There have been a lot of novelty covers of Ozzy Osbourne‘s “Crazy Train” over the years, most notably Pat Boone’s infamous cover which became the inspiration for the theme of Ozzy’s reality show, The Osbournes. However, most novelty covers of the song are not instrumentals. And a song like “Crazy Train,” with its famous main riff, is a great target for an instrumental cover.
‘The Best Covers Ever’ series counts down our favorite covers of great artists.
Despite the fact that Barry, Robin, and Maurice Gibb have sold upwards of 120 million records, they can sometimes seem oddly underrated. They aren’t regarded with the reverence afforded to other artists that emerged during roughly the same era, like The Rolling Stones or The Who. They haven’t generated the same level of dramatic intrigue as Elton John or Queen. And discovering their music was never part of some traditional teenage rite of passage like Pink Floyd or Led Zeppelin. But while they don’t seem to receive near the same level of acclaim as the aforementioned artists, their music has remained as utterly ubiquitous as just about all of them. There are few other artists as essential to documenting the sound of an era as The Bee Gees were to the late ’70s.
Throw the Here At Last…Bee Gees… Live album from 1977 on the turntable or queue up the stream. You will be confronted with a veritable assembly line of perfectly constructed, exquisitely performed pop songs. Take a step back and really listen. The outlandish songwriting gift on display is nothing short of mind-blowing, You might think, how is it even possible to have written this many incredible songs? And those are just 20 or so selected tracks Barry, Robin, and Maurice had done up to that point – before Saturday Night Fever! There were dozens more to come.
We were overwhelmed by the number of incredible covers of both Bee Gees classics and deep cuts and their glorious diversity. But we really shouldn’t have been surprised. Despite the band itself not always getting its due, the Bee Gees’ songs remain for everyone and forever.
– Hope Silverman
The list begins on Page 2.
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.
Alex Skolnick routinely straddles the line between two different musical universes. He is known to legions of metalheads as the lead guitarist for the thrash band Testament. Yet, for nearly two decades, he has had a side hustle as a jazz guitarist for the Alex Skolnick Trio, playing an eclectic blend of fusion jazz.
He credits this genre-fluid existence to a moment in the late ‘80s when he was in Ithaca, NY recording Testament’s sophomore album The New Order. According to his memoir, he and a bandmate were flipping through the channels in a hotel when he came across a PBS concert film featuring Miles Davis performing with one of his electric fusion bands. (Given the date and Skolnick’s description it was likely Miles Davis – That’s What Happened: Live in Germany 1987.) “I had to find out more about this music. It had spoken to me, in an almost mysterious way, as though it were reaching out and calling for me to come closer. … I’d soon own more Miles Davis albums than any other artist (even Kiss),” he wrote.
Already an accomplished guitarist, having studied under the legendary instructor Joe Satriani (whose former students include Kirk Hammett and Steve Vai), Skolnick wanted to expand his horizons beyond metal. So, when the recording sessions ended, he tapped several music instructors at his hometown college, the University of California, Berkeley, to help him expand his skills.
Alt-J, Grouplove, more – Shelter from the Storm (Bob Dylan cover)
In Defense takes a second look at a much maligned cover artist or album and asks, “Was it really as bad as all that?”
Reasons abound for maligning Pat Boone’s career in popular music. The catalyst for his career was a string of covers of R&B tunes by black artists for whom the legacy of segregation never afforded the same amount of wealth. White artists made substantially more than their counterpart artists of color. Major record labels had larger distribution chains, promotional budgets, and stronger connections to radio and television networks to advantage their artists. By contrast, black musicians on “race records” benefited from none of these privileges. While artists like Little Richard, Big Joe Turner, and Fats Domino have enjoyed staying power and wide acclaim for being architects of rock music, in the early decades of that genre, white covers were commercially more successful. Added to this was the exploitative nature of covers on larger labels that made more money than the originals while paying out no royalties to the black originators. Boone was unapologetic that his career benefited from this exploitation.
It is also noteworthy that Boone’s performance and lyricism of some of rock’s first generation of are a case study in the sanitized tastes of the burgeoning white middle class in the 1950s. His smooth vocal delivery was reminiscent of crooners rather than the raspy, full-throated yowl of Little Richard. And the lyrical changes on “Tutti Frutti” were a nod to teenage infatuation stripped of any of the sexuality in Little Richard’s original.
Despite Boone representing the residuals of white privilege while Jim Crow reigned supreme, there is a note of appreciation to be made for Boone and contemporaries Elvis Presley and Bill Haley in helping to extend the reach of rock music to new audiences at a critical juncture in that genre’s history.
Amaara – House of Cards (Radiohead cover)
We just posted the 45 best Radiohead covers ever, but there’s already a 46th. Unsurprising, really, considering how much this band gets covered. The musical project of actor Kaelen Amara Ohm, Amaara took on the In Rainbows gem “House of Cards.” Her cover carries echoes of the haunting original, but with a smoother electro-ambient sheen.
Chris Anderson – Eh-Hee / Digging in the Dirt (Dave Matthews / Peter Gabriel cover)
Composer Chris Anderson draws from some pretty deep wells of music knowledge on his new Song Cycle. He covers Laurie Anderson and John Cage and Tom Waits – twice. He covers Peter Gabriel twice too, on a beautiful “Mercy Street” and more subtly here, working bits of “Digging in the Dirt” into – of all things – a gospel Dave Matthews cover. “The addition of a choir was important to me to create the feeling of a ground-swell of support,” he writes in an email. “The fact that the song is about ‘knocking the devil to his knees’ made the gospel choir a natural choice.”