Jun 102024
 
David Bowie as Ziggy Stardust

In late 1973, David Bowie released his last album with his backing band, The Spiders from Mars, the all-covers Pin-Ups. Somewhat surprisingly, it contained two covers of songs by The Who, their second single “Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere” and their first single, “I Can’t Explain.”

This month will see the release of Rock ‘n’ Roll Star, a Ziggy Stardust-focused box set, which includes outtakes from the Ziggy sessions. One of these outtakes is an earlier version of Bowie’s “I Can’t Explain” cover featuring an earlier version of the Spiders from Mars, with Nick Woodmansey, the original drummer, instead of Aynsley Dunbar, who only took over for Pin-Ups.

Bowie’s original cover of “I Can’t Explain” is an extremely slow version of the song featuring saxophone fills from Bowie and another horn player, and ethereal backing vocals.

This earlier version is far closer to the original Who version. Bowie obviously sounds like Bowie not Roger Daltrey, but the backing vocals evoke the original’s. Trevor Bolder’s bass is mixed higher, but he and Mick Ronson’s rhythm parts really do seem to just try to sound louder. However, Mick Ronson’s solos are entirely different from Pete Townshend’s original. No saxophones to be heard.

The cover is an interesting insight into Bowie’s process. Clearly he loved the song but was unhappy with this original approach, or decided it didn’t fit the Ziggy Stardust concept. (There is one cover on that album.) By the time he re-recorded it two years later, he had found his original take on it but in this early version it’s still very clearly a song by The Who.

Check out this nugget:

Apr 282023
 
most popular covers

At Cover Me, our goal is to share great covers, whether they comes from artists with ten fans or ten million. But I am always vaguely curious what cover songs break out, which among the thousands we hear each year become genuine hits.

I was reminded of this when a recent Country Now headline crossed my Google Alerts: “Luke Combs’ ‘Fast Car’ Cover Is A Streaming Giant.” After only a month, the country star’s fairly faithful take on Tracy Chapman’s 1988 classic has racked up 33 million streams in the U.S. alone. Covers by famous singers come and go, but this one clearly has staying power.

So I decided to try to figure out which other covers from the 21st century have reached this level of breakout success. I’m not privy to Billboard‘s deep-dive chart data, so I used an easy metric available to an amateur like myself: Seeing how many plays something has on Spotify. As good a measure for “a popular song” as you can probably get these days, albeit still imperfect.

I found twenty-four 21st-century covers with over 100 million U.S. streams as of this writing (April 2023). Some very popular covers didn’t quite make the 100m+ threshold: Weezer’s “Africa” (75 million), Iron & Wine’s “Such Great Heights” (76 million), Fall Out Boy and John Mayer’s “Beat It” (89 million). Ryan Adams’ “Wonderwall” only just crossed the 100 million streams mark in the past couple months. And while older covers obviously have an advantage in more time to rack up plays, number one — by a lot! — came out only a few years ago.

Here’s the list of 24. No commentary since, for once, we’re not unearthing buried treasures here. Let’s count down the 24 most-streamed covers on Spotify, with the year of release and number of streams as of this writing. (And it’s possible, even likely, I missed a few, so feel free to suggest additions in the comments — if they qualify, I’ll add ’em.)
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Jun 152022
 

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!

Hmmm–“In the Spotlight” could well be the giveaway, being exactly where at least half of this odd couple seems, more than anything else, to want to be. Odd couple? Well, back in the day, I daresay that the idea of Robert Fripp, the complex guitar wrangler of King Crimson fame, besuited and besitted always, having a lengthy and lasting marriage with Toyah Willcox, the punk-pop princess of Birmingham with the look-at-me dramatics, was not one of life’s great certainties.

I confess to being quite delighted by the couple’s first forays into Sunday Lunchtime COVID-19 entertainment, as much for the bizarre hoops Mrs. Fripp could put her permanently-bemused husband through, in the sake of raising the spirits of those who stumbled onto these little vignettes of, apparently, their life.

