Sep 302022
 

‘The Best Covers Ever’ series counts down our favorite covers of great artists.

beach boys covers

If you were to look at the charts, the Beach Boys basically stopped having giant hits after 1966’s “Good Vibrations” (with the obvious exception of 1988’s “Kokomo”). They’re a singles band whose singles mostly dried up six years into their sixty-year career. They had a brief run of good-time hits about girls, cars, and surfing, then faded. They’re the band preserved forever in that cornball publicity photo up top.

But that’s not the story these covers tell.

The big hits are here, sure. “Surfer Girl” and “Fun Fun Fun” and “I Get Around” etc. But so are many now-iconic tunes that weren’t hits. “God Only Knows,” the Beach Boys’ most covered song, peaked at #39. By their standards, that’s a straight-up flop. Many other covered songs didn’t even make it that high. But “God Only Knows” has of course belatedly been recognized as one of the great pop songs of the 20th century. As has the album it came off of, Pet Sounds, itself a relative commercial failure.

Pet Sounds, of course, has long since been recognized as a classic. So some artists dig even deeper. “Lonely Sea” is an album cut off their 1963 album Surfin’ U.S.A. “Trader” comes off the 1973 album Holland. Three separate songs here originally came off Surf’s Up, now the go-to pick for artists who want to show they know more than Pet Sounds. Even a song not released until the ‘90s, “Still I Dream of It,” gets a killer cover.

You can trace the story of the Beach Boys’ reputation through these covers. A group once perceived as a lightweight singles act have been fully embraced as musical geniuses, all the way from the hits of the ’60s through the then-overlooked gems of the ‘70s and beyond. Some of these songs below you probably won’t know. Others you will know every single word of…but you’ve never heard them sung like this.

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Jul 252022
 

Melt AwayHaving released two Christmas albums, it is only fitting that She & Him move on to tackle summer. And what says summer more brightly than the Beach Boys? Even thinking about the band makes me (smiley) smile and look for garish Hawaiian shirts in my wardrobe. And of course, the Beach Boys wouldn’t have been the Beach Boys, whatever Mike Love might think, if it wasn’t for the genius of Brian Wilson, the last Wilson brother standing. Hence, Melt Away: A Tribute to Brian Wilson. All the songs here have at least some input from Brian Wilson, largely the melodies, with lyrics also on occasion. (Mr. Love would want me to say he co-wrote many of them, I am sure, so I will.)

She & Him, then, a curious mélange. M. Ward, the somewhat-cerebral-seeming singer-songwriter from the Pacific Northwest, and Zooey Deschanel, the manic pixie dream girl in many a Hollywood comedy. The combination smacks of vanity project. Actually far from, with Ms. Deschanel responsible for the bulk of their own material, at least as far as the songwriting credits go. Taking most of the lead vocals, Deschanel plays guitar and ukulele (don’t panic), whilst Ward is content to supply a subsidiary presence, responsible for additional vocals, guitar and keyboards, as well as production duties. Which, in anything involving the songs of Brian Wilson, is going to be no small feat.
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Jul 202022
 

Welcome to Cover Me Q&A, where we take your questions about cover songs and answer them to the best of our ability.

cover of instrumental

Here at Cover Me Q&A, we’ll be taking questions about cover songs and giving as many different answers as we can. This will give us a chance to hold forth on covers we might not otherwise get to talk about, to give Cover Me readers a chance to learn more about individual staffers’ tastes and writing styles, and to provide an opportunity for some back-and-forth, as we’ll be taking requests (learn how to do so at feature’s end).

Today’s question pairs up with our previous Q&A about favorite instrumental covers: What’s your favorite cover of an instrumental?
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Jun 022022
 
She & Him Brian Wilson

She & Him, the ever-rolling musical project of Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward, came out of the gate in 2008 with three albums of original classic pop in five years. In the decade that’s followed since, the duo have opted to put original material aside, reveling in a different kind of sunshine: covers. She & Him released the spirited Classics in 2014, and a subsequent album full of holiday cuts (2016’s Christmas Party). The duo continue on as pop interpreters with the recent announcement of their third and latest all-covers album, Melt Away: A Tribute To Brian Wilson.

