One of the biggest stories in cover song news this week was Miley Cyrus teaming up with David Byrne to perform a cover of David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance” on Cyrus’ New Year’s Eve special. Coincidently, I actually spent most of Dec. 31 thinking about Byrne and the Talking Heads’ musical legacy.
“This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)” is one of Talking Heads‘ most covered songs, in part because it is so simple compared to most of their music, especially their music from the late ’70s and early ’80s. Because it’s so simple, it lends itself to solo interpretations in a way in which little of their music normally does. (Imagine listening to, say, “Born Under Punches” by someone on just a guitar.)
Kenyan-American singer-songwriter Ondara has already found his way onto Cover Me through covers of Neil Young and his musical hero, Bob Dylan (he went by J.S. Ondara then). So Talking Heads are a little out of left field for him, even if this is one of their most direct songs.
For a certain ilk of artist, boutique destination music festivals in Mexico have become a recent mainstay of the January/February touring cycle (or lack thereof — who wouldn’t want to scuttle off to Mexico for a lost weekend rather than tour in the depths of winter?). Acts like Wilco, Brandi Carlile and an array of others in the indie/jam/rock firmament have been parading down south of the border to the all-inclusive resorts of Riviera Maya. Though Dead & Co.’s plans were thwarted this winter by the Omicron variant in the final hour, many other acts were still able to perform without snafus or health scares. Atop the heap of performers who made their way successfully to Riviera Maya, Mexico this February were My Morning Jacket, Dave Matthews & Tim Reynolds, and Phish.
Barbaro – Believe (Cher cover)
Progressive bluegrass quartet Barbaro takes on a few obvious inspirations on their new EP Under the Covers. Gillian Welch’s “Dark Turn of Mind,” makes sense. Wilco’s “Jesus Etc,” sure. But the other two tunes venture a little further afield. Sheryl Crow’s pop hit “If It Makes You Happy” makes for a jaunty fiddle and banjo number, as does, surprisingly, Cher’s “Believe.”
As regular readers know, every year, at the end of the year, we do a big year-end covers list. This tradition started in 2007 and will continue in a couple months with the best covers of 2021.
But there are so many years before 2007 where we weren’t doing year-end covers lists (and, as far as I’m aware, no one else was either). So once a year, we do a big anniversary post tackling the best covers of a year before Cover Me was born. So far we’ve done 1969, 1978, 1987, 1996, and, last year, 2000.
And for 2021, we look back thirty years, to the heady days of 1991. The days of grunge and acid house, of parachute pants and ripped denim, of The Gulf War and Home Alone. Country music and hip-hop increased their cultural dominance (or really just making their existing dominance known; 1991 is also the year Soundscan made the Billboard charts more authoritative). In a single day, Nirvana released Nevermind, Red Hot Chili Peppers released Blood Sugar Sex Magik, and A Tribe Called Quest released The Low End Theory. Think that’s a fluke? The week before saw massive albums from Mariah Carey, Hole, and Guns ‘n’ Roses (two albums, no less). The week before that came Garth Brooks, Talk Talk, and Saint Etienne.
All of those trends are reflected in the list below. Many of these covers scream “1991!” LL Cool J raps Disney. Courtney Love shrieks Joni. Aretha Franklin tries to new jack swing. A spate of early tribute albums (in fact, last year I wrote a 33 1/3 book about a 1991 tribute album). Other covers are more timeless, from veteran artists doing great work several decades into their careers, or way-underground artists who never even approached the mainstream. The only criteria was quality. Thirty years later, these 50 covers Hole-d up the best.
Check out the list starting on Page 2, and stay tuned for the best covers of this year coming in December.
The list begins on Page 2.
I am uncertain how much traction the Specials had outside the UK, where they are rightly considered national treasures, riding a wave of energy since their most recent regrouping and reiteration. Now down to the core trio of Terry Hall on vocals, Lynval Golding on guitar and vocals, and Horace Panting on bass, here they are again aided and abetted by much the same cast who crewed 2019’s Encore, the touring of which had been rudely interrupted by Covid. Rather than sitting home and ruing, the band fired up their default setting of righteous indignation.
As a multiracial band in the English midlands city of Coventry, on the cusp of the 1980s, the Specials became famous, not just for their infectious bluebeat, but also as bastions in the burgeoning fight against racism, generally and in music, appearing, on occasion, on the Rock Against Racism platform. Their response to the George Floyd case last year, was to utilize lockdown and raid their record collections, putting together Protest Songs 1924-2012, a collection of covers which, in some way or form, cast a reflection on the circumstances that could allow such a thing to happen. Protest songs, one and all, if sometimes not necessarily appreciated as so, with about as eclectic a selection as could be, with source material including the unlikely triad of the Staples Singers, Frank Zappa and Leonard Cohen. The one style absent is of ska, the band’s erstwhile calling card and M.O., with any number other of genres embraced in its wake. If nothing else, this displays the broad grasp of musical strengths available within the Specials, yet without losing the strident declaratory croon of Hall, or, indeed, the collective identity. Ska or not, this could be no other band.