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 192021
 

They Say It’s Your Birthday  celebrates an artist’s special day with covers of his or her songs. Let someone else do the work for a while. Happy birthday!

birthday

Hi, I’m Patrick Robbins, the features editor here at Cover Me, and today’s my birthday. Please forgive the self-indulgence of a one-year-older guy for putting up a post that’s about me.

2021 is kind of a big year for me. Not only am I having one of those milestone birthdays – you know, one of those ones that ends in a zero – I’m also having a milestone anniversary. This year marks ten years since I joined the Cover Me staff. In all that time, I’ve gotten off a few good lines here and there (my favorite: a song had “more hooks than Moulty’s closet”), but far more importantly, I’ve found some great covers that I never would have discovered if I hadn’t been looking for them to share and talk about here.

So, as a little birthday present from me to you, I thought I’d pick out some of my favorite discoveries I’ve made over the years. What follows are some of my all-time favorite covers that I found specifically for Cover Me posts (as opposed to covers I already knew about), and links to the pieces in which I originally wrote about them. There’s a lot of songs here, but they’re only about one percent of the songs I’ve written about. So think of these as the cream of my cover crop.

Thanks to all of you for reading Cover Me – without you, this post wouldn’t exist – and here’s to many more birthdays and anniversaries to come.

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Nov 022020
 
best cover songs october 2020
Andrew Bird – Andalucia (John Cale cover)

Props to any musician who chooses some non-obvious tunes for their Christmas album. Even Joni Mitchell’s “River” has so often been served as the “surprise” holiday song by now that it feels pretty played out. Andrew Bird covers a few standards on his upcoming Hark! – “Oh Holy Night,” “White Christmas” (though weirdly not the hymn that gave the album its name) – but makes room for some seasonally-appropriate fare John Prine, Handsome Family, and, on the first single, John Cale. Continue reading »

Sep 092020
 

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.

Mathilde Santing

As a teen back  in the ’80s, I was completely, 100% besotted with the music magazines coming out of the UK. I loved the glossies like Smash Hits, No.1, and Record Mirror, as well as the weeklies, specifically NME and Melody Maker. I would read them cover to cover, simultaneously ogling the heartthrobs and making lists of what I wanted to buy based on the reviews (or, okay, someone’s haircut). It was through these endless piles of paper that I first got wind of The Associates, The Smiths, and Kate Bush, all of whom I ended up maniacally worshipping (and writing still-unanswered fan letters to). And of course, as there was no such thing as streaming at that point, the reviews in these mags were often the determining factor as to whether or not I would buy a record. My teen funds were meager, so there was often a lot riding on how convincing the review was. It was in one of these magazine reviews that I first stumbled upon Dutch singer Mathilde Santing.

Santing began her solo career in 1982 with the release of a self-titled album featuring an eclectic mix of standards, Rodgers and Hammerstein amongst them, and pop tracks by the likes of the Beach Boys and mad genius Todd Rundgren (hold that last thought, it will be important later!). As quietly adventurous as the track listing was, there was no question as to what the album’s real strength was — Mathilde Santing’s extraordinarily warm, elastic, gorgeous voice.

Santing’s next album, 1984’s Water Under the Bridge, marked something of a turning point in her career, though it wasn’t clear-cut at the time. Gone were the covers, replaced instead by original material of the jazzy, intermittently quirky, ’80s indie pop variety. While focusing on originals was the standard move for a young pop singer, the album turned out to be something of a swan song for Santing; it ended up being her last consisting solely of original material. With a handful of exceptions, from this point forward, it was all about the covers.

It was over a review of her next album that Santing first caught my eye and subsequently hooked me for the foreseeable future. While 1987’s Out of this Dream sported a small cluster of really fine originals, more than half the songs on the album were covers. Upon seeing the track list, I instantly recognized her as a kindred spirit, a total music nerd soul sister. There were songs by Squeeze and Tom Waits. There was a Dionne Warwick deep cut. The album opened with, yes, a Todd Rundgren track. It was a very “wait a second, I love these artists and songs too ” moment, and from that point on (though she didn’t know it), we were officially pop music nerd-bonded. I bought the record and was instantly impressed with her exquisite vocal performances, how she sang these majestic and melodic tunes with such reverence and passion. And maybe most thrillingly, it was unerringly cool to hear a girl so convincingly singing these songs written by boys.

