Apr 012022
 

Cover Genres takes a look at cover songs in a very specific musical style.

Boston

Yes, you read that right, Arena Rock. Okay, class, settle down.

The term “Arena Rock” is both a straightforward musical description and an insult. On the one hand, it is a genre name used to describe the radio-friendly, coliseum-filling rock sound that began infiltrating the pop charts in the mid-70s and ultimately came to dominate the next decades’ FM radio playlists. On the other, it is a pointed putdown, meant to suggest supreme bombast, disgusting commerciality, and the worst kind of mass appeal.

Of course, as the name implies, many, many people love Arena Rock. The play counts across the streaming services for legendary perpetrators like Boston, Journey, REO Speedwagon, and Foreigner are staggering. Songs like “More Than A Feeling” and “I Want To Know What Love Is” have racked up millions upon millions of plays, and in the case of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’,” billions. And it’s not just your Dad or your Uncle Joey–or, okay, me sometimes–hitting play on songs like these. Based on these numbers, it appears it’s freakin’ everyone. Billions!

Before we go any further, let’s note that Arena Rock is not the only term for this particular genre. If you are a picky nerd like me, you might be more inclined to refer to them as “AOR,” the excellently memorable acronym for “Album-Oriented Rock.” Because while that term originally defined a particular radio format, by the early ’80s it had come to represent a very specific sound and style of music, i.e. the precise sort the aforementioned bands were making. I admit to preferring “AOR” over Arena Rock because it’s a little less broad and is marginally cooler. Also, it has an over-confident and ridiculous superhero quality to it, which is entirely appropriate given what it represents. But hell, call it whatever makes you comfortable: Arena Rock, AOR, Classic Rock, even Dad Rock, they all apply. Any way you want it, that’s the way you need it.

Arena Rock songs take place within a mythical universe where every living being is in high school and the only time that matters is “tonight.” It is not Arena Rock’s job to enlighten or serve up valuable life lessons. Its primary purpose is to celebrate being horny and/or high, bitch about how boring this town is, and ineloquently remind people that they need to rock every hour, of every day. Of course, like life itself, it’ll occasionally get sad ‘n’ dark and there will be expressions of doomed love (“you’re tearin’ me apart”). And sometimes it’ll brag about or blame its imaginary partner in crime, the devil. But no matter where it roams, it never loses sight of its primary goal, which is to rock you tonight Cleveland-Philly-NYC.

The Arena Rock sound is typified by fat, infectious guitar and/or synth riffs, king-size choruses, and colossal hooks, served up in the most over-the-top manner possible (especially when the song is a ballad). These songs are the kind of songs that exude enough melodic and emotional bigness that they can fill every corner of whatever space they happen to be playing in, no matter how cavernous or unglamorous. Neither coy nor intellectual (“You’re not shy, you’ve been around”), they are embarrassingly straightforward about how they feel (“I’ll show you sweet delight”) and are designed to attack and consume the dumbest, most defenseless, and least discerning musical nerve-receptors of the human brain (“Stroke me”). They are the sonic equivalent of sucking down a Big Gulp™ in a 7-11 parking lot on a hot day in 1981. Arena Rock songs are all about living in the moment and “feelin’ satisfied.”

Yes, I know–what about the clothes? When playing live back in the day, Arena Rock bands were not only expected to bring it musically but to raise the roof in a sartorial sense as well. Bearded guys in silk kimonos. Jumpsuits open to the navel. And hair, lots and lots of glorious hair. True confession: I spent more time as a kid pondering Boston drummer Sib Hashian’s afro in the band photo on the back cover of their 1976 debut album than I ever did admiring the front with its iconic upside-down guitar logo. That was just a painting. Sib’s ‘fro was real. (See pic above.)

From its absolute, unwavering earnestness and perpetual “heart-on” to its fashion sense and excessive light show, Arena Rock is unequivocally, and certifiably bonkers.

Seriously though, do you know what the number one craziest thing about Arena Rock is? It is the fact that its virtues and flaws are exactly the same. The pros and cons reside in a single column. What makes it ridiculous is also what makes it awesome.

If you dislike Arena Rock or AOR, I don’t expect any of the wickedly cool covers I am about to share to change your mind. But I do hope, at the very least, they trigger a bit of newfound respect for the original songs themselves. And who knows, maybe after hearing these covers you’ll be inspired to throw a friendly head bob Arena Rock’s way the next time you pass it in the high school hallway of your soul, just to say “hey, we’re cool,” even if you have no plans to hang out with it regularly.

And now in the words of Loverboy’s all-knowing singer-sage, Mike “it’s a bandana, not a headband” Reno, Come on baby, let’s go!
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Apr 072020
 

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!

Pharrell

We got to hear new takes on songs that Pharrell Williams contributed background vocals to, featured in, or starred in yesterday, but now it is time to go behind the scenes.

The power producer duo of The Neptunes have tallied many awards from Billboard R&B/Hip-Hop Awards for Best Producer of the Year in 2004 to Best Producer of the Decade in 2009 and twenty-four top 10 hits between the late ’90s and the ’00s. They have also been nominated for the upcoming 2020 spot in the Songwriters Hall of Fame.

