Anyone who was paying attention to cover songs a decade ago will remember The A.V. Club’s “Undercover” series. In the vein of the BBC Live Lounge and Triple J Like a Version, the entertainment web site would bring bands into their Chicago offices to cover a song. The concept, though, was the site started with a masters list of songs and the band had to pick one. The later they came in, the fewer song choices remained. It went on for years and the covers were ubiquitous (we must have posted a million of ’em). Practically every indie band of the era stopped by (many several times), and they often delivered something great.
Buzzy UK math/prog rockers Black Midi just released their second studio album, Cavalcade on May 26, 2021. As part of the release the band polled their fans about which covers they should include on a bonus flexi disc available from record stores. The results are in are the covers are
- “Moonlight on Vermont” by Captain Beefheart
- “21st Century Schizoid Man” by King Crimson
- “Nothing Compares 2 U by Prince
- “Love Story” by Taylor Swift
- “Psycho Killer” by Talking Heads.
At first, Black Midi feel sound like they might be taking the piss on their”Nothing Compares 2 U”. Lead singer Geordie Greep’s falsetto is flawed and goofy, almost as if he’s doing a bad Roland Gift impression, and there’s just his voice and a synth. But, whether or not he’s goofing off, once the rest of the band chimes in and the tempo picks up, it really feels like they are trying to put their spin on it. Yes, the vocals are extremely silly, but the musicianship is great – of course it is – and the sense of fun is palpable.
After the guitar solo, things get really weird, with manic interpolations of Frank Zappa’s “Keep It Greasy” from Joe’s Garage and “Let’s Go Crazy” from Prince’s own Purple Rain. (Listen for the reference to Tim Burton’s Batman, which Prince soundtracked, during the “Let’s Go Crazy” segment.)
Yes, it’s goofy, it’s bizarre and it’s possible that the band don’t actually like the song. But it’s a lot of fun, perhaps because of the irreverence. This is pretty hallowed ground after all, and it’s enjoyable to see a band just tearing into such a famous song and not worrying about whether you like it or not. It’s not streaming anywhere, but a Reddit user preserved it on Dropbox.
We’re not generally in the practice of publishing reader mail at Cover Me (doesn’t mean we don’t appreciate getting it!). There’s no Letters to the Editor page like you’d see in an old magazine. The comments section and social media serve that function well enough. But today, we’re making an exception.
Last summer, a German reader named Karsten Schroeder wrote in offering to share some cool covers he liked by German bands. We said sure – we’re always looking to discover new stuff, after all. We didn’t hear much after that and, to be honest, forgot about it. Then, a full ten months later, he emailed an exhaustive look at the covers scene in Germany. Across 123 songs, Karsten explored covers spanning punk – his favorite genre – to hip-hop, folk to pop to a few genres that are Germany-specific (“Fun-Punk,” “Deutschrock”). It was so rich and detailed, full of amazing covers that we – and, I expect, you – had never heard before that we asked him if we could publish it.
Black Country, New Road – Time to Pretend (MGMT cover)
If you’re expecting the “Time to Pretend” you knew and loved a decade ago, think again. UK post-punkers Black Country, New Road, one of the buzziest bands of the new year, deconstruct the song entirely. It starts pretty sane, then gradually veers off the tracks into chaos. By the end there’s a free-jazz sax solo leading a wall of noise only barely identifiable as this, or any, song.
It isn’t any longer a surprise when avowed adherents of one tradition tackle another, and folk singers tackling the pop charts is one of the staples of current expectation. And it can be a mixed blessing.
Kate Rusby has one of the purest and most distinctive of voices that grace the UK folk circuit, and has been one of the most successful, her career stretching back over three-plus decades. Firmly associated with the trad. arr. firmament, her voice, with acoustic guitar, fiddles, and squeezeboxes reaping the songs of old England, she also writes material that can fit into that style seamlessly. An unmistakably Yorkshire presence, her accent unadorned by any need to adopt the faux-ploughboy (or -girl) many folkies seem to adopt, her whole persona seems inhabited by the tradition. There are no messages, she has no soapbox–just the singing.
Five Good Covers presents five cross-genre reinterpretations of an oft-covered song.
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.