To date, Santing has released 21 albums and counting (a mix of studio, live sets and compilations), and between those and her innumerable live performances, she’s covered upwards of 150 songs. She’s offered up stellar versions of tracks by everyone from ’80s pop auteurs and thinking girl faves like Scritti Politti and Aztec Camera to melodic maestros like Nilsson and Randy Newman, as well as those of evergreen legends like Joni Mitchell. It should be noted that she is especially fond of Todd Rundgren and is in league of her own as far as covering his catalog which is to say, in terms of quality Todd covers, no one on the planet does it better.

To this day I remain both awestruck and impressed by her song choices as well as just plain psyched that there’s another girl on the planet who is as infatuated with these specific artists, these one-man-band, post-pop weirdos and cult heroes with their very particular melodic sensibilities.

And now please enjoy this handful of highlights spotlighting some of the finest and coolest covers by master interpreter and unabashed pop fan Mathilde Santing.
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Sep 172019
 
cover songs 1969

This marks the fourth year I’ve done a big anniversary countdown (after 1996, 1987, and 1978). It also proved to be the most challenging. There were a lot of covers released in 1969. In fact, according to covers-and-samples database WhoSampled, there were more than in any of the other years we’ve done. Their database lists 3,110 covers, which is surely still a small fraction.

The reason for the cover song’s proliferation seems clear to me after going through them all: Popular bands released a lot more music back then. Aretha Franklin released two albums in 1969. So did The Byrds, Elvis Presley, Joe Cocker, Johnny Cash, Johnny Winter, and Nina Simone. Creedence Clearwater Revival and Merle Haggard released three albums apiece. James Brown topped them all with four. To get that kind of output, artists would pad their albums with covers. Every 1969 album by every artist I just mentioned includes at least one cover. Many include several. A few are all covers. It adds up.

Impressively, many of those covers reinterpreted songs that had come out within the previous year. This entire list could easily have been “Hey Jude” covers. “Wichita Lineman” and “Light My Fire” came up constantly too (the latter song slightly older, but it had hit the charts again in 1968). Even songs from 1968’s soundtrack to Hair got covered endlessly in 1969.

Even beyond “Hey Jude,” Beatles covers dominated the year. I’m not going to go back through the entire 3,110 covers and count, but if you told me Beatles covers made up a full half of those, I wouldn’t be shocked. Add Bob Dylan covers to that side of the scale and it’s probably true. Beatles songs got covered in every conceivable genre for every conceivable audience. Jazz and swing and folk and proto-metal Beatles covers everywhere the eye can see. Plenty of people cover the Beatles these days, sure, but trust me: It’s nothing like it was in 1969.

So wheedling all those down to the top 50 proved incredibly difficult. But it means this is maybe the top-to-bottom strongest set thus far, and it killed me to leave some off (that’s why our Patreon supporters will get a set of 69 bonus tracks – so join now).

One note: I left off Woodstock performances. For one, we counted down the 50 best covers performed there last month. But more importantly, most people did not actually hear those covers until the movie and soundtrack came out in 1970. Jimi Hendrix performed his iconic Star-Spangled Banner – pretty much everyone’s top cover of the weekend – to a nearly empty field. Most of the audience had left before he punched in at 9 AM that Monday morning. That said, several of the classic covers performed at Woodstock were released as singles or on albums the same year – including Joe Cocker’s “With a Little Help from My Friends” – and those studio versions make this list.

Now, let the sunshine in with the 50 best covers of 1969.

The countdown begins on page 2…

Nov 142018
 

In Pick Five, great artists pick five cover songs that matter to them.

erin mckeown cover songs

After almost two decades of critically acclaimed albums, singer-songwriter-guitarist Erin McKeown just added another hyphenate to her resumé: “theatrical composer.” She wrote music and lyrics for the new Public Theater musical Miss You Like Hell in New York. Variety wrote after seeing the show, “Erin McKeown makes an impressive stage debut with music that is eclectic and appealing.” Here’s a taste, two-time Tony nominee Daphne Rubin-Vega singing McKeown’s new song “Mothers”: Continue reading »