Apr 292022
 
best cover songs april 2022
Aimee Mann – Brooklyn (Steely Dan cover)

If you missed the whole brouhaha when Steely Dan dropped Aimee Mann as their opening act, it’s too long to recap here. To skip to the end, Mann tweeted, “All is forgiven if Donald [Fagan] just tells me what Brooklyn is about.” And he did! So, at a recent show at City Winery, she covered it. All does indeed appear to be forgiven. Continue reading »

Feb 042022
 

Full Albums features covers of every track off a classic album. Got an idea for a future pick? Leave a note in the comments!

Countdown to Ecstasy

Any artist who scores a major success with their debut–as Steely Dan accomplished with Can’t Buy a Thrill–just might lose some sleep while working on their follow-up. Will it be any good compared to the first?

But Steely Dan co-founders Walter Becker and Donald Fagen seemingly had no such worries about their sophomore release, Countdown to Ecstasy. In fact, they were cavalier about it to the point of self-sabotage. One example: they selected “Show Biz Kids” as the album’s first single. This is a song in which Fagen drops what we now call an f-bomb (unheard of in 1973); it’s a song that mocks the band’s own (very modest) fanbase.

The prematurely-jaded transplants from New York City adopted a fuck-all stance about show bidness [sic]and the LA lifestyle in general. In their darker moments they took aim at Western civilization itself. Even the album title is cynical, a jab at our collective eagerness to traffic in quick fixes–spiritual, political, and musical ones included.

At least the band toured steadily to promote their music. But even there they did nothing to dress it up–no light shows or stage antics. They simply played the music. In fact, for Countdown, they fired the only band member with any interest in being on stage (singer David Palmer). They shunned press interviews, never smiled for the camera. Looking back at this period decades later, Becker and Fagen blamed the punishing tour schedule for the shortcomings of their studio work.

Countdown did in fact fall short of their first album, if the metric is hit singles and Billboard chart positions. Countdown had no hits to match “Do It Again” or “Reelin’ in the Years” from the album before, and it had no staying power in the charts. What the album did have was a fresh fusion of jazz and rock, remixed within a Brill Building songwriting context. Its tracks featured horn arrangements, Hendrix-inspired guitar pyrotechnics, and flashes of Zappa-level musical mayhem. Lyrically, you have Dylan, Philip K. Dick, and Chuck Berry influences. There’s plenty of polish and precision, but the album makes room for the ramshackle too (the best instance coming from guest guitarist Rick Derringer). Romantic ballads sit beside funkathons. You have “Show Biz Kids”–basically a one-chord song–followed by “My Old School,” with its ornate horn charts, backing vocals galore, and at least a dozen chords. Plus some cowbell to keep it real.
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Jan 142022
 

Cover Genres takes a look at cover songs in a very specific musical style.

Carla Thomas

Musical obsessions are not always as cut and dried as “this is my favorite song/ album/ band/ genre.” Occasionally you will find yourself in uncharted territory, involuntarily drawn to something so specific and esoteric that it doesn’t fall under the umbrella of an actual existing category. Hmmm… I’m making this sound way more dignified than it is. What I’m trying to say is, most dyed-in-the-wool music nerds have what I’m going to call an imaginary friend. By that, I mean that they have an obsession with some weird-ass thing or self-invented category, one that may not be audible to the ears of others, but feels oh so real to them.

I am now going to introduce you to my imaginary friend, my Harvey, my Snuffleupagus, my Drop Dead Fred. It’s a “thing” I’m obsessed with, which, while exceedingly specific and adhering to a strict set of self-invented rules, doesn’t technically exist as an established, formalized entity.

In a nutshell, I have an insatiable fascination with R & B covers of ’70s Soft Rock songs. Specifically, those recorded in the same era as the originals, when the originals themselves were still young, topical, and ubiquitous.

This oddball interest has roots in all the times I spent as a captive backseat passenger in my Mom’s 1972 white Chevy Nova with the sunflower painted on the side (only one word for that car: bitchin’). It was in this magical machine that my musical foundation was established and my taste was, some might say tragically, molded into shape. Meaning I was exposed to a helluva lot of ’70s AM pop radio as a kid. And there were two things being churned out in ample quantities back then that I especially loved:

1. R&B aka Soul Music (the first single I ever bought was by The Spinners, the first LP was by Billy Preston)

2. Soft Rock, primarily the candy-coated version (“Shannon is gone, I heard…”)

For a specific subgenre, “Soft Rock” is a pretty broad descriptor. The term has come to characterize the adult incense burning-cool babysitter sounds of Carole King and James Taylor, as well as the candy-coated, big-chorus-ed corniness of Barry Manilow and the Captain and Tennille. While we tend to draw a distinction between these two types of Soft Rock (the former is “cool,” and the latter… isn’t), back then, to my kid ears, they were the same damn thing, 100% equal in terms of their artistic credibility. They were all served up on the same radio stations, so in my world, Jackson Browne and Helen Reddy were as one. It was all pop music.

