In Pick Five, great artists pick five cover songs that matter to them.
Tomorrow, veteran rock band Local H releases its ninth album, the Steve Albini-produced LIFERS. It is a weird time to be releasing an album. Many major artists have postponed releases, with no way to properly promote them. One of the best live rock bands out there, Local H can’t play any shows to support it. So tonight they’re doing a live streaming show on their Facebook page tonight. Guarantee it will rock a little harder than the acoustic guitar’d singer-songwriters dominating the quarantine streams.
LIFERS doesn’t include any covers, but frontman Scott Lucas has been covering a new song every day on that same Facebook page. He has a different cocktail for each one, and even dresses up for some of the performances, from yacht-rock leisure to the Tiger King. It’s a long way from the self-serious stereotype of the ’90s grunge band. But even when Local H was a ’90s grunge band, they always had a sense of humor (see “Eddie Vedder,” “All the Kids Are Right”). And they’ve outlasted most of their peers, continuing to record killer albums to an extremely passionate fanbase. LIFERS is the perfect album title.
So we decided to ask Scott about his own favorite covers, which he ranked from number five to number one. Here’s what he said:
Last year I did a roundup of the Best Cover Songs of 1996. It was a fun project to retroactively compile one of our year-end lists for a year before Cover Me was born. I wanted to do it again this year, but continuing the twentieth-anniversary theme with 1997 seemed a little boring. Turns out 1997 also featured a bunch of Afghan Whigs covers.
So to mix it up, I decided to go a decade further back and look at 1987. Needless to say, the landscape looked very different for covers. For one, far more of that year’s biggest hits were covers than we saw for 1996. The year had #1 cover hits in Heart’s “Alone,” the Bangles’ “Hazy Shade of Winter,” Los Lobos’ “La Bamba,” Tiffany’s “I Think We’re Alone Now,” Club Nouveau’s “Lean on Me,” and Kim Wilde’s “You Keep Me Hangin’ On.” Plus ubiquitous hits that didn’t quite top the charts, but remain staples of the songs-you-didn’t-know-were-covers lists, Buster Poindexter’s “Hot Hot Hot” and George Harrison’s “Got My Mind Set On You.”
Five Good Covers presents five cross-genre reinterpretations of an oft-covered song.
“Tower of Song” was released in the late ’80s on Leonard Cohen’s album I’m Your Man. Open to interpretation by zealous music fans arguing over beers at 3 a.m., “Tower” is often thought to be an allegorical song about Cohen’s self-flagellation during his own songwriting (and when you write a song about songwriting, it becomes an ourobourus on many levels). It’s not been covered as often as other Cohen hits, but its allusions to Cohen trying to clack out a song in his invisible prison while the clock of death is ticking makes it one of his most memorable songs. Cohen spent six years of the ’90s in a Buddhist monastery trying to seek enlightenment. But you, dear reader, can achieve the same by listening to these covers below.