May 152015

Full Albums features covers of every track off a classic album. Got an idea for a future pick? Leave a note in the comments!

Maybe it is too facile to say that Van Morrison’s second solo album, Astral Weeks, is respected, while its follow up, Moondance, is loved. We looked at Astral Weeks about a year ago, so there’s no reason to repeat that here, but it’s clear that Morrison took a very different approach with the two albums, both of which have entered the rock pantheon as classics (for example, both albums were inducted in the Grammy Hall of Fame and Astral Weeks is 19 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Albums of all time; Moondance was ranked 66.) But while the older album is revered as a work of art, you actually heard (and still hear) songs from Moondance on the radio. Astral Weeks failed to chart, and no singles from the album were released, but Moondance reached 29 on the Billboard Pop Album chart, and had three singles released.

Astral Weeks is considered to be a unified song cycle or a concept album, filled with stream of consciousness lyrics. The musicians that were recruited mostly had jazz backgrounds, and Morrison encouraged them to improvise after hearing Morrison play the songs on an acoustic guitar. Despite critical acclaim, it received little commercial airplay and limited support from the label, Warner Bros.

After recording Astral Weeks, Morrison and his wife moved into a mountaintop house near Woodstock, in upstate New York. He began to write the songs for Moondance and recruited local musicians for the recording sessions. Although, like with his previous album, there were no formal written charts, Morrison focused this time on shorter, more upbeat and optimistic songs with accessible song structures, in part influenced by another group of Woodstock area residents, The Band. It also was greeted with great reviews, but garnered significantly more radio airplay and immediate sales than its predecessor. And, I would argue, few albums have a stronger first side (when that mattered) than Moondance (“And It Stoned Me”/”Moondance”/”Crazy Love”/”Caravan”/”Into The Mystic”), and side 2 isn’t shabby, either.
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Oct 122012

Full Albums features covers of every track off a classic album. Got an idea for a future pick? Leave a note in the comments!

Today we conclude our look at Decade, the compleat (at the time) Neil Young, by sharing covers of every song on sides five and six. (If you missed sides one and two, click here; go here for sides three and four.) Continue reading »

Jun 142012

The Black Keys have been around since 2001 despite being thrust into the spotlight just a couple years ago. All the same, calling them “veterans” would seem a bit lofty when compared to, say, Iggy Pop or drummer Ginger Baker (of Cream). So you’d think the Black Keys (accomplished cover artists themselves) would be covering those guys, but a new tribute album to the Keys, Black on Blues, has it the other way around. Continue reading »

Nov 112011

Almost as common as ghost, witch and vampire costumes on Halloween is the covers concert. Many bands will forgo their latest release or greatest hits and instead pop on a costume and break out the cover songs. Over the years bands like Phish and The Flaming Lips have become known for their Halloween concert festivities and cover sets of full albums or songs from a decade; this year we take a look at some of the other artists getting their spooky fun on. Continue reading »

May 262011

Dylan Covers A-Z presents covers of every single Bob Dylan song. View the full series here.

An excerpt from Bob Dylan’s Chronicles: Volume One (Simon & Schuster, 2004):

When I finally did arrive in California, my songs and my reputation had preceded me. I had records out on Columbia and I’d be playing at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium and meeting all the performers who had recorded my songs-artists like The Byrds, who’d recorded “Mr. Tambourine Man,” Sonny and Cher, who’d done “All I Really Want to Do,” The Turtles, who recorded “It Ain’t Me, Babe,” Glen Campbell, who had released “Don’t Think Twice,” and Johnny Rivers, who had recorded “Positively 4th Street.”

Of all the versions of my recorded songs, the Johnny Rivers one was my favorite. It was obvious that we were from the same side of town, had been read the same citations, came from the same musical family and were cut from the same cloth. When I listened to Johnny’s version of “Positively 4th Street,” I liked his version better than mine. I listened to it over and over again. Most of the cover versions of my songs seemed to take them out into left field somewhere, but Rivers’s version had the mandate down-the attitude and melodic sense to complete and surpass even the feeling that I had put into it. It shouldn’t have surprised me, though. He had done the same thing with “Maybellene” and “Memphis,” two Chuck Berry songs. When I heard Johnny sing my song, it was obvious that life had the same external grip on him as it did on me.