My sloppy love for both the Soul and the Soft did not trigger a lightbulb moment where I thought, “hey, I love these two things and I wonder if there are artists who have perhaps married the two.” Lord no. That would have been far too sophisticated a notion to have ever sprouted up in my eight-year-old peanut brain. My fascination with the marriage was a more random pursuit that defined itself over time. I think it may have been triggered by hearing The Four Tops’ incendiary cover of Fred Neil’s “Everybody’s Talking” on some compilation in the ’80s. I honestly can’t remember. What I do know is that as technology advanced, my pursuit grew more and more fanatical with each passing day.

Once I could get at discographies with the touch of a button, the nerd assembly line kicked into high gear. Stores were scavenged for Soul-ified Soft Rock treasures. Mixtapes were assembled, followed by mix-CDs, finally culminating in an immense iTunes playlist I pathetically titled, yup, Soul in the Middle of the Road, that grew to feature hundreds of songs. They ran the gamut from transcendent (some rivaling or surpassing the originals in terms of beauty) to horrible (oh man) to just straight-up bizarre (you’ll see).

As alluded to earlier, my main interest is in covers that were recorded during the same era as the originals, in or on the edges of the ’70s. These covers offer a direct nod to the ubiquity of the originals and capture the spirit of that swingin’ era in a way that is impossible for a latter-day cover to achieve (to me, anyway).

I now humbly offer you 30 of the finest, weirdest, and “what the holy hell was that” soul-infused covers of classics and beloved deep cuts from the sweet ‘n’ vast Soft Rock canon. Now I’m sure some of the artists I’m about to mention would bristle at having one of their works characterized as “Soft Rock,” but hey rock star, you made a Soft Rock song, so you know, that’s on you (also thank you, you sexy thing). At the end of the day, they should all feel grateful and flattered to have had their sweetest sounds so soulfully celebrated.

As for me, I hear love in every one of the covers that follow and genuinely hope you can too. Take it away, Tops

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Dec 172021
 

Follow all our Best of 2021 coverage (along with previous year-end lists) here.

best cover songs of 2021

To come up with our year-end list, we listened to thousands of covers.

That’s not an exaggeration, or loosely throwing around “thousands” for effect. My iTunes tells me I personally listened to and rated 1,120 new covers in 2021. And I’m just one of a dozen people here. Many of those thousands of covers were very good! But “very good” isn’t good enough for our annual year-end Best Cover Songs list. So when we say these 50 are the cream of the crop, we mean it.

They, as usual, have little in common with each other. A few tie into current events: Artists we lost, social justice concerns, live music’s fitful return. Most don’t. But does a doom metal cover of Donna Summer really need a reason to exist? How about African blues Bob Dylan, New Orleans bounce Lady Gaga, or organ ballad Fleetwood Mac? Nah. We’re just glad they’re here.

So dive into our countdown below – and, if you want us to send you a couple hundred Honorable Mentions culled from those thousands, join the Cover Me Patreon.

– Ray Padgett, Editor in Chief

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Jun 102021
 
Donner Night by Night

Norwegian guitarist, composer and producer Jacob Holm-Lupo is a chameleonic musicmaker. As the chief songwriter/vibemeister of ensembles The Opium Cartel and White Willow, Holm-Lupo has created an oeuvre that includes dozens of records made across three decades. His music draws from a broad palate of ‘70s & ‘80s prog, jazz and art-rock influences. Chief among these is the venerable Steely Dan.
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Jan 102021
 

They Say It’s Your Birthday  celebrates an artist’s special day with covers of his or her songs. Let someone else do the work for a while. Happy birthday!

Today we celebrate the 73rd birthday of a man who has been writing songs about growing old for nearly half a century, Donald Fagen. Fagen is one half of the songwriting duo that calls itself Steely Dan, and he is the band’s reluctant frontman. (The other half of the partnership, Walter Becker, passed away in 2017.)
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