For months, veteran Washington State indie label Kill Rock Stars has been trickling out tracks from its thirtieth birthday comp Stars Rock Kill, but over the holidays that trickle became a flood. After a bunch more singles dropped in December, the full album landed on New Year’s Eve. It’s 63 tracks long, all new covers of songs by the label’s artists. Leading the pack was Elliott Smith, who got covered thirteen separate times. And in a sign of the depth of his catalog, every single artist picked a different song.
‘The Best Ever’ series counts down our favorite covers of great artists.
Coming in at 40 tracks, our third ‘Best Ever’ countdown is our longest yet. This feels appropriate; Pink Floyd’s songs tend to be a whole lot longer than Talking Heads’ or Fleetwood Mac’s. A band whose default length was set at “epic” deserves a list just as winding.
Luckily, the covers community has obliged, allowing us a list as discursive as Pink Floyd itself. A band that, for better or worse, can get pigeonholed into a specific sound and era, gets transformed into a whole host of other genres and moods. Psychedelic rock is represented here, of course, but so is bluegrass, soul, and disco. One cover even includes a “featuring Tupac Shakur” credit, which is probably not what Gilmour or Waters envisioned. Though the latter would certainly appreciate the walls being torn down.
Twenty-minute tracks that might seem intimidating to some don’t phase these artists. Some turn them into tight four-minute pop songs. Others, if you can believe it, extend the songs further. So strap in, and set the controls for the heart of the cover…
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!
Mary Lou Lord is a music lover. For starters, she was busking for eight years before being signed to a label; there are bands in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame whose careers are shorter than that. She cofounded the Boston chapter of Girls Rock Camp, a summer program designed to foster a positive atmosphere for girls to become empowered through music education. She shares songs that are new to her on her Facebook page, and when she talks about Connie Converse, or points out how much Neil Young’s “Pocahontas” sounds like Carole King’s “He’s a Bad Boy,” you can’t help but get caught up in the giddy excitement of her discovery.
There’s just something about the 80’s that inspires great cover songs. So great, in fact, that this series is gonna be a two-parter. First up: Rock. All the excesses of the 80’s – big hair, ten-minute guitar solos, and Jon Bon Jovi – are all well represented below by artists who aren’t afraid to find the good songs amidst the novelty. And stay tuned for some 80’s pop next week.
Jessica Will – For Those About to Rock (AC/DC)
When AC/DC titled this song, they clearly weren’t singing to Will. Her light acoustic take packs a punch, attitude and intensity making up for lack of distortion. And if you want more acoustic female covers of AC/DC, there’s a whole disc of ‘em: Backed in Black.
M. Ward – Let’s Dance (David Bowie)
Indie posterboy, most recently of She & Him fame, does a quiet take kind of like how you would expect and indi posterboy covering Bowie to sound
Jon Regen – Don’t Stop Believin’ (Journey)
Another ironic Journey cover…yech. This one’s a keeper though, not too mellow and keeping the strong melody of the original. Bonus points for rocking out the guitar fills on the keys!
Anberlin – Love Song (The Cure)
So far in today’s 80’s rock theme, we’ve yet to have any real rocking covers. This should change that though, an aggressive rock band from Florida that does a loud and intense take, with a singing voice that melts in your mouth.
Grizzly Bear – Owner of a Lonely Heart (Yes)
The Bear made the blog rounds a year or so ago with their “He Hit Me (It Felt Like a Kiss)” cover (download it here), and this takes a similar approach, a slow builder that never explodes.
The Whip – White Wedding (Billy Idol)
When the banjo leads this one in, you know you’re in for something special. And are you ever. This one’s off a charity comp of Portland covers called Bridging the Distance. Yes, the Decemberists are on it.
Scott D. Davis – The Final Countdown (Europe)
I posted Laibach’s cover of this one a few weeks back, but this piano take is fun and bouncy – way more than Laibach’s death-goth. Davis has a whole album of these instrumental takes on classic rock, Rockfluence, and it’s fabulous.
Mary Lou Lord – Jump (Van Halen)
Cover girl extraordinaire, Lord does a song so sincere here you wonder whether she realizes exactly what band she’s covering. It’s beautiful though, and as she draws you in you forget the original even exists.
Damien Rice – When Doves Cry (Prince)
One of those songs that seems to inspire great covers, I can’t decide if I like this or Patti Smith’s version more. It’s solo acoustic here, with Rice sounding so delicate that if you do touch his stomach, he might break.
Philmore – Livin’ On a Prayer (Bon Jovi)
It seems appropriate to end on some more rock, so here you go. Even louder and more aggressive than the original, but just as sing-along-able.