Sep 302022
 

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

beach boys covers

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.

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Jul 252022
 

Melt AwayHaving released two Christmas albums, it is only fitting that She & Him move on to tackle summer. And what says summer more brightly than the Beach Boys? Even thinking about the band makes me (smiley) smile and look for garish Hawaiian shirts in my wardrobe. And of course, the Beach Boys wouldn’t have been the Beach Boys, whatever Mike Love might think, if it wasn’t for the genius of Brian Wilson, the last Wilson brother standing. Hence, Melt Away: A Tribute to Brian Wilson. All the songs here have at least some input from Brian Wilson, largely the melodies, with lyrics also on occasion. (Mr. Love would want me to say he co-wrote many of them, I am sure, so I will.)

She & Him, then, a curious mélange. M. Ward, the somewhat-cerebral-seeming singer-songwriter from the Pacific Northwest, and Zooey Deschanel, the manic pixie dream girl in many a Hollywood comedy. The combination smacks of vanity project. Actually far from, with Ms. Deschanel responsible for the bulk of their own material, at least as far as the songwriting credits go. Taking most of the lead vocals, Deschanel plays guitar and ukulele (don’t panic), whilst Ward is content to supply a subsidiary presence, responsible for additional vocals, guitar and keyboards, as well as production duties. Which, in anything involving the songs of Brian Wilson, is going to be no small feat.
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Jun 022022
 
She & Him Brian Wilson

She & Him, the ever-rolling musical project of Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward, came out of the gate in 2008 with three albums of original classic pop in five years. In the decade that’s followed since, the duo have opted to put original material aside, reveling in a different kind of sunshine: covers. She & Him released the spirited Classics in 2014, and a subsequent album full of holiday cuts (2016’s Christmas Party). The duo continue on as pop interpreters with the recent announcement of their third and latest all-covers album, Melt Away: A Tribute To Brian Wilson.

She & Him’s seemingly accessible sound has always been belied by more esoteric instincts; the pair value deep cuts as much as they do big hits. Assembling the tracklist for Melt Away offered Deschanel and Ward offered an ideal opportunity to celebrate both sides of Brian Wilson’s decades-deep songbook — both the standards, and the arty b-sides.

“We chose songs without any regard to their chart performance. The obscure ones hit us just as hard as the more popular songs — and all are ripe for re-imagining, re-interpreting, and re-inventing,” the duo said in a statement alongside the album announcement. “Brian writes songs of beauty and loneliness and vulnerability better than anyone — and by sequencing them next to popular songs of confidence and love and fun, it creates a more complete picture of life on earth.”

Ahead of Melt Away’s release on July 22nd, She & Him have shared a kitschy music video for “Darlin’,” drawn from the Beach Boys’ Wild Honey, released initially in 1967. They also shared the audio of the more well-known hit “Wouldn’t It Be Nice.” Check out both, as well as Melt Away‘s full tracklist, below.

Melt Away: A Tribute to Brian Wilson Tracklist

1.  Darlin’
2. Wouldn’t It Be Nice
3. Til I Die
4. Deirdre
5. Melt Away
6. Good to My Baby
7. Don’t Talk (Put Your Head on My Shoulder)
8. Don’t Worry Baby
9. This Whole World
10. Kiss Me, Baby
11. Do It Again (featuring Brian Wilson)
12. Heads You Win, Tails I Lose
13. Please Let Me Wonder
14. Meant for You

Check out more She & Him covers here.
Check out more Beach Boys covers here.

Jan 282022
 

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

best smiths covers

Who was the first band you felt truly understood you? The one who seemed to verbalize your every inexpressible thought with such pinpoint precision, who from the moment you first heard them made every other band that previously occupied your heart cease to matter? If you happened to have come of age in the ’80s, there was only one band in the entire universe that truly understood your pining and suffering. They were called The Smiths, and they totally got you.

The Smiths weren’t like the other (’80s) boys whose blonde highlights, synthesizers, and colorfully androgynous sartorial choices were dominating the pop charts and MTV. While Duran Duran and Wham! swanned on glamorous beaches and aimed themselves straight at your, uh, parts, The Smiths actively avoided the sun and made a beeline for your heart, mind, and bookcase. They didn’t care to make silly videos to promote their wares. Their metaphorical MTV was the music press and Morrissey’s eminently quotable interviews were the key pieces of catnip used to promote the band.

