If you were to look at the charts, the Beach Boys basically stopped having giant hits after 1966’s “Good Vibrations” (with the obvious exception of 1988’s “Kokomo”). They’re a singles band whose singles mostly dried up six years into their sixty-year career. They had a brief run of good-time hits about girls, cars, and surfing, then faded. They’re the band preserved forever in that cornball publicity photo up top.
But that’s not the story these covers tell.
The big hits are here, sure. “Surfer Girl” and “Fun Fun Fun” and “I Get Around” etc. But so are many now-iconic tunes that weren’t hits. “God Only Knows,” the Beach Boys’ most covered song, peaked at #39. By their standards, that’s a straight-up flop. Many other covered songs didn’t even make it that high. But “God Only Knows” has of course belatedly been recognized as one of the great pop songs of the 20th century. As has the album it came off of, Pet Sounds, itself a relative commercial failure.
Pet Sounds, of course, has long since been recognized as a classic. So some artists dig even deeper. “Lonely Sea” is an album cut off their 1963 album Surfin’ U.S.A. “Trader” comes off the 1973 album Holland. Three separate songs here originally came off Surf’s Up, now the go-to pick for artists who want to show they know more than Pet Sounds. Even a song not released until the ‘90s, “Still I Dream of It,” gets a killer cover.
You can trace the story of the Beach Boys’ reputation through these covers. A group once perceived as a lightweight singles act have been fully embraced as musical geniuses, all the way from the hits of the ’60s through the then-overlooked gems of the ‘70s and beyond. Some of these songs below you probably won’t know. Others you will know every single word of…but you’ve never heard them sung like this.
“Covering the Hits” looks at covers of a randomly-selected #1 hit from the past sixty-odd years.
Christopher Cross’s soft rock classic “Sailing” isn’t quite what it seems to be on its shimmery surface. For one thing, though it was technically related to actual sojourns on the water Cross took in his younger days, it wasn’t strictly about sailing. Back in 1995, in the midst of a manic (understatement) interview on The Howard Stern Show, of all places, he broke it down.
Cross said his standard explanation of the song’s inspiration ’til then was that it was about the transportive power of art. The song’s most famous line,”the canvas can do miracles” referred not to a boat sail, but to an actual painting (I admit that for years I thought he meant a freakin’ sail, don’t tell anyone). But when he thought about it later, he realized it was about combination of escaping a stressful home situation (his father’s alcoholism and subsequent emotional distance) as well as his gratefulness to a particular friend who would take him out sailing and as a result became something of a surrogate dad to Cross.
And so “Sailing” is not just for sailors but is in fact for all of us wistful humans, eloquently expressing musical thanks to everyone’s blessed escape hatches and guardian angels. “Sailing” is in fact a state of mind. I spent a fair amount of time with this thing as well as the album it came from, titled, uh, Christopher Cross, in my sad teenage bedroom back in the day. so I was warmed to hear Cross’s latter-day analysis. And surely I’m not the only living being who has succumbed to its mellow, melancholic charm and still voluntarily listens to it on a semi-regular basis forty-odd years later (yeah, okay, work with me here people). Continue reading »
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!
There are very few articles about Terry Reid that fail to mention his falling at the first hurdle of being asked to join Led Zeppelin, and, I am afraid, this isn’t one of them. It seems the one fact anyone knows about this still-performing singer, and one that, understandably, always irks him. Not so much that he regrets it, more he just regrets it being the only part of his life and career anyone asks him about. Or seems interested about. Which is a shame, as there has always been a good deal more to Terry Reid than that. Continue reading »
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.
Rumer is one of those performers who works for years to become an overnight success; she won Mojo’s 2011 Best Breakthrough Act award more than a decade after she started performing. One listen to her and you’ll wonder what took the world so long. Her voice is regularly compared to Karen Carpenter’s, and she doesn’t just sound at home singing the soft-pop sound of ’70s AM radio – she makes that sound matter like no one else has dared to in a long time. Continue reading »