At Friday night’s Yo La Tengo show at Chicago’s Metro, fans got a surprise when the trio covered Wilco’s “If I Ever Was a Child” as the third song in their first set. Fans got a much bigger surprise a set and a half later when all six members of Wilco, on an off night in their own local residency, joined Yo La Tengo on stage for four more (non-Wilco) covers.
Yo La Tengo recently began a tour in support of their latest album, This Stupid World. A good portion of the setlists have been devoted to original material from the new record, but the trio have been debuting some new and surprising live covers, too. Last week in San Francisco, YLT premiered a second-set version of “Goin’ Down the Road Feeling Bad,” a traditional tune most associated with the Grateful Dead.
‘The Best Covers Ever’ series counts down our favorite covers of great artists.
If you were to look at the charts, the Beach Boys basically stopped having giant hits after 1966’s “Good Vibrations” (with the obvious exception of 1988’s “Kokomo”). They’re a singles band whose singles mostly dried up six years into their sixty-year career. They had a brief run of good-time hits about girls, cars, and surfing, then faded. They’re the band preserved forever in that cornball publicity photo up top.
But that’s not the story these covers tell.
The big hits are here, sure. “Surfer Girl” and “Fun Fun Fun” and “I Get Around” etc. But so are many now-iconic tunes that weren’t hits. “God Only Knows,” the Beach Boys’ most covered song, peaked at #39. By their standards, that’s a straight-up flop. Many other covered songs didn’t even make it that high. But “God Only Knows” has of course belatedly been recognized as one of the great pop songs of the 20th century. As has the album it came off of, Pet Sounds, itself a relative commercial failure.
Pet Sounds, of course, has long since been recognized as a classic. So some artists dig even deeper. “Lonely Sea” is an album cut off their 1963 album Surfin’ U.S.A. “Trader” comes off the 1973 album Holland. Three separate songs here originally came off Surf’s Up, now the go-to pick for artists who want to show they know more than Pet Sounds. Even a song not released until the ‘90s, “Still I Dream of It,” gets a killer cover.
You can trace the story of the Beach Boys’ reputation through these covers. A group once perceived as a lightweight singles act have been fully embraced as musical geniuses, all the way from the hits of the ’60s through the then-overlooked gems of the ‘70s and beyond. Some of these songs below you probably won’t know. Others you will know every single word of…but you’ve never heard them sung like this.
Rarely Covered looks at who’s mining the darkest, dustiest corners of iconic catalogs.
Today, on Bob Dylan’s actual birthday, we present part two in our week-long series showcasing covers of lesser-known Dylan songs.
I explained my methodology for defining “lesser-known” in part one on the early ‘60s tunes, but, briefly, the main criteria is that it can’t have appeared on a proper album. Then I just eliminated some additional well-known non-album tracks.
The late ‘60s offer a wealth of such tracks that have been covered – if not often, very well at least once or twice. Dive in below, and check back tomorrow as we enter Bob’s 1970s.
Happy birthday Bob!
Musically speaking, Yoko Ono (“ocean child” in Japanese) is still predominantly recognized as a primal screamer, an avant-garde provocateur, and an agent of harsh, visceral noise as a kind of feminist weapon. She’s accepted, in such terms, as a key influence in the development of female-fronted alt-rock along the lines of grunge and the riot grrrl movement, with Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth, Courtney Love of Hole, and Kathleen Hanna of Bikini Kill having all spoken of her importance to them. Her shrieking, confrontational sound may, indeed, be considered her signature style. But it’s also a stereotype. One that’s been reinforced in Peter Jackson’s recent Get Back documentary, where Yoko’s to be seen, in footage from 10 January 1969, leading Beatles John, Paul, and Ringo in an impromptu freak-out session by wailing and howling into George Harrison’s recently vacated microphone.
Death Cab for Cutie frontman Ben Gibbard is all too aware of the blinkered perspective many people have of Yoko’s music, doubtless aggravated by the fact that her songs still never get played on the radio. It’s this that’s driven him to curate Ocean Child: Songs of Yoko Ono, a tribute album to coincide with the New York-based artist’s 89th birthday. He’s all about doing justice to her more underappreciated musical achievements here, contending that “the tallest hurdle to clear has always been the public’s ignorance as to the breadth of Yoko’s work.” He’s aware, at the same time, that the dust has long settled on previous collaborative efforts born of similar concerns, from the Every Man Has a Woman Who Loves Him tribute record of 1984 (for Yoko’s 50th birthday), to remix projects Yes, I’m a Witch and Open Your Box in 2007, and Yes, I’m a Witch Too in 2016. This is not to forget tribute album Mrs Lennon: Songs by Yoko Ono in 2010, consisting solely of female Brazilian artists.
Gibbard, then, resumes the good fight previously fought on albums that pitched Yoko as a versatile songwriter variously relevant to the genres of new wave, experimental pop, Brazilian pop, and dance music. Over 14 tracks, he aims to convince listeners of her particular skills in composing melodies “as memorable as those of [the] best pop writers,” as well as lyrics of “poignance, sophistication and deep introspection.”
And you know what? He makes you wonder.
The release of the new Beatles documentary Get Back has revived one of the greatest musical debates of all time. Just why did the Beatles break up? One thing that seemed clear (at least to me) when watching the mammoth film is that the fault does not lie with John Lennon’s soon-to-be spouse Yoko Ono. While she was there for the majority of the Let It Be sessions, she mostly appeared to be hanging out. A constant presence for sure, but hardly a distraction for Paul, George and Ringo.
Given this new documentary evidence, I was excited to learn about the upcoming tribute album Ocean Child: Songs Of Yoko Ono. If the public is reevaluating Ono’s role in the Beatles’ demise, then certainly it is time to take another look her musical output as well. Ono was an accomplished musician before she ever met Lennon, a classically trained vocalist and pianist who had collaborated with John Cage and LaMonte Young. In the decades since her husband’s murder, she has continued to record and release music at a steady pace.