May 262022
 

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

bob dylan 1980s

Here’s part four of our five-part series on great covers of Dylan songs practically no one covers. If you need to catch up, start at the beginning!

Robbie Fulks – Ain’t Gonna Go to Hell for Anybody

Robbie Fulks knows his rarely-covered Dylan; a few years ago he covered every song on Bob’s 1978 album Street Legal. Other than maybe “Señor,” no one covers those tunes! In 2016, he did an entire concert of Christian Dylan songs at iconic Chicago venue The Hideout. He dug deeper than just the Saved or Shot of Love tracks (or Slow Train Coming, which I covered in the ’70s post). That includes Bob’s hidden fire-and-brimstone gem “Ain’t Gonna Go to Hell for Anybody.” Continue reading »

May 202022
 

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

The 2021 album I’ll Be Your Mirror: A Tribute to the Velvet Underground & Nico is, without doubt, packed with glorious covers of tracks from the seminal New York band’s revolutionary “banana LP.” Yet it sounds, at times, ever so slightly predictable, when the assembled artists from the upper echelons of US alt-rock are found guilty of smoothing out the transgressive edges of the 1967 original. Matt Berninger of The National, for instance, takes a stab at “I’m Waiting for the Man,” and he sings it magnificently in that brooding style of his. It’s well played, and it has stylish motorik beats, and the production is slick, and it has squalling guitars and backing vocals in all the right places, and…it’s pretty straightforward, really.

The brave souls who choose to tackle any of the six more improvised, less celebrated, and decidedly less melodic tracks on the Velvet Underground’s White Light/White Heat, on the other hand, can rarely be accused of being predictable. Whether for a tribute album or otherwise. Yes, Julian Casablancas may have remade the title track in 2016 in exactly the way you’d expect, as a singer who always made clear his musical debt to Lou Reed and co. But for the most part, the artists are outsider acts adopting songs that express their outsider status, recognizing that the Velvets’ notorious sophomore LP fits as well now as it did in 1968, when it scraped into the Billboard Top 200 as a monumentally uncommercial, poorly produced, avant-garde, anti-hippie, anti-everything work of anarchy. No one, in any case, could hope to tame tracks so strange, confrontational, and anticipatory of punk, glam-rock, and industrial music, especially not the frenzied “I Heard Her Call My Name,” or the epically deranged “Sister Ray.”

In short, the artists to most successfully cover a White Light/White Heat song are those who manage to tap into “the quintessence of articulated punk,” as Reed himself brilliantly described the album in 2013. They also appreciate the Velvets in the way Lester Bangs appreciated them when he lauded the foursome, in his 1971 assessment of the LP, as “one of the most dynamically experimental groups in or out of rock.” But the very best White Light covers over the whole 54 years of the album’s incendiary existence? Across the realms of alt-rock, lo-fi, proto-punk, and, erm, bluegrass? Well, they would have to be these…
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Sep 282021
 

i'll be your mirror tributeI love the old chestnut that everybody who ever saw the Velvet Underground started a band. Certainly, were that the case, their shows must have been jampacked with underage punters, with children, even, since most of those in bands and who most keenly rate them and cite their influence would have been far too young. Many would have been in the wrong country, likewise. But, hey, it’s a great tale and, who knows, had they all actually been there, the band may have been a lot bigger and more successful in their lifetime.

For, undoubtedly, their imprint on rock music has been hugely out of proportion to their actual footprint. I forget, maybe it was all those who bought their first album started a band, but again, the numbers don’t really stack up until you collate the cumulative sales, decade on decade after the initial release. (Ed: It was, in fact, no less than Brian Eno who made this assertion, in 1982.) Hampered by a brace of lawsuits, relating to the copyright of some of the cover photos, the album limped out in 1967, taking some time to ratchet up many sales at all, trashed by critics and ignored by the record label publicity machine. Lyrics about sado-masochism, IV drugs and prostitution were seen as anathema to the mores of the day, and the linkage to Andy Warhol, then enfant terrible of the American art-house film movement, will have hardly have warmed them to any mainstream audience. But maybe that was the point. Be that as it may, in the half century plus since, the star of this still sometimes difficult record has shone ever more brightly. That first album was, to give it its full title, The Velvet Underground and Nico, with the iconic banana logo, and it is this record that is here recreated and revisioned, revalidated and recalibrated. Continue reading »

Aug 262021
 

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

The Velvet Underground

The Velvet Underground are making one of their regular visits to current-events music magazines, what with the Todd Haynes documentary that wowed Cannes and the impending Hal Willner tribute album. Of course, they’ve never left the annals of influence – not since all those few who bought their first album went out and formed bands.

But it’s their third album we’re going to look at today. A complete one-eighty from White Light / White Heat, the album that preceded it, The Velvet Underground saw Lou Reed embracing his inner balladeer, writing and playing slower and so much sweeter. With Doug Yule replacing the singular John Cale, and with Sterling Morrison and Maureen Tucker both as simpatico with bucolic Lou as brusque Lou, the band was more united than ever, and just as powerful in a whole new way. (Quick aside: Happy birthday to Maureen Tucker, who turns 77 today, and a moment of silence for Sterling Morrison, who was born one August 29 and died one August 30.)
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May 052021
 

Cover Classics takes a closer look at all-cover albums of the past, their genesis, and their legacy.

Patti Smith Twelve

Up until her release of Twelve in 2007, Patti Smith had not been much of one for studio covers, give or take her fabled extended riff on “Gloria,” which remains a live staple. Sure, she had the Byrds’ “So You Want to Be a Rock’n’Roll Star” on her third album, and Dylan’s John Wesley Harding deep cut “Wicked Messenger” on her sixth, but she otherwise largely wrote her own, with her friends and band members. Twelve surprised fans and critics alike, not only by being all other people’s songs, but also by the twelve songs Smith had chosen. Continue reading »

Feb 012021
 
cover songs january 2021
Amanda Shires – That’s All (Genesis cover)

Our first song kicks off what will be a theme here. A lot of these came out at the very top of the year (or the very end of 2020) to kick a garbage year to the curb and hope for something better. Shires said: “’That’s All’ is a song that I have played a lot on tour. The song defines 2020 for me. It’s a true Covid anthem and I dare you to not dance to my version when you hear it!” Continue reading »