Of course, for all the intellect on display in the magazines, Morrissey was still an immaculately-coiffed heartthrob who knew how to work it in the pictures (Did I write him an unanswered fan letter in 1984 to tell him I loved him? Yes). But the music required no hard selling. Morrissey’s lyrics were revelatory, a magical mix of misery, humor, bitterness, and the embarrassing truth. Who among us hasn’t suffered at some point from “a shyness that is criminally vulgar” or had a “murderous desire for love” or wanted to “hang the DJ”? The union of Morrissey’s immaculate words with Johnny Marr’s chiming guitar melodies made rejection, frustration, and self-loathing sound positively majestic.

Over the years, The Smiths have become something of a code word used to describe the first band that became your friend, the first that looked you straight in your misty eyes, clutched both your hands to their chest, and said “I feel the same way.” This is why the band continues to be covered at such a relentless clip by artists old and new. And it’s why the songs being chosen to cover aren’t confined to the usual cluster of greatest hits. When it comes to The Smiths, it’s just a little more personal.

The Smiths are never, ever getting back together. The years of inter-band sniping far exceed the number that the band was actually together. Hell, as we were finalizing this list this week yet another Moz-Marr dustup occurred. But that’s okay. We don’t need more than they’ve already given. Let’s just celebrate the good times. We now present the 40 most triumphant and charming Smiths covers in the universe. Ready, handsome devils? Let us begin…

– Hope Silverman

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Sep 302021
 
best cover songs of september
Beyoncé – Moon River (Mancini/Mercer cover

Any month with a new cover by Beyoncé is a big month. Admittedly, her piano-crooning “Moon River” like so many others have piano-crooned “Moon River” – and for a Tiffany’s ad no less – is slightly underwhelming. But we’ll take what we can get, and, even if the approach is hardly novel, Beyoncé’s got the pipes to deliver. Continue reading »

Jul 022021
 

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

girl group covers

The matching outfits. The perfectly coiffed hair. The synchronized finger-snapping. The beautiful faces. And, of course, the angelic voices. Just saying the phrase “Girl Groups” conjures images of these well-styled ladies from the past singing their hearts out, dreaming of those young boys they hoped to marry.

Many of the group names are legendary. The Supremes, The Ronettes, The Crystals, The Shirelles, and Martha and the Vandellas have been fixtures of “oldies” format radio for decades. Leading these groups were great frontwomen like Diana Ross, Ronnie Spector, and Martha Reeves, as well as Darlene Love, who sang for multiple groups unbeknownst to the record buying public. There were also countless ladies who did not become household names, such as Arlene Smith, lead singer of the Chantels, who belted out the group’s classic “Maybe.”

For the purposes of this list, we decided to focus on the period known as the “Golden Age of Girl Groups.” Though we’re calling it ’60s in the headline, it really spanned from roughly 1955 to 1970. In this era, the music was transported from the street corners and dance halls to the radio, which broadcast it into living rooms across the country. The songs blended elements of doo-wop, early rock ‘n’ roll, pop, gospel, and rhythm & blues. When melded together, it created a sound as fresh and new as the 45s and transistor radios that blasted out the music.

Most of the best-known girl groups were women of color (with a few notable exceptions, such as the Shangri-Las). These women not only topped the charts, they broke down barriers as they helped to integrate segregated audiences across the country, including the Deep South.

Behind the scenes were equally legendary songwriters, musicians and producers. You know their names, too: tunesmiths such as Carole King and Gerry Goffin, and the Motown song and production trio Holland/Dozier/Holland (Lamont Dozier and brothers Brian and Eddie Holland).

Such a shiny veneer had a dark side, though, in the form of the notorious Phil Spector. He was a brilliant producer who presided over many of the era’s biggest hits, but he was also a truly terrible human being who physically and emotionally abused his charges, including his ex-wife Ronnie Spector. He would eventually be convicted of murder and died in prison earlier this year.

The music has continued to inspire covers by both male and female artists – or boys and girls, in the parlance of the genre. Our list features covers by everyone from Aerosmith to Amy Winehouse, the Beatles to Bananarama (a girl group of another era), as well as ska bands, punk bands, indie bands, and countless Rock and Roll Hall of Famers who have covered tracks from the era.

That’s probably because the songs were so darn powerful. Love songs that captured the ecstasy and agony of teenage emotions like “Will You Love Me Tomorrow,” “Please Mr. Postman” and “You Can’t Hurry Love.” Party favorites such as “Dancing in the Streets” and “Heat Wave.” And songs that dealt with more complex social issues such as “Love Child,” and the disturbing “He Hit Me (And It Felt Like a Kiss).” Such great songs inspire great artists to record fantastic covers. Here’s a selection of our favorites.

– Curtis Zimmermann

The list begins on Page 2.