Over our time tracking cover songs (13 years this month!), we’ve written about hundreds of new tribute albums, across reviews, news stories, and, when they’re good enough, our best-of-the-year lists. We also have looked back on plenty of great tribute albums from the past in our Cover Classics series. But we’ve never pulled it all together – until now.
‘The Best Ever’ series counts down our favorite covers of great artists.
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.
– Patrick Robbins, Features Editor
The list starts on Page 2.
That’s A Cover? explores cover songs that you may have thought were originals.
Time travel is impossible, say some physicists. But ask any true music fan if it can be done, and the answer will be an enthusiastic “Yes!” And it’s a lot easier than you might think.
How? Just traipse on over to your laptop (or, more likely, the smartphone currently warming your pocket). Punch in “Sheryl Crow First Cut is the Deepest,” and within seconds you’ll be transported back to 2003, Crow’s supple mezzo-soprano filling your earbuds and floating out over a lovely mandolin and steel-string guitar intro. It’s a powerful song, too: An affecting plea for love after the scorched-earth anguish of an affair gone awry.
When it was released, Crow’s song was a perfect encapsulation of that era’s modern, high-gloss folk-rock: Well-oiled, heavy on heartstring-tugging touches and somewhat light on passion. It was a hit, too, peaking at #14 on the Billboard Hot 100 in March of 2004. But as regular Cover Me readers, you’re already bracing yourself for the inevitable pull of the rug: Sheryl Crow didn’t write “The First Cut Is the Deepest,” nor was she even the first to chart with it.
Our official list of the Best Cover Songs of 2017 comes next week. But first, we’re continuing the tradition we started last year by rounding up some of the songs it most killed us to cut in a grab-bag post. No ranking, no writing, just a bunch of knockout covers.
Buddy Guy and the Rolling Stones have crossed paths many times over the years, regularly sitting in at each other’s concerts and paying mutual homage in interviews. But they haven’t actually recorded together much. That changes on a new tribute album.
On Chicago Plays the Stones, a host of Chicago blues vets cover classic Stones tracks for a fitting response to the Stones’ own recent blues album Blue & Lonesome. One name stands above the rest though: Buddy Guy’s. And he pulls in a special guest for his cover of Goats Head Soup rarity “Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker).”
As anyone who has seen Guy live recently can attest, the guitarist hasn’t lost a step at age 80. His solos on “Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo” remain furious, and his singing as emotive as ever. Then, about halfway through, that special guest slips in: Mick Jagger himself, trading vocals with Buddy in a wonderful back-and-forth and wailing on some serious blues harmonica. It’s a fantastic duet that has somehow remained under the radar since its release last month, not appearing on Spotify or YouTube or anywhere else. Well, we’ve got it below. It was worth the wait.
Five Good Covers presents five cross-genre reinterpretations of an oft-covered song.
Otis Redding built one of his greatest songs out of almost nothing. Guitarist and co-writer Steve Cropper explains: “‘I Can’t Turn You Loose’ was just a riff I’d used on a few songs with the MG’s. Otis worked it up with the horns in about 10 minutes as the last thing we did one night in the studio. Just a riff and one verse that he sings over and over. That’s all it is.”