Cover Classics takes a closer look at all-cover albums of the past, their genesis, and their legacy.
On the surface, Same Train,A Different Time is a tribute album recorded by Merle Haggard in honour of “The Father of Country Music” Jimmie Rodgers. Nothing unusual about that; the tribute album is a tried and tested way for one artist to tip their hat to another, and Merle himself would go on to record tributes to the likes of Bob Wills and Elvis. What sets this record apart, however, is that it’s more than just a tribute album. It’s a concept album disguised as a tribute album.
It’s true that each track was either written or recorded by Jimmie Rodgers. But there’s something else going on here. These songs have been carefully chosen and sequenced to tell a coherent story, in much the same manner favored by Merle’s Capitol Records predecessor Frank Sinatra. The resulting narrative would make good material for a film. Continue reading »
This marks the fourth year I’ve done a big anniversary countdown (after 1996, 1987, and 1978). It also proved to be the most challenging. There were a lot of covers released in 1969. In fact, according to covers-and-samples database WhoSampled, there were more than in any of the other years we’ve done. Their database lists 3,110 covers, which is surely still a small fraction.
The reason for the cover song’s proliferation seems clear to me after going through them all: Popular bands released a lot more music back then. Aretha Franklin released two albums in 1969. So did The Byrds, Elvis Presley, Joe Cocker, Johnny Cash, Johnny Winter, and Nina Simone. Creedence Clearwater Revival and Merle Haggard released three albums apiece. James Brown topped them all with four. To get that kind of output, artists would pad their albums with covers. Every 1969 album by every artist I just mentioned includes at least one cover. Many include several. A few are all covers. It adds up.
Impressively, many of those covers reinterpreted songs that had come out within the previous year. This entire list could easily have been “Hey Jude” covers. “Wichita Lineman” and “Light My Fire” came up constantly too (the latter song slightly older, but it had hit the charts again in 1968). Even songs from 1968’s soundtrack to Hair got covered endlessly in 1969.
Even beyond “Hey Jude,” Beatles covers dominated the year. I’m not going to go back through the entire 3,110 covers and count, but if you told me Beatles covers made up a full half of those, I wouldn’t be shocked. Add Bob Dylan covers to that side of the scale and it’s probably true. Beatles songs got covered in every conceivable genre for every conceivable audience. Jazz and swing and folk and proto-metal Beatles covers everywhere the eye can see. Plenty of people cover the Beatles these days, sure, but trust me: It’s nothing like it was in 1969.
So wheedling all those down to the top 50 proved incredibly difficult. But it means this is maybe the top-to-bottom strongest set thus far, and it killed me to leave some off (that’s why our Patreon supporters will get a set of 69 bonus tracks – so join now).
One note: I left off Woodstock performances. For one, we counted down the 50 best covers performed there last month. But more importantly, most people did not actually hear those covers until the movie and soundtrack came out in 1970. Jimi Hendrix performed his iconic Star-Spangled Banner – pretty much everyone’s top cover of the weekend – to a nearly empty field. Most of the audience had left before he punched in at 9 AM that Monday morning. That said, several of the classic covers performed at Woodstock were released as singles or on albums the same year – including Joe Cocker’s “With a Little Help from My Friends” – and those studio versions make this list.
Now, let the sunshine in with the 50 best covers of 1969.
You know the story – on August 15, 1969, an estimated 400,000 people coalesced on Max Yasgur’s dairy farm in upstate Bethel, New York, for “3 days of Peace & Music” at a music and art fair that ultimately defined a generation. Today marks the golden fiftieth anniversary of Woodstock, and to celebrate the occasion, the staff at Cover Me are going “back to the garden” to wrap you in the Top 50 covers performed by the legendary artists who graced the stage during that long weekend.
