Feb 232024
 

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

beatles covers

Sixty years ago this month, The Beatles played on the Ed Sullivan Show. You don’t need us to tell you what a momentous occasion this was; entire books have been written on the subject. Suffice to say we’re using the anniversary as our excuse to finally devote a Best Covers Ever to perhaps the biggest band of them all. We’ve done Dylan. We’ve done the Stones. We’ve done Dolly and Springsteen and Prince. But there was one last giant remaining.

Though it’s difficult to measure this precisely, The Beatles are the most-covered artist of all time according to the two biggest covers databases on the internet (SecondHandSongs, WhoSampled). And that certainly feels right. “Yesterday” is often cited as the most-covered song of all time, though that needs qualifiers (a ton of Christmas standards would beat it). But, again, it feels right. The Beatles were ubiquitous in their day, and they’ve been ubiquitous ever since. They just had a chart-topping single last month, the A.I.-assisted “Now and Then,” which was duly covered widely. If “Carnival of Light” ever surfaces, no doubt a carnival of covers will soon follow. Continue reading »

Feb 142024
 

(hangs head) How did I not hear of this? How did Billy Valentine and the Universal Truth, a slice of prime r’n’b/jazz–acid jazz if you must–slip under the Cover Me radar last year? Alerted by the end-of-year lists of others, a quick shufti confirmed this demanded our attention. And it comes with quite an impressive back story to boot.

There are two Billy Valentines. There’s the 98-year-old blues and r’n’b man, William A. Valentine, and there’s 73-year-old who was one of the Valentine Brothers, r’n’b hitmakers of the 1970s into ’80s, best known for “Money Too Tight (To Mention),” to be later catapulted into ubiquity by Simply Red. (Their version is better…) This is the latter of the Valentines, however much I secretly hoped it the former.

After the brush with fame offered by “MTT(TM),” with their own version sinking under the lack of promotion capable of their then-tiny independent label, Valentine took on work with Bob Thiele Jr., as a writer for hire. Thiele Sr. was the boss of Impulse Records, when their roster covered acts such as Louis Armstrong and John Coltrane; later her served as the boss of Flying Dutchman Records, which had championed Gil Scott-Heron. Valentine and Thiele Jr. sold songs all over, ahead of some later traction of soundtracks: Valentine was one of the featured singers for The Sons Of Anarchy series, with a number of featured cameos. Come 2020, with Thiele Sr. deceased, his son felt it as good a time as any to revive the Flying Dutchman imprint, as part of the Acid Jazz family. Valentine was his first signing.

Taking a while to gather together the right combination of material and musician, Billy Valentine and the the Universal Truth dropped last March. It features eight songs drawn from the more militant factions of black music, or at least songs that reflect on that. There is some Gil Scott-Heron, some Curtis Mayfield and Pharaoh Sanders, with Stevie Wonder and Prince in there for good measure. Musicians include the likes of Immanuel Wilkins, Alex Acuña, Jeff Parker and Pino Palladino, so the album is class personified. Let’s play it!
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Nov 282023
 
goose i would die 4 u

The Festive Season is upon us, and jam-band fans know what that means: Goosemas. In preparation for their annual showcase in December, Goose played their first European tour in smaller venues and, in one case, on a moored boat. A portion of their devoted flock joined them, along with interested locals. During their first-ever show in Manchester, England, they played a cover, only their second, of Prince’s “I Would Die 4 U” with a new twist.

Of course, it is always an act of bravery to take on a Prince tune. To do it live when you know that this version exists, raises the stakes higher still. No trepidation shows. Opening the second set, Peter Anspach frames the piece with keyboards and then the band fill the scene, before Rick Mitarotonda takes on the improvisational duties. In a bravura performance, he goes through delicate phrasings and a panoply of power chords before something suddenly emerges.

Multiple listens do not give any hint of what is coming. If “Purple Rain” was one of the cultural phenomena of 1984, the surprise addition of “Axel F,” aka the theme to Beverly Hills Cop, was another. Bringing them together is something even Prince did not do.

Goose’s Manchester gig was one of the best-received on the tour and is available on Bandcamp.

Jul 312023
 
best cover songs
Bob Dylan — Bad Actor (Merle Haggard cover)

Bob Dylan has been on a covers roll this year. On tour, he has primarily covered a number of Dead (“Truckin’,” “Stella Blue,” “Brokedown Palace”) or Dead-associated (“Not Fade Away,” “Only a River”) songs. But he’s dipped into other classic catalogs occasionally too. He did Van Morrison’s “Into the Mystic” for the first time and then, not long after, maybe the deepest cut yet: Merle Haggard’s 2016 track “Bad Actor.” The tape took a while to surface. It was worth the wait. Continue reading »

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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Jun 302022
 
best covers of june 2022
Angel Olsen – Greenville (Lucinda Williams cover)


Angel Olsen dropped two terrific covers this month. Her version of Dylan’s “One Too Many Mornings,” recorded for the TV show Shining Girls, features haunting electronic textures underpinning her voice. It’s a surprisingly un-folky cover of one of Bob’s early folk songs. Her version of Lucinda Williams’ Car Wheels on a Gravel Road standout “Greenville” is just as good, guitar echoing behind her mesmerizing double-tracked vocals. Continue reading »