40 years old: “Running Up That Hill (A Deal with God).” After Kate Bush’s classic had its Stranger Things moment, every week we got a half dozen new covers. It’s been six months since the show came out, and they’re still coming! This entire list could have been “Running Up That Hill” covers if we’d let it.
We didn’t, and it isn’t. The song makes one appearance, as do a number of other trendy 2022 items: Wet Leg, GAYLE, and Beabadoobee; the latest Cat Power covers project; posthumous releases (Dr. John, Levon Helm); songs that tie into coming out of pandemic isolation.
But, as always, a joy of our list is all the covers that tie into nothing, and that you won’t find anywhere else. Doom-metal Townes Van Zandt? Bluegrass Eminem? Ska Eddie Murphy? Folk Björk? Psych-rock Groucho Marx? Those are just five of the fifty killer covers on this year’s countdown. So run up that road, run up that hill, run up that building, and read on at the link below.
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!
This post is not about the Ukrainians forced by circumstance onto the world’s stage. All our hearts bleed both for them and their country, subject to the cruelest and vilest of misjudgments, victims of Putin seeking to leave his mark. But it is closely related, being about the Ukrainians, the Leeds, UK-based band, who have been touting their postpunk take on the folk music of the mother country of founder/guitarist Pete Solowka for nigh on thirty years. And a whole lot more than just the folk music of Ukraine, as covers of their musical cohorts and influences, performed in a Cossack/Slavic style, all stentorian voices and balalaikas, also feature large in their repertoire.
Originally, and sometimes contemporaneously, Solowka has been a member of the Wedding Present, and it was that band that sparked the idea into ignition. When venerable and iconic DJ John Peel asked them to perform a session on his long running evening radio show, the Wedding Present decided to perform in the Solowka family language. They played “Hopa,” a traditional song the guitarist had been brought up listening to and singing along with.
Given the favorable reception, and with Solowka’s own grasp of the language not being up to it, they seconded in the presence of Len Liggins–or, to give him his full name, the legendary Len Liggins, a Russian (and Ukrainian) scholar, fluent in each language and a dab on the fiddle besides. This too went down well with the listeners, bar one Roman Romeynes, just possibly not his real name, a musician from another Leeds band, who jested they were taking the proverbial and bastardizing the tradition. So who better to then enroll, this offshoot now having a life of its own, spinning free from the Wedding Present. (The band had sacked Solowka; he said this was due to the greater acclaim given this experiment than the parent band.)
That groundbreaking 1989 Peel session, and the later sessions that followed, all eventually became available in recorded form, with 1991 seeing the debut release by the now-official band, with both band and release being named The Ukrainians. When Romeynes left shortly afterwards, the band consolidated as a more regular unit, leaving the Wedding Present linkage shattered behind them.
They initially found an appropriate home on the maverick and left field record label Cooking Vinyl, home also of Jackie Leven and Oysterband. After making a further pair or so of albums with that label, they started their own label Zirka, through Proper. They have been relatively prolific, with three further studio albums of (largely) original material, two live recordings, a covers compendium (which we reviewed here), and a glut of EP and singles. These have encompassed further covers, including of traditional Ukrainian folk songs, as well as all sorts of idiosyncratic songs drawn from sources as unlikely as varied. All transcribed into their well-worn mix of fiddle, accordion and balalaikas, accompanied by crashing bass, resounding guitars and pounding drums.
Perhaps classifiable as a niche taste at home, they have become superstars in the eastern European diaspora, not least Ukraine itself. Under the cataclysmic events of the the past six or so weeks, the band have decided they cannot stand idly by, and have launched a tour, all monies going in support of the refugee crisis.
Let’s look at some of their covers….
Butcher Brown ft. Alex Isley – Best Friend (Brandy cover)
Virginia jazz collective Butcher Brown throws it back to ’90s R&B with this cover of Brandy’s 1994 slow jam “Best Friend.” Though it’s a little out of their usual wheelhouse – for one, it has a singer, Ernie Isley’s daughter no less – they ably blend their own leanings with the retro soul-pop feel. If you like this, don’t miss their rooftop NPR Tiny Desk Concert.
Kate Clover – These Boots Are Made for Walkin’ (Nancy Sinatra cover)
“If Suicide produced a Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazelwood song” is a hell of a tag line, and Kate Clover’s “These Boots” delivers on that premise. The menacing guitar seems pulled straight from “Frankie Teardrop,” while Clover’s vocals channel Sinatra’s swagger. Bonus points for the fun Twin Peaks-esque video.
For non-fans, “Love Will Tear Us Apart” is the only Joy Division song. Released well after lead singer Ian Curtis’ suicide, it was their first single to make the main UK chart and any US chart and so it is, for most people, Joy Division’s one hit. (Unless you live in New Zealand.) Fairly uncharacteristic of their sound (it sounds more like New Order), its success is the kind of thing that annoys fans of influential cult bands who have one mainstream hit. But it’s their hit and so it is Joy Division’s most-covered song many times over.