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.”
‘The Best Covers Ever’ series counts down our favorite covers of great artists.
There are a lot of weird and wacky images within Alan Aldridge’s 1969 cult classic book The Beatles Illustrated Lyrics. One of the most memorable is a drawing imagining what John, Paul, George, and Ringo will look like as senior citizens. In this fantastical portrait, John and George are depicted as eccentric elders. Ringo, in keeping with his everyman persona, is shown as a shopworn sad sack. But it is Paul McCartney who offers the most disturbing vision of the future. “The cute one” appears as a conservative besuited and well-fed bank manager. His smug grin suggests he is proud to have finally outgrown all that silly pop music nonsense.
On their new album Ghost Stories, The Whitmore Sisters – Eleanor and Bonnie – cover another iconic sibling duo: The Everly Brothers. But they don’t go for an obvious oldies-radio hit like “All I Have to Do Is Dream” or “Cathy’s Clown.” Instead, they dig out the 1984 Paul McCartney-penned chestnut “On the Wings of an Nightingale,” and make it sound every bit as classic as anything in the Brothers’ catalog. In some ways, their cover actually sounds more like the Everly Brothers than the original, which piles on some unfortunate ’80s production.
“Golden Slumbers” is one of the more over-the-top moments from the famous medley which closes the Beatles’ Abbey Road. It’s not really a song so much as a song-fragment and, in the medley, it’s sequenced between the brief but complete song “She Came in Through the Bathroom Window” and the fragment “Carry That Weight.” “Golden Slumbers,” like most Beatles songs credited to Lennon-McCartney, was actually an adaptation by McCartney of a poem by Thomas Dekker.
It feels like a cliché these days to start one of these year-end lists writing about “the times we live in,” but, as you read and listen to our picks, you’ll find the specter of the coronavirus and lockdown pretty unavoidable.
One of these albums is titled Songs from Isolation; another is Awesome Quarantine Mix-Tape. Even on some albums where it’s so blindingly obvious, it’s there. Aoife Plays Nebraska is a recording of a quarantine livestream she gave. Los Lobos envisioned Native Sons as a balm for being stuck at home, unable to tour. And then there’s the tribute to John Prine, the long-awaited sequel to 2010’s Broken Hearts and Dirty Windows, inspired by his death from the coronavirus last year.
But many of these albums recall better times too. Two are belated releases of in-real-life, pre-pandemic tribute concerts, one to Leonard Cohen and the other to Eric Clapton’s Derek and the Dominoes (well, I guess both of those subject are kind of bummers, in different ways…). Tributes abound to other recent deaths – Andy Gibb, Justin Townes Earle, Roky Erickson – but we have plenty to artists still with us too, like Nick Cave, Peter Gabriel, and a host of underground psych-rock bands you’ve never heard of.
Then there are those that don’t fit any narrative. An artist felt inspired by an unconnected bunch of songs, decided to cover ’em, and brought them all together into a cohesive record. What do Vampire Weekend and The Supremes have in common? Lauren O’Connell’s beatifully intimate imaginings. How about Allen Toussaint and Calexico? Robert Plant and Alison Krauss harmonizing all over ’em. Whether it’s a quote-unquote “lockdown record” or just someone saying, “hell, why not get a bunch of folkie weirdos to play Phish tunes?,” every album on this list brought something meaningful to – ugh – the times we live in.
– Ray Padgett, Editor-in-Chief
The list starts on the next page…
Cover Classics takes a closer look at all-cover albums of the past, their genesis, and their legacy.
We’ve seen a few different motivations for forming supergroups, but another one is to gather together to pay homage to others. One recent example: the Sylvain Sylvain tribute by Halloween Jack, made up of Gilby Clarke (formally of Guns N’ Roses), Eric Dover (of Jellyfish), Stephen Perkins (of Jane’s Addiction), Dan Shulman (formerly of Garbage), and Steve Stevens (guitarist for Billy Idol)).
Hollywood Vampires is made up of Alice Cooper, Johnny Depp (super in a different way, but showing off his musical skills here), and Joe Perry (of Aerosmith). Although they have since worked on originals, their self-titled first album is (mostly) a cover album where the songs are chosen to pay tribute to rockers who “died from excess” in the 1970s. The irony of this is that the band is named after the drinking club for celebrities formed by Cooper in the ’70s.
Throughout their time playing together, the band has had guest features from other big stars, actors and musicians alike. They have postponed their European Tour twice now due to the pandemic, but hopefully fans will get a chance to rock out when the world settles down a bit more.