As consumers of their hits, we often don’t know who is behind the sound. I’m the first to admit that I had no idea any of these songs involved Pharrell Williams before I started looking into Williams’ production credits, and for every song featured on this list, there are many more equally popular hits that we don’t touch on. How many songs that conjure up a memory for you would not be the same without the talented Neptunes?

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Aug 152018
 

Welcome to Cover Me Q&A, where we take your questions about cover songs and answer them to the best of our ability.

Here at Cover Me Q&A, we’ll be taking questions about cover songs and giving as many different answers as we can. This will give us a chance to hold forth on covers we might not otherwise get to talk about, to give Cover Me readers a chance to learn more about individual staffers’ tastes and writing styles, and to provide an opportunity for some back-and-forth, as we’ll be taking requests (learn how to do so at feature’s end).

Today’s question, from Cover Me staffer Sean Balkwill: What’s your favorite original song that’s best known as a cover?
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Apr 152016
 

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!

kelly clarkson cover

Kelly Clarkson is a genuine pop idol – idol is the key word there. She found fame as the original winner of American Idol back in 2002, mostly on the strength of her amazing voice. Not content to simply rest on those laurels, she quickly put her TV show winner past behind her and sought out a bigger, different sound. Her second album, Breakaway, accomplished that; she netted the Grammy for Best Pop Vocal Album and sold over fifteen million copies. That’s not bad for an album used as a statement piece about taking control of her own career.

Clarkson has continued refining her sound. At times she’s flirted with rock, as she did with the My December album. She’s indulged in country music as well, duetting with Reba McEntire on several occasions, finally leading to their co-headlining 2 Worlds 2 Voices tour in 2008. No matter what she chooses to sing, Kelly brings that amazing voice. Rolling Stone‘s Arion Berger said that “her high notes are sweet and pillowy, her growl is bone-shaking and sexy, and her midrange is amazingly confident.” With that kind of instrument at her command, any song she chooses to sing is worth listening to.
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Mar 262016
 

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!

steven tyler

Steven Tyler has had one of the most remarkable careers in rock ‘n’ roll history. With his band Aerosmith, he was big in the ’70s and huge in the ’90s, and his hard-earned sobriety allowed him to enjoy the second peak even more. His willingness to change with the times, moving from hard rock to rapping with Run-D.M.C. to pop-tinged rock to power ballads, kept the band relevant for multiple generations. He and the band haven’t forgotten the small towns, either – they’ve appeared on Aurora, IL cable access TV with Wayne & Garth, and they’ve enjoyed a Flaming Moe in Springfield.

He’s shown some skill apart from Aerosmith as well. Tyler has performed guest vocals with Alice Cooper and Carlos Santana. He famously judged on American Idol for two years, putting his flamboyant and playfully filthy personality on display. Now he has a solo country album in the works, proving that even a now-68-year-old dog can learn new tricks.

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Oct 152012
 

Earlier this year we featured five of the best covers, so far, of Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used to Know”. Of course the first video that went uber-viral and helped ignite interest in this year-old song was the five-on-one guitar cover by Walk Off the Earth. Since then hundreds of covers, parodies and remixes of this hit have flooded the YouTubes. You are in luck, as I have spent far too much time listening to the already overexposed song to pull out a few covers that either rival or surpass the original. In no particular order, here are ten more versions for your enjoyment.

1) Karmin–  a Cover Me regular from YouTube that has gone on to appear on Saturday Night Live. Watch Amy and Nick do their pop thing on SiriusXM Hits.

 

2) Kelly Clarkson – The original American Idol performs live at Jones Beach, NY on August 21, 2012.

 

3) Netherlands Radio Choir – The 74 person ensemble does the song to raise funds to help save the choir.

 

4) fun. featuring Hayley Williams – fun, performs live on BBC 1 Radio’s Live Lounge alongside a recording of the Paramore singer.

 

5) Rita Ora – The UK singer, songwriter and actress drops an R&B take on Radio 1’s Live Lounge

 

6) Cast of Glee – “They did such a faithful arrangement of the instruments but the vocals were that pop ‘Glee’ style, ultra dry, sounded pretty tuned and the rock has no real sense, like it’s playing to you from a cardboard box,” Gotye told the Sunday Mail of Darren Criss and Matt Bomer’s rendition of his song.

 

7) Noah featuring Christina Grimmie – The incredibly talented, deep voiced Noah Guthrie keeps the YouTube cover hits coming.

 

8) Old School Computer Remix – With an HP Scanjet 3C as the vocals.  An Amiga 600 as Bass on left audio output and Guitar on right audio output. Harddrives as the drums and cymbal and a PIC16F84A microcontroller, this digital ditty is pretty amazing.

 

9) “The Star Wars That I Used To Know”  – A Parody with new music and original lyrics. It’s a story of heartbreak to which Star Wars fans everywhere can relate. A shot at the movie remakes, new CGi effects and George Lucas. Easily the best video.

 

10) Two Kids in a Car – I know this isn’t a cover, but these two six year old friends who love this song are serious stars in the making. How can you not love this?


Check out more from Gotye on his website
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