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!
I wanted to put this in the Under the Radar category. Then it hit me: whose radar could John Mellencamp possibly be under? It’s true, but, equally, his spotlight has always veered from mass appeal towards the niche, albeit to different niche audiences at different times, encompassing different genres and different tastes. How much traction, for instance, is there between the effervescent Johnny Cougar in his sequined satins, and the grizzled dustbowl road warrior of only a few years later, let alone the renaissance man of musician, artist and actor he is seen as now? Today’s answer: Precious little, yet more than you may think. Continue reading »
Adam Green – All Hell Breaks Loose (Misfits cover)
Misfits go mariachi! Adam Green, best known as one half of the Moldy Peaches, plays “All Hell Breaks Loose” like it was “Ring of Fire.” He writes: “In The Misfits and in his glorious solo work, Danzig bridged punk and metal with the blue-eyed soul music of the mid-1960’s like The Righteous Brothers and The Walker Brothers. I’d had an idea for a while to do a Scott Walker / John Franz style production at punk speeds, and the Misfits song ‘All Hell Breaks Loose’ seemed like the perfect vessel for the experiment.”Continue reading »
This marks the fourth year I’ve done a big anniversary countdown (after 1996, 1987, and 1978). It also proved to be the most challenging. There were a lot of covers released in 1969. In fact, according to covers-and-samples database WhoSampled, there were more than in any of the other years we’ve done. Their database lists 3,110 covers, which is surely still a small fraction.
The reason for the cover song’s proliferation seems clear to me after going through them all: Popular bands released a lot more music back then. Aretha Franklin released two albums in 1969. So did The Byrds, Elvis Presley, Joe Cocker, Johnny Cash, Johnny Winter, and Nina Simone. Creedence Clearwater Revival and Merle Haggard released three albums apiece. James Brown topped them all with four. To get that kind of output, artists would pad their albums with covers. Every 1969 album by every artist I just mentioned includes at least one cover. Many include several. A few are all covers. It adds up.
Impressively, many of those covers reinterpreted songs that had come out within the previous year. This entire list could easily have been “Hey Jude” covers. “Wichita Lineman” and “Light My Fire” came up constantly too (the latter song slightly older, but it had hit the charts again in 1968). Even songs from 1968’s soundtrack to Hair got covered endlessly in 1969.
Even beyond “Hey Jude,” Beatles covers dominated the year. I’m not going to go back through the entire 3,110 covers and count, but if you told me Beatles covers made up a full half of those, I wouldn’t be shocked. Add Bob Dylan covers to that side of the scale and it’s probably true. Beatles songs got covered in every conceivable genre for every conceivable audience. Jazz and swing and folk and proto-metal Beatles covers everywhere the eye can see. Plenty of people cover the Beatles these days, sure, but trust me: It’s nothing like it was in 1969.
So wheedling all those down to the top 50 proved incredibly difficult. But it means this is maybe the top-to-bottom strongest set thus far, and it killed me to leave some off (that’s why our Patreon supporters will get a set of 69 bonus tracks – so join now).
One note: I left off Woodstock performances. For one, we counted down the 50 best covers performed there last month. But more importantly, most people did not actually hear those covers until the movie and soundtrack came out in 1970. Jimi Hendrix performed his iconic Star-Spangled Banner – pretty much everyone’s top cover of the weekend – to a nearly empty field. Most of the audience had left before he punched in at 9 AM that Monday morning. That said, several of the classic covers performed at Woodstock were released as singles or on albums the same year – including Joe Cocker’s “With a Little Help from My Friends” – and those studio versions make this list.
Now, let the sunshine in with the 50 best covers of 1969.
If someone told you to sing “This Land Is Your Land,” how much could you do off the top of your head? Redwood forest, check. Ribbon of highway probably too. But do you know this verse?
Was a high wall there that tried to stop me
A sign was painted said: Private Property,
But on the back side it didn’t say nothing —
That side was made for you and me.
That rarely-sung verse, from Woody Guthrie’s original lyrics, helped inspire Anthony D’Amato’s shimmering new cover (which features background vocals from Josh Ritter). Though written in 1940, that line about walls dividing people holds increasing resonance today. And it’s a subject D’Amato cares a lot about; his last album included the Trump-inspired original “If You’re Gonna Build A Wall” and both tracks appear on new charity EP Won’t You Be My Neighbor.Continue reading »
There’s something inherently ironic about a musician long criticized for his vocal abilities releasing an album of covers, each of whose success is predicated on the strength of the vocalist in question. While there have certainly been a handful of performers with admittedly “unique” voices covering this territory – Jimmy Durante and Willie Nelson immediately spring to mind – vocal-oriented pop derived from the so-called Great American Songbook has long been the purview of singers like Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Dean Martin and scores of others.
That none other than Bob Dylan should look to tackle the Great American Songbook is intriguing not just for his admitted vocal shortcomings, but also his early positioning as the polar opposite of everything the supper club set stood for. Perhaps it simply has something to do with the maturation process – something of a rite of passage for aging musicians – in that a certain level of nostalgia begins to creep in and an overwhelming urge to explore the music of their youth starts to take hold. That they would have largely scoffed at the idea of endeavoring such a feat during their formative proves all the more interesting now decades removed from the idealism of youth.