According to Willcox, the purpose of these weekly vids was primarily to lift Fripp out of the black dog that permeated him as lockdown locked down, depriving him of both an outlet for and an income for his art. So, on 5th April 2020, those idly browsing the net became party to the extraordinary image of the couple, dressed to the nines, having a bop to Bill Haley’s vintage hit, “Rock Around the Clock.” And looking to be having a whale of a time.
Continue reading »

Nov 012021
 
best cover songs 1991

As regular readers know, every year, at the end of the year, we do a big year-end covers list. This tradition started in 2007 and will continue in a couple months with the best covers of 2021.

But there are so many years before 2007 where we weren’t doing year-end covers lists (and, as far as I’m aware, no one else was either). So once a year, we do a big anniversary post tackling the best covers of a year before Cover Me was born. So far we’ve done 1969, 1978, 1987, 1996, and, last year, 2000.

And for 2021, we look back thirty years, to the heady days of 1991. The days of grunge and acid house, of parachute pants and ripped denim, of The Gulf War and Home Alone. Country music and hip-hop increased their cultural dominance (or really just making their existing dominance known; 1991 is also the year Soundscan made the Billboard charts more authoritative). In a single day, Nirvana released Nevermind, Red Hot Chili Peppers released Blood Sugar Sex Magik, and A Tribe Called Quest released The Low End Theory. Think that’s a fluke? The week before saw massive albums from Mariah Carey, Hole, and Guns ‘n’ Roses (two albums, no less). The week before that came Garth Brooks, Talk Talk, and Saint Etienne.

All of those trends are reflected in the list below. Many of these covers scream “1991!” LL Cool J raps Disney. Courtney Love shrieks Joni. Aretha Franklin tries to new jack swing. A spate of early tribute albums (in fact, last year I wrote a 33 1/3 book about a 1991 tribute album). Other covers are more timeless, from veteran artists doing great work several decades into their careers, or way-underground artists who never even approached the mainstream. The only criteria was quality. Thirty years later, these 50 covers Hole-d up the best.

Check out the list starting on Page 2, and stay tuned for the best covers of this year coming in December.

The list begins on Page 2.

Sep 302021
 
best cover songs of september
Beyoncé – Moon River (Mancini/Mercer cover

Any month with a new cover by Beyoncé is a big month. Admittedly, her piano-crooning “Moon River” like so many others have piano-crooned “Moon River” – and for a Tiffany’s ad no less – is slightly underwhelming. But we’ll take what we can get, and, even if the approach is hardly novel, Beyoncé’s got the pipes to deliver. Continue reading »

Aug 192021
 
Joy Oladokun

To some, the Who’s 1978 evergreen anthem “Who Are You?” was the first single off their last album to feature gonzo but sensitive drummer Keith Moon. To others, it is the theme song to the can’t stop-won’t stop running TV show CSI. Either way, it’s an unforgettable piece of rock ear candy that ain’t going away any time soon. The song was partially inspired by a night of hardcore alcohol imbibing Pete Townshend had “enjoyed” with his new friends Paul Cook and Steve Jones of the Sex Pistols, culminating in his falling into a drunken sleep in a doorway and being roused by a police officer. For the record, the binge had been inspired by a terrible meeting Pete had earlier that same day with the infamous managerial monster Allen Klein. By the third verse, though, the earthly bitterness is forsaken to make way for a remembrance of bucolic beauty. The song’s latterly lyrics describe an epiphanic walk through a forest that Pete took in 1971 at the North Carolina retreat of his late spiritual mentor Meher Baba.

Despite that specificity of inspiration, fabulous Nashville-based singer songwriter Joy Oladokun somehow reshapes “Who Are You?” into something new and even more emotionally profound. Her cover is a shimmering, sinewy, spacey psalm full of seriously sweet shredding. Oh, the “who the f-ck are you” line is still present, but with the gorgeous voice of Oladokun, it comes over less as a boy’s frustrated plea for help than an assertive, empowered, ass-kicking declaration of existence. And that last note she hits is absolutely smokin’ hot.