“Weird Al” Yankovic takes being funny very seriously. From his prodigious accordion chops on the accordion to the diligence he takes to obtain permission from his parody subjects, Yankovic’s humorous constructions are surprisingly involved and thorough. His approach has quite a bit in common with Sparks, the long-running art pop duo comprised of brothers Ron and Russell Mael. Like Yankovic, the Mael brothers are longtime Los Angeles denizens and pursue their hilarity with a kind of sharp focus and discipline; they’ve released twenty-four frank and tightly constructed records, with many of their recent releases entirely self-produced. Their connection was affirmed earlier this year with Weird Al’s appearance in The Sparks Brothers, a revelatory new music documentary produced by Edgar Wright. Yankovic appears in the film as a talking head on numerous occasions, but his most enthralling — and “serious” — contribution to the film is a solo accordion cover of Sparks’ wild “This Town Ain’t Big Enough For the Both of Us.”
Cover Classics takes a closer look at all-cover albums of the past, their genesis, and their legacy.
By 1987 the angular sounds of Siouxsie and the Banshees had mellowed enough for them to be regulars in the British charts and on the accompanying TV shows. The striking appearance of icy she-wolf Siouxsie had always contributed much to their success, her atonal approach to melody both idiosyncratic and chillingly effective, the only remnant from their first appearances, wherein the grasp of rudimentary technique was echoed by the lack of any instrumental prowess. Which only goes to prove the worth of their perseverance with the punk ethos: in any other time the band wouldn’t have stood a chance.
Fresh from touring Tinderbox, an album that had cemented their reputation, the band spent the downtime back in the studio, producing the covers album they had always wanted to do. No stopgap contractual filler, this; Through the Looking Glass was squeezed in ahead of any expectation. Of course, the band had already shown their cover capabilities, with the delightfully uber-psychedelic version of the Beatles’ “Dear Prudence,” a brave move in a time when admitting a Beatles affinity (in public, at least) might be considered poor form.
The initial choice of songs came largely from the early ’70s, a time when the old order was beginning to look pregnable, with new styles beginning to emerge, biting at the ankles of the towering giants of an increasingly bloated music industry. Bands such as Kraftwerk were showing how much (and how little) could be done with cheap electronic keyboards; Roxy Music were blurring and blending styles and genres into a sci-fi retrodelia; Television were proving outriders for the earlier and more cerebral NY take on punk. Add in the bizarre world of Sparks, quirky oddballs in their homeland, who were beginning to find acceptance in the UK. Then mix well with some of the more favored sons of the sixties: the Doors, Iggy from the Stooges, and the Velvet Underground’s John Cale. Here were where Siouxsie and company went panning for gold. With a song from The Jungle Book thrown in for good measure. And perhaps the oddest version yet of Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit” for dessert.
In 2019, Cover Me wrote about more new covers than in any year in our 12-year history. I know; I checked the numbers. Our News team wrote amazing stand-alone stories on sometimes tight deadlines, adding context and research beyond “here’s a new cover” quickie. Plus, we rounded the best of the best into monthly 30+ lists, and added even more for supporters of our new Patreon. Even our Features team, who ostensibly couldn’t care less whether a cover came out last month or last century, seemed to be constantly finding new things to slip into their deep dives.
The point here is not to toot our own horn… well, that’s not entirely the point. What I want to do is emphasize just how high the bar to appear on this list has been set. Calling these covers great almost does them a disservice. There were way more than 50 great covers in 2019. In fact, we’ve already got 150 more bonus tracks lined up for Patreon supporters (which, I know I mention it a lot, but it’s how we keep this site afloat, so please consider supporting us if you like what we do). Honestly, we could throw all of the above in the trash and still come up with a pretty impressive batch of 2019 covers. But these 50 below – these are the cream of the crop, the belles of the ball, the toppermost of the poppermost.
You won’t agree. I guarantee it. As you go through this list, there will be at least one cover you hate. Maybe more than one. And if you followed cover news yourself this year, you’ll probably be outraged when a personal favorite placed too low, or didn’t make it at all. Great! That’s the beauty of these lists: It’s all opinion. Extremely educated opinions in our cases – I can pretty much guarantee that we collectively listened to more 2019 covers than any other site out there – but opinions nevertheless. So dive in and discover something new. Then help us discover something new by adding your own favorites in the comments.
– Ray Padgett, Editor-in-Chief
aeseaes – Realiti (Grimes cover)
Bandits on the Run – Back to Black (Amy Winehouse cover)
Ra Ra Riot is known as indie pop’s most whimsical band, mixing infectious choruses with sweeping instrumentals. The energy and happiness that comes out of their music is contagious.
With their cover of ’70s favorite Sparks’ “Saccharin and the War” off of their 1972 album Halfnelson, Ra Ra Riot pays homage to the quirky alternative bands that paved the way for their music. Sparks, known for stage theatrics and for incorporating disparate influences into their own bright pop songs, is an obvious inspiration for the band, who have pioneered a fusion of classical instruments (cello and violin) in modern indie pop.
You know the story. The Jews needed eight days of oil to purify the Temple in Jerusalem. There was only enough oil for one day. Miraculously, though, that small amount lasted for all eight nights. And on every one of those nights Yo La Tengo played a concert.
Well, maybe they passed on that first Hanukkah, but it seems they’ve played eight crazy nights of shows every year since. Twenty-ten was no exception. As chronicled at BrooklynVegan, the nights of December 1-8 each saw a unique Yo La Tengo show go down at Maxwell’s in New Jersey. Every evening featured surprise openers and comedians, including heavy hitters like the National and Jeff Tweedy.