Oct 092020
 

In Memoriam pays tribute to those who have left this world, and the songs they left us to remember them by.

John Lennon (of the Beatles, the Quarrymen, the Dirty Mac, and the Plastic Ono Band, among others) was born on this day. He shares the birthday, oddly enough, with his youngest son, Sean. (Happy 45th, Sean!)

One way to celebrate the day is to sing the Beatles’ “Birthday” song (keeping in mind that Lennon considered the song, which he co-wrote, “a piece of garbage”). Another is to listen to his music with renewed appreciation. If we do that, we’re gonna have a good time, just like the song says.

John would be turning 80 today, an auspicious number: He lived for 40 years, and has been gone for 40 years (as of December). Forty years here, forty years gone: those are Biblical numbers. And how funny that this 40/40 business should happen in the year 2020.

John loved numbers and numerology, so it’s ok to fixate on this stuff for a minute. The number nine in particular held Lennon’s interest, the day of the month he was born on. Some of his song titles allude to the obsession: “One After 909,” “Revolution 9,” “#9 Dream” (which reached #9 on the charts). So guess how many covers we’ve lined up today?
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Aug 172020
 

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

When Doves Cry

Purple Rain, the movie and the soundtrack starring Prince as “The Kid,” are iconic, but at the time of its release Prince wasn’t the household name that he is now. He had released five other albums, but it wasn’t until his fifth album, 1999, that he started to gain serious traction.

Then came Purple Rain. The album was number one on the Billboard 200 for almost half a year, Prince won an Academy Award for the score, and Prince was the first singer to have the top album, single, and film at the same time in the US. In 2019, the movie, based at least in part on Prince’s own life, was added to the Library of Congress’s National Film Registry for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”

The soundtrack had many hits, including its lead single, “When Doves Cry.” This was Prince’s first song to top the Billboard Hot 100 chart, and it even went platinum before the requirements were lowered. Prince directed his own music video for the song, complete with a dove-studded dramatic opening, but it was controversial at the time due to its “sexual nature.”

Unsurprisingly, this song is one of Prince’s most covered songs. Let’s hear how other artists take on this classic.

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Aug 072020
 

Cover Classics takes a closer look at all-cover albums of the past, their genesis, and their legacy.

Satisfied Mind

I never understood why the Walkabouts were never huge. A consummate Americana noir sound, two terrific vocalists in Chris Eckman and Carla Torgerson, an arthouse European ambiance… how did it not happen? Their history and geography ought really have defined a career in grunge, and their Seattle base and the Sub Pop label often had them sometimes lumped in with that movement. But they were always, even at the start, a step apart and a dust bowl away. Continue reading »

Apr 302020
 

Check out the best covers of past months here.

best cover songs april 2020
Arlo Parks – Redondo Beach (Patti Smith cover)


I’ve wanted to do a “Full Albums” on Patti Smith’s Horses for years. But it, and she, gets covered less than you’d think. This beautiful piano “Redondo Beach” gets me one step closer. Though, admittedly, I already had Courtney Barnett’s recent cover for that slot. Someone cover “Break It Up” already! Continue reading »

Feb 272020
 

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

smokey robinson covers

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.

Nov 122019
 

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

REM Covers

Last week, R.E.M. released a 25th anniversary expanded reissue of their 1994 album Monster. Unlike many of their albums, Monster was not an obvious candidate for a splashy box set. Practically every new review has noted that Monster was, as Salon succinctly put it, “a notorious staple of dollar bins everywhere.” But, as tends to happen with such reissues, the celebrated albums get celebrated again and the less-loved albums get a critical reappraisal. Sure enough, everyone loves Monster all of a sudden.

So perhaps an avalanche of Monster covers is forthcoming – because there certainly aren’t many now. Despite that being the ostensible news peg for this list, no songs from that album appear on it. But, in a band with as rich a discography as R.E.M.’s, there was a lot of competition. Sure, the obvious hits get covered as much as you think, but many artists delve deeper. The song at the very top of the list, for instance, originally appeared on 1998’s Up, an album that might have an even worse reputation than Monster.

Luckily we don’t need to wait four more years for the reappraisal of that, or of any of the other songs on our list. These 25 covers reappraise R.E.M. deep cuts you didn’t know and reimagine the hits you’ve heard a million times.

The list starts on Page 2.