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.”Continue reading »
The story goes that Bob Dylan called Smokey Robinson “America’s greatest living poet.” Not so, it turns out, but it sure seems like something he would say – it sounds a note of contrariness, but it also has the ring of truth.
Smokey Robinson turned 80 this month, and his legacy as one of the architects of the Motown sound has long been assured. Not only did he have a silken falsetto that conveyed sunshine and rain with equal ease, he also wielded a pen with a similar level of genius. Whether writing for The Miracles, the band that he led throughout the sixties, or the other members of the Motown stable, he came up with songs that became not just a part of music history, but a part of our nation’s history. As Smokey said, the Motown slogan was not “The Sound of Black America,” but “The Sound of Young America,” and that sound has rung down through the corridors of time as surely as the sound of the Liberty Bell.
No further proof is needed than the number of covers of Smokey’s songs – covers of his own recordings or covers of the original recordings by The Temptations or Marvin Gaye or the many other singers who benefited from his pen. His voice has spoken to other artists for decades, and when those artists tell us what he told them, those songs are just as fresh as they were the day he first set them down. We found thirty superlative covers of songs that Smokey wrote and/or sang, but, as we could have found thirty great recordings of “My Girl” alone, we know we’ve missed a few along the way. Whether you’re steamed at what we missed, or excited to discover what we found, we can agree on one thing: Smokey Robinson is one of the all-time greats, and we’re fortunate to have the privilege to listen to the songs he wrote for the rest of our lives.
In Memoriam pays tribute to those who have left this world, and the songs they left us to remember them by.
In 1998, the British music magazine Mojo polled 175 singers to determine the greatest singer of all time. Aretha Franklin was the winner, which in and of itself was not wholly unexpected. What was unexpected, the Mojo people told its readers, was the degree to which she ran away with it. According to Aretha’s peers, Frank Sinatra was a very distant second. Everybody knows of her famous demand for R-E-S-P-E-C-T, and in the hours that followed her passing, everyone would learn that she got it, and that she truly deserved it. Continue reading »
In Pick Five, great artists tell us about five cover songs that matter to them.
When post-punk pioneers Gang of Four first reunited in 2005, they told the New York Times they weren’t planning on writing any new songs. They have clearly changed their tune since then, following a couple recent albums with a new EP out this week. Way back in 1980, David Fricke called them “probably the best politically motivated band in rock & roll,” and they’re still at it: that new EP features a photo of Ivanka Trump on the cover. And its title? Complicit. (As if that wasn’t pointed enough, there’s also a Russian translation.) Continue reading »
Last year I did a roundup of the Best Cover Songs of 1996. It was a fun project to retroactively compile one of our year-end lists for a year before Cover Me was born. I wanted to do it again this year, but continuing the twentieth-anniversary theme with 1997 seemed a little boring. Turns out 1997 also featured a bunch of Afghan Whigs covers.
So to mix it up, I decided to go a decade further back and look at 1987. Needless to say, the landscape looked very different for covers. For one, far more of that year’s biggest hits were covers than we saw for 1996. The year had #1 cover hits in Heart’s “Alone,” the Bangles’ “Hazy Shade of Winter,” Los Lobos’ “La Bamba,” Tiffany’s “I Think We’re Alone Now,” Club Nouveau’s “Lean on Me,” and Kim Wilde’s “You Keep Me Hangin’ On.” Plus ubiquitous hits that didn’t quite top the charts, but remain staples of the songs-you-didn’t-know-were-covers lists, Buster Poindexter’s “Hot Hot Hot” and George Harrison’s “Got My Mind Set On You.”Continue reading »
It’s been great writing and editing for Cover Me, not just because I like cover songs so much, but because it’s led me to discover so many great ones I never would have heard otherwise. My thanks to Ray for taking me on, and to all of you for reading what I have to say about my finds. Here are ten of them that I’ve made over the years, which all struck significant chords in my life for various reasons… Continue reading »