Aug 132021
 

In the Spotlight showcases a cross-section of an artist’s cover work. View past installments, then post suggestions for future picks in the comments!

everything but the girl covers

Confession: I was not happy when Everything But the Girl traded in their jangly, moody, melodic guitar pop to “go electronic” in the mid-’90s. While I wouldn’t equate it to what Dylan purists apparently felt when he infamously decided to “go electric” back in the ’60s, my eternally ’80s teen self thought it sucked and felt downright betrayed. EBTG had been one of my absolute favorite bands, and here they were forsaking their nerdy identity to go hang with the cool kids, leaving behind the introspective and geeky brethren and sistren who loved them.

The song that changed it all, “Missing,” began its life innocently enough. It was just another perfectly constructed, poetic and winsome track on an album that was chock-full of them, 1994’s Amplified Heart. This original version was released as a single, but only got as high as #69 on the UK pop chart. Then, in 1995, this crazy thing happened. The duo gave the track to DJ-Producer Todd Terry to remix for club play. But calling it a “remix” is underselling what it really was: a resurrection. Terry expertly sculpted “Missing” into an sleek, housed-up, heartbreaking dance anthem for the ages. It sold millions of copies all over the planet and has since become a permanent fixture on every “Best Songs of the ’90s” playlist in existence.

The success of “Missing” paved the way for the duo’s stylistic shift from earthy acoustic sounds to cooler electronic ones. The duo debuted the updated sound on their very next album, 1996’s Walking Wounded; its heartbreaking charms were undeniable, and all it took was one listen for me to fall back into the fold of hardcore EBTG fandom, never to depart again. Tracey (Thorn) and Ben (Watt) were still EBTG, after all, and the songs were as regal, poetic, and beautiful as they had ever been, even in this new and different guise (inside joke there for you EBTG nerds), a guise they maintained until they decided to close the book on the EBTG partnership in 2000 and just focus on their respective solo endeavors.

Now the reason I bring all this history this up is to note that pretty much all of the covers they did were recorded before this famous stylistic change; hence, their sound harkens back to the jangly days. Fact is, they pretty much stopped doing covers once they started exploring the electronic/dance side of things. So by default, the best EBTG covers all happened during the era we’ll call EBTG b.c. (before clubland), as opposed to the latter-day incarnation, EBTG a.d. (after dance).

In keeping with the longstanding tradition of all pop music ever, the most popular EBTG covers aren’t necessarily the best ones. Their cute ‘n’ groovy version of Cole Porter standard “Night And Day” and jaunty run-through Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Only Living Boy In New York City” are nice, as is their duet on Tom Waits’ “Downtown Train.” But if you want to hear EBTG at their interpretative best, swivel the chair around from the openly cool, famed and critically acclaimed and cast an ear toward the unabashedly POP heartbreakers–Mom favorites and oddball deep cuts. Let’s get driving…
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Jul 142021
 

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

How Long

Having a band more successful than your own court your bass player and attempt to entice him with money so he will join their ranks is not a universal human experience.

You know what is?

Being cheated on.

Welcome to the most beautifully ambiguous, arguably homoerotic slab of pub-soul ever to rise to the top of the pop charts: Ace’s infectious evergreen 1974 megahit “How Long.” The song was written by lead singer and keyboardist Paul Carrack, best known for his impressively productive stints in Squeeze and Mike & the Mechanics (as well as for his supremely soulful voice). He’s explained endlessly that “How Long” is about the attempted recruitment of Ace bassist Terry “Tex” Comer by a more successful band. But the song’s lyrics about parting ways are juuust the right amount of vague to allow for lots of romantic projection. Which is to say, to Carrack the song may be about Tex, but to the rest of us it mostly sounds like the heartbroken and bitter lament of a jealous, duped, and about-to-be-dumped lover.
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Jul 012019
 

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

best elton john covers

The first big film to to emerge in the post-Bohemian Rhapsody biopic boom is Rocketman. Compared to the Queen movie, critics like Rocketman better (somewhat), fact-checkers call it more accurate (somewhat), and LGBT advocates praise it for more honestly addressing the star’s sexuality (somewhat). Also – and hopefully this is unrelated – it has fared worse at the box office. Again, somewhat worse; it’s done fine, but does not seem to be the smash Bohemian Rhapsody was.

Unlike Queen, though, Elton John didn’t really need a mega-blockbuster to return to the public eye. He never left (after all, it’s hard to look away from clothes that sparkly). The farewell tour he launched last year will take him through 2020, and 2018 also saw two tribute albums featuring megawatt performers: from Lady Gaga to Ed Sheeran on the pop one, Miranda Lambert to Willie Nelson on the country one. For Elton, the Rocketman biopic is just the latest tribute in a career full of them.

And nowhere has tribute been paid more often than in the world of cover songs. From his second, self-titled album onward (no one covers songs off his 1969 debut), Elton’s songs have been covered constantly. Hell, Three Dog Night released their cover of that second album’s “Your Song” a month before John’s original even came out. Though artists inevitably gravitate towards the huge hits, John’s songbook boasts a long tail, with even some relative deep cuts generating classic covers. So this month we count down the thirty best Elton John covers ever.

Best so far, at least. At the rate he earns tributes, it won’t be long before the next batch lands.

Oct 112018
 
amy helm mandolin wind

Rod Stewart, one of the most prolific cover song performers around, is also an underrated songwriter. While his first two solo albums after departing The Faces included several cover songs – sterling versions of Dylan’s “Only A Hobo” and Tim Hardin’s “Reason To Believe” – his superior self-penned tunes including “Gasoline Alley” from his second proper release, and the beautiful “Mandolin Wind” from Every Picture Tells a Story are the songs that really cemented his legacy. Continue reading »

Oct 022018
 
rollin and tumblin covers

“Rollin’ and Tumblin’” is a blues standard that dates back to the 1920s. William “Hambone Willie” Newbern made the earliest recording the track, then known as “Roll and Tumble Blues.” In 1950, the song was famously recorded by Muddy Waters, who claimed credit as the songwriter. His rendition served as inspiration for the rash of covers by psychedelic blues artists in the ‘60s, including Cream, Canned Heat and Johnny Winter. With such a legacy it’s not really a surprise that classic rockers Rod Stewart and Billy Gibbons — the lead singer and guitarist for ZZ Top — each cover the track on their recent albums.

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Aug 152018
 

Welcome to Cover Me Q&A, where we take your questions about cover songs and answer them to the best of our ability.

Here at Cover Me Q&A, we’ll be taking questions about cover songs and giving as many different answers as we can. This will give us a chance to hold forth on covers we might not otherwise get to talk about, to give Cover Me readers a chance to learn more about individual staffers’ tastes and writing styles, and to provide an opportunity for some back-and-forth, as we’ll be taking requests (learn how to do so at feature’s end).

Today’s question, from Cover Me staffer Sean Balkwill: What’s your favorite original song that’s best known as a cover?
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