Feb 092024
 

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!

The Feelies

In 2023, the Feelies released Some Kinda Love: Performing the Music of the Velvet Underground, a live album recorded one night in 2018. Listeners heard a band that had clearly absorbed the VU into their DNA long ago, making their recreations sound almost effortless. They even play the brief instrumental burbling at the start of “Sweet Jane.” The audience cheers heard between songs are loud and enthusiastic, and no matter which band’s music they’re there to hear, you can tell they love the other band too.

For this night, the Feelies were more about being Velvet Underground fans than Feelies. Because because? Well, their version of “What Goes On” sounds more like the VU and less like the Feelies’ own studio-released version, from 1988’s Only Life. Now there was a band who set out to make a song their own. Not to knock the modern day Feelies, not at all, but that VU night really was designed to be more commemoration than innovation. It’s those earlier covers we’re focusing on today, the ones that saw the band out to, as Lou Reed called his own live album in 1978, take no prisoners.

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Nov 102023
 

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

I Wanna Be Your Dog covers

For a song so often described as primal, raw, and primitive, the Stooges’ “I Wanna Be Your Dog” is surprisingly adaptable and open to interpretation. That’s apparent in the incredible 86+ cover versions it’s spawned since the band originally released it as their debut single in the unsuspecting Summer of ’69.

The guitar riff is widely regarded as the crux of it. That dirty, menacing, and God-forsaken thing that emerges like a badass out of a storm of feedback, with its three Ron Asheton chords dramatically and relentlessly progressing the good work of the Kinks, the Sonics, and the Jimi Hendrix Experience in terms of sheer distortion. It’s at #37 in NME‘s 50 Greatest Riffs Of All Time. It’s one of Dig!‘s 20 Licks That Changed The Course Of Rock Music. And it’s one of the Top 10 Best Punk Rock Guitar Riffs Of All Time, according to WatchMojo: “a one-eyed monster that basically serves as the song’s entire framework.” Yet, for all that, there are many artists out there who’ve made the song work without it.
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May 262023
 

‘The Best Covers Ever’ series counts down our favorite covers of great artists.

Prince

In July of 1958, a Prince was created. That was the month Charles became Prince of Wales. Earlier this month he was officially crowned King.

In June of 1958, another Prince was created. He died seven years before Charles’ coronation, but he had long before passed beyond the arena of royalty into the field of the celestial.

Prince was, if not a god, a divine presence, more felt than understood. That he was a musical genius was almost taken for granted; his prolific recording, his tremendous work ethic, his mysterious appearances where you least expected him (On Muppets Tonight?? Making fun of Hee Haw???)–all served to make him more myth than man, and now he’s less man than legend.

Prince famously told George Lopez that “covering the music means your version doesn’t exist anymore,” but that’s not quite so. Prince may not (or may) be immortal, but his music definitely is, and the covers that continue to roll in are all the proof you need. This post offers some of the evidence. (Certainly not all of it – more nominations missed the cut than made it, and the great majority of them were very worthy.)

Before we begin: to qualify, a Prince song needed to have been officially released before the cover version. Sadly, this means the Bangles’ “Manic Monday,” Sheila E’s “The Belle of St. Mark,” Celine Dion’s “With This Tear,” and others didn’t get considered.

And now for our selections. And don’t worry, Charles–it’s good to be King. It’s just more magical to be Prince.

–Patrick Robbins

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Mar 272023
 
Patti Smith She's Leaving Home

The annual “The Music Of” tribute extravaganzas at Carnegie Hall are a fount of interesting covers and artist pairings. (Archival footage is often scarce, but by way of some surprising on-paper examples: Todd Rundgren covering Aretha Franklin; Cee-lo Green covering Talking Heads; Elvis Costello playing Prince… the list goes on.) Many of the illustrious performers who’ve been involved in the series’ 20 years of live shows have just appeared once, but Patti Smith—long one of New York City’s most legendary “local” artists—has been game enough to stop by Carnegie for seven appearances with the series. She may be the most consistent through-line this series has had, in fact, covering Bob Dylan in 2006; R.E.M. in 2009; The Who in 2010; Neil Young in 2011; Bowie in 2016; Van Morrison in 2019. Last week, she came by the Carnegie Hall stage for one more appearance paying tribute in this year’s installment to Paul McCartney with a cover of The Beatles’ “She’s Leaving Home.” Continue reading »

Mar 252022
 

‘The Best Covers Ever’ series counts down our favorite covers of great artists.

decemberists covers

For this month’s Best Covers Ever, we polled our Patreon supporters. Voting among five 2000s (ish), indie-rock (ish) bands they’d previously nominated – Arcade Fire, Bon Iver, The Decemberists, The Killers, Vampire Weekend – an underdog won by a single vote. Unless you scrolled so fast you missed the headline and photo, you already know who that underdog was: The Decemberists!

The Decemberists are arguably the least widely-known band of the bunch – they certainly don’t have Killers-level hits – but you wouldn’t know it from the depth and breadth of covers. Other musicians love the Decemberists, and have dug deep into their catalog to cover tracks from across their entire career. They lean a bit Americana on the whole, but some covers cross over into heavy metal, pop-punk, or even mariachi. Their songs have been covered by legends, sure – Patti Smith, Nick Cave – but even more often they get covered by under-the-radar bands, genuine fans who just happen to possess a heap of musical talent themselves.

As The Decemberists prepare to embark on their Covid-delayed 20th anniversary tour this summer, we salute their songs of crane wives and engine drivers, butchers and barrow boys, with thirty covers that were meant for the stage.

PS. Join our Patreon if you want a say in the next band we cover!

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Nov 012021
 
best cover songs 1991

As regular readers know, every year, at the end of the year, we do a big year-end covers list. This tradition started in 2007 and will continue in a couple months with the best covers of 2021.

But there are so many years before 2007 where we weren’t doing year-end covers lists (and, as far as I’m aware, no one else was either). So once a year, we do a big anniversary post tackling the best covers of a year before Cover Me was born. So far we’ve done 1969, 1978, 1987, 1996, and, last year, 2000.

And for 2021, we look back thirty years, to the heady days of 1991. The days of grunge and acid house, of parachute pants and ripped denim, of The Gulf War and Home Alone. Country music and hip-hop increased their cultural dominance (or really just making their existing dominance known; 1991 is also the year Soundscan made the Billboard charts more authoritative). In a single day, Nirvana released Nevermind, Red Hot Chili Peppers released Blood Sugar Sex Magik, and A Tribe Called Quest released The Low End Theory. Think that’s a fluke? The week before saw massive albums from Mariah Carey, Hole, and Guns ‘n’ Roses (two albums, no less). The week before that came Garth Brooks, Talk Talk, and Saint Etienne.

All of those trends are reflected in the list below. Many of these covers scream “1991!” LL Cool J raps Disney. Courtney Love shrieks Joni. Aretha Franklin tries to new jack swing. A spate of early tribute albums (in fact, last year I wrote a 33 1/3 book about a 1991 tribute album). Other covers are more timeless, from veteran artists doing great work several decades into their careers, or way-underground artists who never even approached the mainstream. The only criteria was quality. Thirty years later, these 50 covers Hole-d up the best.

Check out the list starting on Page 2, and stay tuned for the best covers of this year coming in December.

The list begins on Page 2.