Five Good Covers presents five cross-genre reinterpretations of an oft-covered song.
In 1975, after an apprenticeship with Paul Simon and two years of grueling touring on the college circuit, Maggie and Terre Roche released their debut album, Seductive Reasoning, which featured songs written by Maggie. The album was not a success, and the sisters became disillusioned by the process and the music business. Telling their label that they were no longer going to promote the album, Maggie and Terre retreated to Hammond, Louisiana, where they slept in a friend’s kung fu studio and worked as waitresses.
In 1976, they returned to New York, where they tended bar at Folk City. With younger sister Suzzy, who was studying acting, they busked on street corners singing Christmas carols. The trio performed at clubs throughout the Village, creating a buzz about the sister act with the quirky harmonies and great songs, and they signed with Warner Brothers Records.
In 1978, the sisters went into the studio to record their first album as a trio. In what seemed an odd pairing, the producer was Robert Fripp, whose philosophy of simply recording what they sounded like (he called it “audio vérité”) was appealing, especially after Maggie and Terre’s experience with the more traditional process of using studio musicians. The self-titled debut album was a critical success–it was The New York Times’ album of the year, and finished at #11 in The Village Voice’s prestigious Pazz & Jop poll.
One of the album’s standout tracks, “Hammond Song,” was written by Maggie about her experiences in Hammond, Louisiana, but like many great songs, it is really about more. It’s about independence and making your own decisions—but it also includes the other side of the argument. And it features the incredible harmonies that the Roches are known for–Terre taking the high part, Suzzy holding down the middle, and Maggie anchoring the bottom. It also sees Fripp taking a guitar solo that’s one of The Roches‘ highlights. The notoriously finicky Pitchfork named it the 170th best song of the 1970s.