Dec 182020
 

Follow all our Best of 2020 coverage (along with previous year-end lists) here.

Typically, the world of cover songs does not change that much year-to-year. You can point to big shifts across decades, sure, but the difference between cover songs in 2018 and 2019, broadly speaking? Negligible. But 2020 was – in this as in everything else – very different.

As concerts ground to a sudden halt, musicians turned to live-from-quarantine home performances, first on their social media, then, once some kind of business model got built up, on various paid platforms. And cover songs were a big part of that. Some musicians did themed covers nights, like Ben Gibbard on YouTube early on or Lucinda Williams’ more produced Lu’s Jukebox series more recently. Others just felt the freedom in such an intimate environment to try things out, spontaneously covering influences, inspirations, or even songs they only half knew. We collected dozens of those early home covers in our Quarantine Covers series, and still only hit a small fraction.

Musicians eventually settled in, and productions got a little more elaborate than the staring-at-your-iPhone-camera look. Witness the heavy metal comedy series Two Minutes to Late Night, which transitioned from a long-running live show in New York City to a series of YouTube covers with dozens of metal-scene ringers covering songs from their couches, corpse paint and all. Witness Miley Cyrus’s endless series of killer cover locales, from a fire pit to an empty Whisky a Go Go. Or witness long-running radio covers series like BBC’s Live Lounge or Triple J’s Like a Version – often the source of a song or two on these lists. First they had musicians tape special covers from home, then, in the BBC’s case, they moved to a giant warehouse studio for suitable social distancing. (Triple J’s pretty much back to post-coronavirus business as usual – sure, Australia, rub it in.)

There’s one other major way covers reflected 2020, and it’s almost too painful to think about, so I’ll just list their names. John Prine. Adam Schlesinger. Hal Willner. Charley Pride. So many musicians taken by this virus, many reflected in some of these covers (Pride’s death happened after our list was finalized, but tributes are already rolling in). In a year filled with tragedies, covers offered one place for musicians and fans to find solace.

Many of the songs on our year-end list reflect this terrible year in one way or another. But you know what? Many don’t. Because covers can also offer a fun respite from all the stress. Doom metal Doobie Brothers? Post Malone on mandolin? A viral TikTok hit by a guy who calls himself Ritt Momney? Those have nothing to do with anything! But they’re what we live for.

– Ray Padgett, Editor-in-Chief

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Nov 042020
 

Five Good Covers presents five cross-genre reinterpretations of an oft-covered song.

What a Fool Believes covers

Artists are eligible for induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame 25 years after their first release. For the Doobie Brothers, who formed in 1970, it took nearly twice as long. Perhaps that’s because they have had twice as many members as most of the other inductees.

The band became hit makers in the early ‘70s: playing a hybrid of hard rock, country-rock, and blues, mixed with well-manicured harmonies. The Doobies’ sound took a 180-degree turn in 1975 when a young soul singer named Michael McDonald was tapped to fill in for the band’s ailing frontman Tom Johnston. Eventually, Johnston left, and McDonald pushed the band into blue-eyed soul territory.

In 1978, the collective recorded and released its eighth studio album Minute by Minute. With its synth-driven pop sounds, the album was a distinct departure from their earlier music. Before it hit the shelves, the band was certain they had a flop. As McDonald recalled in an episode of VH1’s Behind the Music: “I remember playing that album for a friend of mine and said, ‘Well, what do you think’? And he goes, ‘It’s a piece of shit. It sucks.’ And I remember thinking, ‘I think he’s right.’”

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Apr 282020
 
fu manchu takin it to the streets

“Takin’ It to the Streets” marks a point of transition for the Doobie Brothers. The first single from the album of the same name, and the first song to be written and sung by new keyboardist Michael McDonald, the song signals a change from the earlier country-inflected boogie rock to blue-eyed soul and funk-rock. The original song is dominated by McDonald’s distinctive baritone, but also features a propulsive funky bass line. Continue reading »

Feb 192020
 

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

song at your funeral

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, from staffer Jordan Becker: What’s a great cover of a cover?
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Feb 122020
 

In the Spotlight showcases a cross-section of an artist’s cover work. View past installments, then post suggestions for future picks in the comments!

Michael McDonald

When it comes to cover versions, blue-eyed soul man extraordinaire and erstwhile Doobie Brother Michael McDonald (who turns 68 years old today) has primarily focused on the beautiful, ineffably perfect Motown canon, recording two albums solely dedicated to the label, Motown and Motown Two. Both were enormously successful and reignited a career which had pretty much flatlined through the entirety of the nineties. After the success of those two albums, he decided to push the boat out a little further and so in 2008 released Soul Speak, an odd mix of old rock classics and Stevie Wonder tunes with a few new originals added in for good measure. It could best be likened to one of the Rod Stewart standards albums, but for cooler people (Sorry, Rod, but… yeah).

Conversation regarding McDonald’s performances on these three albums has been well-trod at this point, and while they undeniably feature some real highlights, facts are facts: some of McDonald’s best and most eclectic covers have been of the one-off variety. The selections below run the gamut from traditional reverence to joyfully weird and are all 100% McDonald.
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