She & Him’s seemingly accessible sound has always been belied by more esoteric instincts; the pair value deep cuts as much as they do big hits. Assembling the tracklist for Melt Away offered Deschanel and Ward offered an ideal opportunity to celebrate both sides of Brian Wilson’s decades-deep songbook — both the standards, and the arty b-sides.

“We chose songs without any regard to their chart performance. The obscure ones hit us just as hard as the more popular songs — and all are ripe for re-imagining, re-interpreting, and re-inventing,” the duo said in a statement alongside the album announcement. “Brian writes songs of beauty and loneliness and vulnerability better than anyone — and by sequencing them next to popular songs of confidence and love and fun, it creates a more complete picture of life on earth.”

Ahead of Melt Away’s release on July 22nd, She & Him have shared a kitschy music video for “Darlin’,” drawn from the Beach Boys’ Wild Honey, released initially in 1967. They also shared the audio of the more well-known hit “Wouldn’t It Be Nice.” Check out both, as well as Melt Away‘s full tracklist, below.

Melt Away: A Tribute to Brian Wilson Tracklist

1.  Darlin’
2. Wouldn’t It Be Nice
3. Til I Die
4. Deirdre
5. Melt Away
6. Good to My Baby
7. Don’t Talk (Put Your Head on My Shoulder)
8. Don’t Worry Baby
9. This Whole World
10. Kiss Me, Baby
11. Do It Again (featuring Brian Wilson)
12. Heads You Win, Tails I Lose
13. Please Let Me Wonder
14. Meant for You

Check out more She & Him covers here.
Check out more Beach Boys covers here.

May 132022
 

‘The Best Covers Ever’ series counts down our favorite covers of great artists.

stevie wonder covers

For some artists we look at for these lists, it seems like every time someone covered one their songs, it turned out pretty good. Leonard Cohen was like that; the quality of the average Cohen cover is fairly high. John Prine, too.

Stevie Wonder is not one of those artists.

It’s not his fault, or the fault of his songs, but his material often gets sucked into the same cocktail-jazz muck that fellow piano man Billy Joel’s does. Nothing wrong with that sort of lounge jazz-pop when done well – and there are a few times on this list when it is – but there’s a lot of mediocrity to wade through. Stevie’s performance and production skills are so sharp that, when placed in lesser hands, his songs can come off as sentimental shlock. All the “Isn’t She Lovely”s alone are so sugary sweet you feel like you’ll get diabetes.

But here’s the good news: Covers of Stevie Wonder’s songs are so ubiquitous that, even when you weed out the bad and the just-okay, you’re still left with plenty of greatness. The fifty below span funk, bluegrass, rock, hip-hop, jam band, jazz, and into galaxies beyond. So here they are, signed, sealed, and delivered to knock you off your feet.

P.S. Join our Patreon to get this entire list – and every other Best Covers Ever – in playlist and MP3 formats!

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Feb 072022
 

In Memoriam pays tribute to those who have left this world, and the songs they left us to remember them by.

In the Still of the Night

Stationed at an Army barracks in Philadelphia, Fred Parris found himself longing for his fiancée. It was the mid-50s, and Parris was the lead singer for a doowop group called the Five Satins, so he wrote a song about their time together. Later, while on leave, he and the group holed up in the basement of St. Bernadette Church in New Haven to record “In the Still of the Night.”

The track, sometimes stylized as “In the Still of the Nite” or “(I’ll Remember) In the Still of the Nite,” was a modest hit for the group, reaching number 24 on the Billboard chart in 1956. Parris, who died in January at the age of 85, never became a household name, and he never married that girl. But this song has endured as one the defining tracks of the ‘50s, earning him accolades from around the music world upon his passing.

Parris’ ballad of youthful longing, love, and nostalgia has been a staple of oldies format radio for decades, often topping New York station WCBS-FM’s list of the greatest songs of all time. As both a love song and a remembrance of things past, it presents an idealized version of how people like to remember the ‘50s.
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