Jul 022021
 

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

girl group covers

The matching outfits. The perfectly coiffed hair. The synchronized finger-snapping. The beautiful faces. And, of course, the angelic voices. Just saying the phrase “Girl Groups” conjures images of these well-styled ladies from the past singing their hearts out, dreaming of those young boys they hoped to marry.

Many of the group names are legendary. The Supremes, The Ronettes, The Crystals, The Shirelles, and Martha and the Vandellas have been fixtures of “oldies” format radio for decades. Leading these groups were great frontwomen like Diana Ross, Ronnie Spector, and Martha Reeves, as well as Darlene Love, who sang for multiple groups unbeknownst to the record buying public. There were also countless ladies who did not become household names, such as Arlene Smith, lead singer of the Chantels, who belted out the group’s classic “Maybe.”

For the purposes of this list, we decided to focus on the period known as the “Golden Age of Girl Groups.” Though we’re calling it ’60s in the headline, it really spanned from roughly 1955 to 1970. In this era, the music was transported from the street corners and dance halls to the radio, which broadcast it into living rooms across the country. The songs blended elements of doo-wop, early rock ‘n’ roll, pop, gospel, and rhythm & blues. When melded together, it created a sound as fresh and new as the 45s and transistor radios that blasted out the music.

Most of the best-known girl groups were women of color (with a few notable exceptions, such as the Shangri-Las). These women not only topped the charts, they broke down barriers as they helped to integrate segregated audiences across the country, including the Deep South.

Behind the scenes were equally legendary songwriters, musicians and producers. You know their names, too: tunesmiths such as Carole King and Gerry Goffin, and the Motown song and production trio Holland/Dozier/Holland (Lamont Dozier and brothers Brian and Eddie Holland).

Such a shiny veneer had a dark side, though, in the form of the notorious Phil Spector. He was a brilliant producer who presided over many of the era’s biggest hits, but he was also a truly terrible human being who physically and emotionally abused his charges, including his ex-wife Ronnie Spector. He would eventually be convicted of murder and died in prison earlier this year.

The music has continued to inspire covers by both male and female artists – or boys and girls, in the parlance of the genre. Our list features covers by everyone from Aerosmith to Amy Winehouse, the Beatles to Bananarama (a girl group of another era), as well as ska bands, punk bands, indie bands, and countless Rock and Roll Hall of Famers who have covered tracks from the era.

That’s probably because the songs were so darn powerful. Love songs that captured the ecstasy and agony of teenage emotions like “Will You Love Me Tomorrow,” “Please Mr. Postman” and “You Can’t Hurry Love.” Party favorites such as “Dancing in the Streets” and “Heat Wave.” And songs that dealt with more complex social issues such as “Love Child,” and the disturbing “He Hit Me (And It Felt Like a Kiss).” Such great songs inspire great artists to record fantastic covers. Here’s a selection of our favorites.

– Curtis Zimmermann

The list begins on Page 2.

Jul 162018
 
kamasi washington covers

Despite reports to the contrary, jazz is still not dead. Leading the genre well into the 21st century is saxophonist Kamasi Washington, whose experimental, freeform playing style has earned him comparisons to jazz legends from John Coltrane to Pharoah Sanders. Washington recently released a double-album Heaven and Earth and an EP The Choice that included covers of the Fist of Fury movie theme, “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” and “O-o-h Child.”

The theme to the 1972 Bruce Lee film Fist of Fury is like a snapshot of Hollywood themes of old, somewhere between the majestic sounds that defined old Westerns and the soundtracks to early James Bond films. Washington transforms the cover, which he renamed “Fists of Fury,” into a nine-minute experimental protest anthem. With the song, he merges the orchestral soul that defined the spirit of ‘70s blaxploitation flicks with fusion jazz.

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Jun 242016
 

Cover Classics takes a closer look at all-cover albums of the past, their genesis, and their legacy.

Laura_Nyro_-_Gonna_Take_a_Miracle

Following the cultural tumult that was the end of the 1960s, many musicians opted for a more introspective, seemingly autobiographical approach to their songwriting. Artists like James Taylor, Cat Stevens, Joni Mitchell, Jackson Browne, and scores of others suddenly made it okay to turn down the volume and once again focus on the lyrical content that tended to get swept aside during the height of psychedelia. Yet not all introspection resulted in the creation of original material. With the nation seemingly falling apart, many artists began looking back to the late-1950s and early-1960s, essentially their formative years, to help better understand how they arrived and, in the process, finding themselves temporarily transported to better times.

For a musician like Laura Nyro, herself always open and contemplative within her own songs, the approach transcended the internal here and now in favor of a more accurately autobiographical look at how she ended up where she did by the time of 1971’s Gonna Take A Miracle. Rather than digging deeper into herself in an attempt to find a wealth spring of inspiration, she returned to her original inspirations as though they were a palate cleanser designed to erase the memories of the preceding years’ social unrest. By returning to her roots and the music that inspired her in the first place – her “favorite teenage heartbeat music,” she called it – Nyro sought to find her center, looking backwards for answers contained within what was beginning to be (incorrectly) perceived as a simpler time.
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Oct 232013
 

Another year, another long weekend of sweaty clubs and frantic cab sprints across the east river for CMJ. A few of our past picks have broken out a little bit since we wrote about them – Lord Huron, Widowspeak, Houndmouth – so once again, we’d like to give some small boost to our five favorite bands from CMJ, along with a cover from each.

Well, our five favorite bands who had a cover that is. To the rest of our knockout discoveries (like EULA, Reuben and the Dark, GEMS, Pete Bauer) – hurry up and cover something so we can write about you too!
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Oct 072011
 

Metaphorest is the recording and performing moniker of Irish singer, songwriter and guitarist Sarah Daly. Daly has been self-releasing her music since as Metaphorest since 2009 on hitRECord, the company run by Joseph Gordon-Levitt. The likes of Joanna Newsom, Jeff Buckley, and Björk inspire her music, along with someone closer to home: her second cousin Kate Bush. With Daly being so close to Bush both musically and genetically, it is no surprise her barebones guitar cover of “Babooshka” is spot-on delightful. Continue reading »

Aug 262011
 

Anna Calvi has developed a lovely pattern on the single releases from her self-titled debut album. The main song becomes the A-side, while a classic oldies cover gets the B-side. So far this year, she’s tackled Elvis Presley’s “Surrender” and Leonard Cohen’s “Joan of Arc” on the disc’s first singles (listen to both below). Her latest, for “Suzanne and I,” offers her third cover: the Shirelles’ “Baby It’s You.” Continue reading »