Mar 232021
 

Five Good Covers presents five cross-genre reinterpretations of an oft-covered song.

Erma Franklin

You would think there would be a ton of good and/or quirky covers of “Piece of My Heart,” it being such an icon of overwrought emoting. But surprisingly (and not a little disappointingly), whilst there are many of them, most are known nearly as well known as the first cover, many making waves in the charts of their particular day. So, fewer hidden nuggets to unearth, but more fond reminders of times mislaid to be gained by revisiting.

“Piece of My Heart” was written by Jerry Ragovoy and Bert Berns, both jobbing songwriters with a slew of hits to their credit, individually and collectively. Ragovoy also had a hand in “Stay With Me, Baby,” arguably the other song of a heart breaking in explosive slo-mo. Berns was responsible for, amongst other things, our first glimpse of Van Morrison, performing the early singles of Them, “Here Comes the Night” and “Baby, Please Don’t Go.”

It was Aretha’s little sister, Erma Franklin, who first tried out “Piece of My Heart,” in 1967. (Berns had, unsuccessfully, first offered it to Van, which could have been intriguing.) Her rendition was good, very good even, hitting a credible #62 in the chart. That may well have been that, had it not caught the ears of a certain band beginning to make waves in the Bay Area.
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Mar 102021
 

Off the Beaten Path looks at covers of songs from a less popular era in an artist’s career.

Rickie Lee Jones

In the early days of her now 40-plus year career, people compared Rickie Lee Jones to Joni Mitchell a lot. People would often characterize her appearance, her emotive voice, her esoteric songwriting, and her jazz influences as being “Joni-esque.”  While in some respects it wasn’t a reach, it was an undeniably lazy and easy comparison to make. Even the most cursory listen of Rickie’s work, especially the first three albums, will confirm that she was never a lady of the canyon. No, she was coming from a wilder, more eccentric and unpredictable place.

Rickie was a proud and unabashed resident of the wrong side of the tracks. Her songs were inhabited by losers and deluded romantic souls endlessly in search of sure things and drugs (not necessarily in that order) as well as her relationships to both. They were populated by an endless stream of enigmatic wanderers whose plans and schemes never seemed to work out, but who still kept on trying, kept on dreaming. If anything, Rickie’s cast of characters presented a darker, street-ier spin on Bruce Springsteen’s own gang of misguided mortals, the kind of wishful thinkers he depicted in his “Backstreets,” “Meeting Across the River,” and “Racing in the Streets.”

There are basically two ways to cover a Rickie Lee Jones song. The first and most common option is to go slick and sophisticated, paying homage to their perfect melodic construction, jazzy bones and detailed lyrical content. The second is to forget the rules and let your freak flag fly. Fact is, Rickie covers sound just as great off the leash as they do on the regulation playing field. This latter approach often feels truer to the original songs’ magical inborn spirit, which is why some of the best Rickie covers are the ones that veer the farthest outside the lines, that shape-shift to a particular performer’s emotions and style.

With that, we now offer you a bit of both, the lush and the loose; a tale of two Rickies, if you will. Character-driven last calls. Vivid childhood remembrances. Poignant prayers for love. And every one of them is straight-up Coolsville.
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May 092014
 

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!

As of today, Billy Joel is eligible for Social Security. So, now that his money woes are assuredly a thing of the past, let’s get to celebrating his 65th birthday in the accomplished style he really and truly deserves.
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May 102013
 

In Memoriam pays tribute to those who have left this world, and the songs they left us to remember them by.

Where I come from, Shel Silverstein was a demigod. —David Mamet

Shel Silverstein was the unofficial poet laureate of everyone’s childhood. His books — The Giving Tree, A Light In the Attic, Where the Sidewalk Ends — were instrumental in showing that kids could handle some of the adult themes in life without becoming degenerates, or maybe even that it was okay to be a degenerate. That’s not to say the bluenoses didn’t try to stop him: A Light in the Attic placed midway in the top 100 books banned from the 1990’s. Some bristled at Silverstein’s adult side, even though he saved his more salacious material for songs and adult poems that weren’t meant for children. That material is definitely a product of the sixties and seventies, detailing everything from every sexual fetish imaginable (“Freakin’ At the Freakers Ball”) to every drug available (“The Perfect High”). Some of it we’ll feature today, the 14th anniversary of his death (or at least of the day they found his body).  Read on. Continue reading »

Nov 302011
 

Every Wednesday, our resident Gleek Eric Garneau gives his take on last night’s Glee covers.

In “I Kissed a Girl,” Santana (Naya Rivera) grapples with being forced out of the closet while the show’s two elections (Kurt Hummel for student body president and Burt Hummel for Congress) enter their last days. Meanwhile, the competition between the New Directions glee club and rivals the Troubletones cools down as the groups come together to help Santana through her identity crisis.

Before we get too deep into this week’s episode, we need to backtrack a bit to our previous entry. I had mentioned how much I enjoyed last episode’s closing Adele mash-up, “Rumor Has It/Someone Like You,” and apparently I wasn’t the only one. Besides commenters and friends of this site, the music-buying public also voiced their support, giving Glee its best-performing single by far in a long, long time. “Rumor Has It/Someone Like You” hit number 11 on the U.S. charts; the next highest-charting song from this season, a cover of Coldplay’s “Fix You,” didn’t even crack the top 40 (it settled at 59). The last Glee song that did so well was actually one of their original numbers from the middle of season two, “Loser Like Me.” The last cover to rival the Adele mash-up’s performance was “Forget You,” which you may recall unfortunately featured Gwyneth Paltrow. Not a bad accomplishment for Glee‘s 300th song then, eh? Perhaps that mash-up signals a return to a more pop-oriented soundtrack after a first few months dominated by musical numbers. Continue reading »

Oct 202010
 

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!

Now known for a pretty good college football team, back in the “60s something else was brewing among the swamplands of Gainesville, Fl. A young man and soon-to-be musical legend by the name of Tom Petty was getting guitar lessons from Don Felder, an eventual member of The Eagles. Around the same time, Elvis Presley himself was filming Follow the Dream in a nearby town, and young Petty had a chance encounter with him. Must have been an interesting time to be a gator.

On his 60th birthday, it”s amazing to look not only at the Tom Petty hit machine, but also the legends he”s worked with. His work with the supergroup the Traveling Wilburys included jamming with the likes of Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Roy Orbison and Jeff Lynne. His first duet was with Stevie Nicks for a song called “Insider” that was released on the Hard Promises album. And Petty lent his voice to a memorable episode of “The Simpsons,” where he taught Homer some skills at Rock “n Roll Fantasy Camp with the help of Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Elvis Costello, Lenny Kravitz and Brian Setzer. Continue reading »