This one is for the guitar nerds as Marcus King and Stephen Campbell of the Marcus King Band stopped by Carter Vintage Guitars in Nashville for a little guitar pull. The Marcus King Band is a blues-rock band in much the Stevie Ray Vaughan / Joe Bonamassa mold with shades of Jimi Hendrix. Here, Marcus King lays into “Swinging Doors” as if he has played it many times before. And he sure has, the song has become a staple in their live shows, so it’s nice to finally get a great video. This bluesy take on the classic honky tonk tune gives the song an entirely different character and somehow makes the song a bit more forlorn than the Mighty Merle Haggard original.Continue reading »
Follow all our Best of 2017 coverage (along with previous year-end lists) here.
Cover albums come and go from memory. It’s sort of inherent in the genre. When a major release comes out – a cover album by one prominent artist, or a tribute compilation by many – it tends to garner an avalanche of blog posts, then get forgotten within a year or two. Many deserve to, no doubt…but not all.
So, since we’ve been looking back a lot this year to celebrate our tenth birthday, I dug back into our previous year-end album lists. My original plan was to see which of our past #1s held up and which didn’t, but I was pleasantly surprised to find they were all still enjoyable. But many, even those that were big deals at the time, have been semi-forgotten.
So I thought, before we dive into this year’s crop, let’s remember what came before. We didn’t do a list the first couple years, but here’s every album we’ve named #1 so far, along with an excerpt of our reviews:
2009: The Lemonheads – ‘Varshons’
“Twelve songs of booze-pop genius cover both classic tunes by songwriters like Leonard Cohen (Liv Tyler guests!) and Townes Van Zandt and obscurities from July and the unfortunately-named FuckEmos.” See that year’s full list here.
2010: Peter Gabriel – ‘Scratch My Back’
“Against all odds, Gabriel builds an orchestra-filled, indie-fied, emotion-fueled masterpiece.” See that year’s full list here.
2011: Baaba Kulka – ‘Baaba Kulka’
“It’s a boisterous Iron Maiden celebration by a collective that may not have a metal bone in its body, but invite big grins while you sing (and dance) along with the wildest crossover album this side of Warsaw.” See that year’s full list here.
2012: Neil Young & Crazy Horse – ‘Americana’
“When you press play the first thing that strikes you is the fuzz of the power chords, the strained bellows, the cardboard-box bashing of the drums. Neil and the Horse’s ragged glory rages so hard the source material becomes secondary.” See that year’s full list here.
2013: Xiu Xiu – ‘Nina’
“Xiu Xiu’s Nina Simone tribute album isn’t an easy listen. It’s not necessarily an enjoyable one either. What it is though is riveting.” See that year’s full list here.
2014: Andrew Bird – ‘Things Are Really Great Here, Sort Of…’
“In Bird’s delivery, the Handsome Family’s songs of old, weird Americana kitsch will hopefully reach listeners who might find the originals too weird.” See that year’s full list here.
2015: Bob Dylan – ‘Shadows in the Night’
“Him releasing an album of songs associated with Frank Sinatra was no surprise at all; he’s been operating in the Ol’ Blues Eyes vein for decades now, just with a (very) different instrument.” See that year’s full list here.
2016: Various Artists – ‘God Don’t Never Change: The Songs of Blind Willie Johnson’
“When it comes to preserving the depth and breadth of the contexts and traditions of American music that informed Blind Willie Johnson’s ecclesiastic but world-weary growl, it helps that the nine artists here…are able to handle the spiritual aspects of Johnson’s work.” See that year’s full list here.
Okay, now that you’re all caught up – let’s see what this year holds!
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!
Read any article about the Mavericks and you are almost guaranteed to see the word “eclectic.” And that is fair. Their music is a cocktail of country, rock, blues, folk, Cuban, Tex-Mex, swing, and probably other genres, that somehow all works together. It is surely a testament to the strong writing, tight playing, and maybe most of all, the rich vocals and riveting stage presence of singer Raul Malo, that the band is able to meld these influences into a coherent body of work.