Like many of Michael Jackson’s hits, it seems kind of impossible to imagine “Bad” without its memorable bass line. Well, Jonah Nilsson of Swedish jazz fusion outfit Dirty Loops is here to change your mind. He changes the bass line so much the song isn’t even recognizable as “Bad” until Nilsson starts singing something resembling the vocal melody about 15 seconds in. (His Jackson impersonation is pretty good.) Nilsson is basically a one man band here, singing lead and backing vocals, playing multiple keyboard parts and the drums.
As anyone who checked Twitter yesterday is well aware, Weezer shocked the internet with a surprise covers album, dubbed the Teal Album for its absurd yacht-rock cover. The album precedes the band’s long-promised Black Album, set to release March 1st.
Weezer spent 2018 stoking the social media flames with their famous covers bout with Toto, and I think we all just expected “Africa” to be the end of it. But Weezer clearly saw an opportunity to generate some buzz for their new album and upcoming tour with The Pixies. Twitter flames aside, how do the covers on the album actually stack up? Let’s take a look at The Good, The Bad, and The (Really) Ugly.
“Covering the Hits” looks at covers of a randomly-selected #1 hit from the past sixty years.
It says something about Michael Jackson, and I’m not sure what, that his first solo number-one record being a love song to a rat is one of the less strange things about him. Just fourteen years old, Michael was recording solo work at the behest of Motown Records, who wanted to have Jackson 5-related product to sell without necessarily having all five Jacksons. Meanwhile, a movie was coming out that featured young Lee Montgomery performing a sweet song, but the producers wanted a bigger name to rerecord the song for the movie’s theme, and Donny Osmond, the original choice, was on tour with his brothers. That’s how “Ben,” the title track to the sequel to Willard, found its way into Jackson’s hands and onto the airwaves in 1972.
Ben was the tale of an ailing young boy who befriended a rat colony that had been trained to kill in the previous film, led by the dashing young varmint Ben. The critics weren’t kind – Roger Ebert called it “a geek movie” back in the day when that couldn’t be anything but an insult – but the theme song, a gentle oasis amidst the horror that surrounded it, caught the public’s fancy, and they flocked to it like a rat to cheese. “Ben” wound up selling 1.7 million copies in the US alone.
Al Green – Before the Next Teardrop Falls (Freddy Fender cover)
Sorry, Beyoncé; the biggest surprise release of the year might be Al Green’s sudden return after a decade away. Well, not totally away; he still conducts weekly services at his Memphis church and, when I attended, was liberally sprinkling quotes from “Love and Happiness” and “Take Me to the River” into his sermons. Best of all: This Freddy Fender cover sounds like Al hasn’t lost a step. It’s apparently a one-off, but hopefully recording it will whet his appetite to do more.
It’s an uneasy feeling knowing that one of the most powerful voices of your generation is now gone. Listening to Chris Cornell’s music, just a day after his death, and realizing that the living soul behind some of the most heavenly music we will ever hear on earth is gone leaves a major void in all of our souls. There are so few artists who create and perform with the talent, ingenuity, and depth of feeling that Cornell possessed. Losing someone who has had so much impact on generation upon generation, and especially knowing that he could have had many years of creating and performing left to gift to us, is heartbreaking to say the least.
Going back through the immense library of covers Cornell has performed throughout the years is like listening to the soundtrack of a movie starring every major artist and group in music history. Few singers could equally convincingly cover the Beatles, Whitney Houston, and Michael Jackson – let alone sway us into favoring the cover over the original in some cases. Cornell could. Cornell even graced our top covers of 2015 with his rendition of Sinead O’Connor’s “Nothing Compares to You.”
Under the Radar shines a light on lesser-known cover artists. If you’re not listening to these folks, you should. Catch up on past installments here.
In Canada, and among elite musicians, it seems foolish to claim that the work of Emm Gryner flies under the radar. She has a dozen and a half releases to her name, not counting the ones with the folk trio Trent Severn (where she sings and plays bass) and the hard rockers Trapper. She’s played with David Bowie’s band and opened for Def Leppard. Nelly Furtado named her album Science Fair as a desert island disc. Bono was once asked what songs of the previous 20 years he wished he’d written; Gryner’s “Almighty Love” was one of the half-dozen or so he named.