Jul 022021
 

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

girl group covers

The matching outfits. The perfectly coiffed hair. The synchronized finger-snapping. The beautiful faces. And, of course, the angelic voices. Just saying the phrase “Girl Groups” conjures images of these well-styled ladies from the past singing their hearts out, dreaming of those young boys they hoped to marry.

Many of the group names are legendary. The Supremes, The Ronettes, The Crystals, The Shirelles, and Martha and the Vandellas have been fixtures of “oldies” format radio for decades. Leading these groups were great frontwomen like Diana Ross, Ronnie Spector, and Martha Reeves, as well as Darlene Love, who sang for multiple groups unbeknownst to the record buying public. There were also countless ladies who did not become household names, such as Arlene Smith, lead singer of the Chantels, who belted out the group’s classic “Maybe.”

For the purposes of this list, we decided to focus on the period known as the “Golden Age of Girl Groups.” Though we’re calling it ’60s in the headline, it really spanned from roughly 1955 to 1970. In this era, the music was transported from the street corners and dance halls to the radio, which broadcast it into living rooms across the country. The songs blended elements of doo-wop, early rock ‘n’ roll, pop, gospel, and rhythm & blues. When melded together, it created a sound as fresh and new as the 45s and transistor radios that blasted out the music.

Most of the best-known girl groups were women of color (with a few notable exceptions, such as the Shangri-Las). These women not only topped the charts, they broke down barriers as they helped to integrate segregated audiences across the country, including the Deep South.

Behind the scenes were equally legendary songwriters, musicians and producers. You know their names, too: tunesmiths such as Carole King and Gerry Goffin, and the Motown song and production trio Holland/Dozier/Holland (Lamont Dozier and brothers Brian and Eddie Holland).

Such a shiny veneer had a dark side, though, in the form of the notorious Phil Spector. He was a brilliant producer who presided over many of the era’s biggest hits, but he was also a truly terrible human being who physically and emotionally abused his charges, including his ex-wife Ronnie Spector. He would eventually be convicted of murder and died in prison earlier this year.

The music has continued to inspire covers by both male and female artists – or boys and girls, in the parlance of the genre. Our list features covers by everyone from Aerosmith to Amy Winehouse, the Beatles to Bananarama (a girl group of another era), as well as ska bands, punk bands, indie bands, and countless Rock and Roll Hall of Famers who have covered tracks from the era.

That’s probably because the songs were so darn powerful. Love songs that captured the ecstasy and agony of teenage emotions like “Will You Love Me Tomorrow,” “Please Mr. Postman” and “You Can’t Hurry Love.” Party favorites such as “Dancing in the Streets” and “Heat Wave.” And songs that dealt with more complex social issues such as “Love Child,” and the disturbing “He Hit Me (And It Felt Like a Kiss).” Such great songs inspire great artists to record fantastic covers. Here’s a selection of our favorites.

– Curtis Zimmermann

The list begins on Page 2.

May 142021
 

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

Cecilia covers

Eddie Simon started it. He was with his brother Paul at the house on Blue Jay Way where George Harrison had been inspired to write the song of that name. Now Art Garfunkel had rented it for a few months, and there were a few festive evenings there in the summer of ’69. One night, Eddie started banging out a rhythm on a piano bench, and it proved so infectious that everyone there joined in, banging along with whatever they could find. They taped the track, and Paul kept returning to its ebullience. When he brought it into the studio, he and producer Roy Halee made a loop of one section, to which Paul added lyrics that literally went from heartbreak to jubilation.

“The whole thing was a piece of fluff,” he later said. “But magical fluff.” Indeed, the song was as sexy as Simon and Garfunkel ever got, and as one biographer later put it, “the song’s thwacking, thumping battery of percussion felt like an ad-hoc group of street-musician drummers pounding away in Central Park.” As Bridge Over Troubled Water‘s third single, the song went top-five in America and remains a classic rock favorite.
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May 052021
 

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

Patti Smith Twelve

Up until her release of Twelve in 2007, Patti Smith had not been much of one for studio covers, give or take her fabled extended riff on “Gloria,” which remains a live staple. Sure, she had the Byrds’ “So You Want to Be a Rock’n’Roll Star” on her third album, and Dylan’s John Wesley Harding deep cut “Wicked Messenger” on her sixth, but she otherwise largely wrote her own, with her friends and band members. Twelve surprised fans and critics alike, not only by being all other people’s songs, but also by the twelve songs Smith had chosen. Continue reading »

Mar 262021
 

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

Last summer I was crushed by mail at my job as a mail carrier, at a time when everyone was ordering Amazon as they stayed at home. I was further flattened by a boulder with the news that Justin Townes Earle had passed away at the age of 38. The headline went by in a blink, like all the news last year, and although I had hoped to write about his career, full of a multitude of covers from several genres, a 100-year pandemic event of mail turned into a 100-year event of election mail, and then a 100-year event of Christmas packages. My timely tribute was not meant to be.

Earle, like all prodigies with musical DNA, was often compared to his father. Some wanted to compare the similarities of their Americana music, while others wanted to highlight the differences, such as JTE’s penchant for wearing traditional bluegrass suits on stage. I sometimes wonder if he defied comparisons on purpose, dressing in a summer suit while dropping f-bombs in a plethora of raunchy realness. But anyone that heard them would never confuse the two.

Earle was the latest victim in a slew of high-profile opioid deaths. Prince. Tom Petty. Jay Bennett of Wilco. After JTE died, Steve Earle came out with a tribute album of his son’s songs, heartbreaking evidence that the father defied the devil’s bookies and outlived the son.

The people who give us joy are suddenly ripped away. But in JTE’s case, some of that joy was recorded on camera. Here, on the ninth anniversary of the release of his album Nothing’s Gonna Change The Way You Feel About Me Now, let’s take a look at some of his best covers.
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Feb 092021
 

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.

Goose covers

Goose, whose name was inspired by an inside taco-related joke between bandmates Peter Anspach, Ben Atkind, Trevor Bass, and Rick Mitarotonda, formed in Connecticut in 2006. Many point to their performance at the Peach Festival in Scranton, PA in 2019 as the moment that elevated them from local heroes to more widespread fame.

Following in the footsteps of great jam bands before them (yes, they get compared to Phish a lot), Goose is known for keeping the vibe going with extended instrumentals. They’ve been keeping busy during the pandemic, even profiting from a “Bingo Tour” where they live stream a setlist determined in real time by random draws of bingo balls and raising money for charity.

Throughout their different gigs they’ve performed quite a few covers. Let’s check out a sampling of them.

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Apr 142020
 
live-from-home covers

It’s a strange circumstance: What has been awful for humanity at large has been pretty good for the world of cover songs. Even we would say that’s a terrible trade-off!

Nevertheless, we’ve been grateful that so many musicians have taken to Facebook, Instagram, etc to share their music and, in many cases, cover favorite songs that are helping get them through. So, for the fourth time and certainly not the last, we’re rounding up some of the best we’ve seen recently and encouraging you to add your own below.

One note: There are some obvious names you won’t see here. John Prine. Bill Withers. Adam Schlesinger. Kenny Rogers. So many wonderful covers are emerging to pay tribute to artists no longer with them that we’ll be rounding them up separately. We did the first set for Prine here. Continue reading »