Yes, today’s installment boasts a special distinction: It contain Dylan’s favorite cover of his own work. Rivers’ “Positively 4th Street” is indeed spellbinding. We’d venture that if Bob heard some of these other covers, though, he might have to reconsider. The Ghosts of Electricity’s 11-minute “Standing in a Doorway” takes a live jam to the stratosphere. Guy Davis’ “Sweetheart Like You” is so beautiful it redeems all of Dylan’s output in the ’80s (well, almost). If nothing else, John Doe (of X)’s soaring “Pressing On” from the I’m Not There film would surely be a contender.

We’ve also got a few of those “left field” covers he apparently disdains. Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Subterranean Homesick Blues” roars even harder than he ever intended. World Wide Message Tribe’s “Precious Angel” takes the holy message to the club floor. Cheap Trick’s 10-minutes “Please Mrs. Henry” doesn’t sound much like it did with the Band in that Woodstock basement. Check out these and dozens more on the next few pages and see if you agree with Dylan that Rivers tops the lot.

P.S. After you’ve reached your verdict, you might also compare it to the 170 covers we’ve presented in previous installments, linked here:
Part 1: “Absolutely Sweet Marie” – “Everything Is Broken”
Part 2: “Father of Night” – “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues”
Part 3: “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” – “Oxford Town”
Part 4: “Peggy Day” – “Sweetheart Like You”
Part 5: “T.V Talkin’ Song” – “4th Time Around”

Continued on Page 2…

Jul 082009

I was a Bob Dylan fan long before I got into the Band. I thought they were good with him but kind of lame by themselves. See, I first heard “I Shall Be Released” on Dylan’s 1978 At Budokan live album where it has full horns, gospel chorus, and blasts right out at ya. Compared to that the Band version just sounded flaccid. Thankfully I’ve come around since then. Seeing The Last Waltz will do that to ya.

Paul Barrere and Fred Tackett – Tears of Rage
The first of several Dylan-assisted songs on the album, it’s the one he’s all but forgotten about live. Luckily Barre and Tackett remembered it at an ’03 concert, jamming out with a couple guitars and a winding story. [Buy]

The Beatles – To Kingdom Come
“There’s no way the Beatles recorded a Band song,” I hear you saying. Well it’s true. It’s from the Get Back sessions in London, the sound of them messing around. Unfortunately though the recording of the guitar is crystal clear the vocals are very difficult to hear. Time for a remaster? [Buy]

Karen Dalton – In a Station
With drum rolls like that to open a track, it doesn’t even matter what comes next. Bonus points if the rest is good too. [Buy]

Plastic Penny – Caledonia Mission
Obscure U.K. psychedelic band Plastic Penny only released three albums, all with currency-related titles. Luckily their second from 1969 includes the rare cover of this tune, sounding like the original filtered through Jefferson Airplane. [Buy]

The Gaslight Anthem – The Weight
I saw Mavis Staples perform this live with The Decemberists (read about it) and god I wish there was a recording. The Gaslight Anthem’s Brian Fallon is no second-best though, strumming his way through a take so simple it nails the song in the heart. [Buy]

Kiyoshiro – We Can Talk
“Japan’s King of Rock” here, singing a Japanese-language take on one of the Band’s lesser-known tunes. No idea how well the lyric is translated, but the delivery is worthy. [Buy]

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – Long Black Veil (Dill/Wilkin)
Plenty of people sung it before The Band, but once they released their version no future artist could perform it without having their take in mind. Cave channels Johnny Cash more than The Band though. Well, he channels Cash for nineteen seconds. From then on, what can he do but channel Cave? A dark, stomping version like none you’ve ever heard. [Buy]

Widespread Panic – Chest Fever
The organ intro heard round the world. I saw Band drummer Levon Helm hit this one live last summer and Larry Campbell ripped through an equally epic opening on his guitar. Read about it, then go buy the Endless Highway Band tribute this tune’s off. [Buy]

Blood, Sweat and Tears – Lonesome Suzie
The original was pretty slow, but it’s downright punk speed compared to where BST take it. Until the horns come in. Then all bets are off. [Buy]

Siouxsie and the Banshees – This Wheel’s On Fire
I don’t know how they do it, but with this and “Dear Prudence” Siouxsie and co. have a knack for turning the most unlikely of tunes into phenomenal gothic stomps. One for the all time great Dylan covers list. [Buy]

Wilco and Fleet Foxes – I Shall Be Released (Bob Dylan)
Unlike “Tears” and “This Wheel,” “I Shall Be Released” gets no co-writing credit from The Band, though they did play it at Big Pink for the famed “basement tapes.” Wilco busted out the jailbird’s lament at several concerts last fall, backed by Americana crooners Fleet Foxes, and put the mp3 up on their website in exchange for a pledge to vote. [Buy]