As everyone from Rolling Stone to their hometown Philadelphia Inquirer have noted, Low Cut Connie’s Adam Weiner has been putting some of the best – strike that, the best – live streams of our quarantined era. In twice-weekly shows he calls “Tough Cookies,” Weiner, sometimes accompanied by guitarist Will Donnelly, strips down to his skivvies and plays a high-energy set with a whole lot of crowd participation – doubly impressive without an actual crowd. He also invites friends ranging from Dion to Big Freedia to join him (when’s he going to get his most famous fan in on the action?) If you haven’t watched one, you should; it’s at a whole different energy level than any other artist’s stream.
They Say It’s Your Birthday celebrates an artist’s big day with cover tributes to his or her songs. Let others do the work for a while. Happy birthday!
Steve Winwood turns 72 today, so we have quite a few candles to light. The multi-instrumentalist singer and songwriter has had so many different incarnations that surveying his career makes you dizzy. It’s not just that Winwood tried his hand at different genres, it’s that he helped define those genres. These things can happen when a gifted artist jumps in on the action early —Winwood was famous for his music by the age of 16—and then keeps evolving in ways that matter. Add to that some serious staying power, and you have an impressive career–one that is still going strong six decades in.
In fact, last year may have been Winwood’s best ever, in a funny way. DJ-producer Kygo remixed Whitney Houston’s cover of Winwood’s “Higher Love,” and released it digitally; the song now has about 350,000,000 hits on Spotify alone. More about that song later, but for now just imagine that a small number of Kygo’s followers are asking themselves, “Who wrote this?” What will they find, and like, once they go down the Winwood rabbit hole?
Arlo Parks – Redondo Beach (Patti Smith cover)
I’ve wanted to do a “Full Albums” on Patti Smith’s Horses for years. But it, and she, gets covered less than you’d think. This beautiful piano “Redondo Beach” gets me one step closer. Though, admittedly, I already had Courtney Barnett’s recent cover for that slot. Someone cover “Break It Up” already!
‘The Best Ever’ series counts down our favorite covers of great artists.
August 16 has long been a day of infamy in the history of American popular music. It started in 1977 when Elvis Presley, the King of Rock n’ Roll, passed away. Forty-one years later, another member of rock royalty also died: Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul. Though she was older and her death less of a shock to the cultural landscape, I still remember the exact moment when I heard the news. I was with my family driving home from Sesame Place in Pennsylvania listening to the Beatles channel on SiriusXM. The DJ interrupted to tell us the sad news and in Franklin’s honor played her version of “Let It Be.”
AJ Lambert – Lush Life (Frank Sinatra cover)
Frank Sinatra’s granddaughter covers Frank Sinatra. You think you know where this story ends: fawning nepotism. But despite familial loyalty, A.J. Lambert isn’t afraid to twist “Lush Life,” adding a Lynchian undercurrent of menace. More of an overcurrent in the crawling, nose-bleeding video.
Amy Shark – Teenage Dirtbag (Wheatus cover)
Every month, one or two of these selections invariably hail from Spotify’s terrific new cover-sessions series. My only gripe is that they came with no information, the sort a band would write in the YouTube description or press release announcing a new cover, or say on stage before performing one live. That’s now solved with Spotify’s new “Under Cover” podcast, in which the artists performing the covers talk about them. We learn that Amy Shark tried to make “Teenage Dirtbag” a Pixies song, and that she considered the song her anthem when she was young. She says: “The first time I heard ‘Teenage Dirtbag,’ I was in high school. I was crazy obsessed with it to the point where it was in my head every day all day. I would sing it in all day in school. Even teachers would say, ‘Amy, please listen to something else.'”
Full Albums features covers of every track off a classic album. Got an idea for a future pick? Leave a note in the comments!
Sly and the Family Stone hadn’t recorded anything new in a year, and the record label wanted to keep Sly’s name in the public consciousness – and if they could make a little money in the bargain, so much the better. So they put together Sly and the Family Stone’s Greatest Hits. If not a cynical cash grab, it was at least within smelling distance.
But a funny thing happened – they scooped up some of the best singles of the sixties, when Sly Stone was writing songs emphasizing the coming together of all races, creeds, and colors into one big party, and the result was what Robert Christgau called “among the greatest rock and roll LPs of all time.” In his A+ review, he went on:
The rhythms, the arrangements, the singing, the playing, the production, and–can’t forget this one–the rhythms are inspirational, good-humored, and trenchant throughout, and on only one cut (“Fun”) are the lyrics merely competent. Sly Stone’s gift for irresistible dance songs is a matter of world acclaim, but his gift for political anthems that are uplifting but never simplistic or sentimental is a gas. And oh yeah–his rhythms are amazing.