Props to any musician who chooses some non-obvious tunes for their Christmas album. Even Joni Mitchell’s “River” has so often been served as the “surprise” holiday song by now that it feels pretty played out. Andrew Bird covers a few standards on his upcoming Hark! – “Oh Holy Night,” “White Christmas” (though weirdly not the hymn that gave the album its name) – but makes room for some seasonally-appropriate fare John Prine, Handsome Family, and, on the first single, John Cale.Continue reading »
Daniel Romano’s Outfit – Sweetheart Like You (Bob Dylan cover)
This one’s for all the Dylan superfans. In 1984, Bob Dylan played three songs on Letterman with L.A. punk band The Plugz. They were gritty and garagey and raw. It boded well for his new sound. And then he never played with them again. The album he was ostensibly promoting, Infidels, was much smoother, helmed by Mark Knopfler. For those who still wonder what could have been, Daniel Romano covered the entire album as if he’d recorded it with The Plugz.Continue reading »
Those familiar with the solo recordings of Michael McDonald are no doubt aware that in the early aughts he released a pair of Motown-themed covers albums, aptly titled Motown and Motown Two. For some, the records were a passionate reminder of McDonald’s abilities as a vocalist. For McDonald haters, they felt like a long journey into the dark side of human existence. McDonald recently revisited this part of his past by unveiling a new live cover of “What’s Going On.”Continue reading »
August 16 has long been a day of infamy in the history of American popular music. It started in 1977 when Elvis Presley, the King of Rock n’ Roll, passed away. Forty-one years later, another member of rock royalty also died: Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul. Though she was older and her death less of a shock to the cultural landscape, I still remember the exact moment when I heard the news. I was with my family driving home from Sesame Place in Pennsylvania listening to the Beatles channel on SiriusXM. The DJ interrupted to tell us the sad news and in Franklin’s honor played her version of “Let It Be.”Continue reading »
The story goes that Bob Dylan called Smokey Robinson “America’s greatest living poet.” Not so, it turns out, but it sure seems like something he would say – it sounds a note of contrariness, but it also has the ring of truth.
Smokey Robinson turned 80 this month, and his legacy as one of the architects of the Motown sound has long been assured. Not only did he have a silken falsetto that conveyed sunshine and rain with equal ease, he also wielded a pen with a similar level of genius. Whether writing for The Miracles, the band that he led throughout the sixties, or the other members of the Motown stable, he came up with songs that became not just a part of music history, but a part of our nation’s history. As Smokey said, the Motown slogan was not “The Sound of Black America,” but “The Sound of Young America,” and that sound has rung down through the corridors of time as surely as the sound of the Liberty Bell.
No further proof is needed than the number of covers of Smokey’s songs – covers of his own recordings or covers of the original recordings by The Temptations or Marvin Gaye or the many other singers who benefited from his pen. His voice has spoken to other artists for decades, and when those artists tell us what he told them, those songs are just as fresh as they were the day he first set them down. We found thirty superlative covers of songs that Smokey wrote and/or sang, but, as we could have found thirty great recordings of “My Girl” alone, we know we’ve missed a few along the way. Whether you’re steamed at what we missed, or excited to discover what we found, we can agree on one thing: Smokey Robinson is one of the all-time greats, and we’re fortunate to have the privilege to listen to the songs he wrote for the rest of our lives.
In Memoriam pays tribute to those who have left this world, and the songs they left us to remember them by.
On this day 20 years ago, America lost its greatest entertainer when Francis Albert Sinatra passed away at the age of 82 after suffering a fatal heart attack. The renowned singer/actor/producer had been in ill health and out of the public eye for over a year following an earlier heart attack. While it’s appropriate to celebrate his amazing, resilient life, today marks the silver anniversary of a sad day. With that, we thought it would be just as appropriate to remember his talent for interpreting some of the sad songs that were often a source of comfort for many.
I was inspired to take this approach after reading an insightful thread in the popular Steve Hoffman music forum titled “Sinatra’s best sad songs.” There, one member astutely posted: “With Sinatra, there are sad songs, sadder songs, and ‘dark night of the soul’ sad songs.” Many have become pop/jazz standards and Sinatra is often credited with recording a definitive version. Here are covers of five songs that were mentioned frequently; we believe The Chairman would have smilingly approved.Continue reading »