Posts Tagged ‘Cover Songs’

Sunday July 20th, 1969, marked a momentous moment in the history of humankind: Neil Armstrong stepped from the lunar module Eagle and descended a ladder to the surface of the moon. After touching ground at 10:56pm ET, he paused to say, “that’s one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind.” (The “a” is in brackets because it wasn’t audible on the transmission beamed to the 600 million people watching on Earth.)

The U.S. president – the 37th in the country’s history – was Richard M. Nixon, who took the oath of office six months earlier. His time in office was accented by chicanery, cynicism and brilliance, though much of that was yet to come. At this point in time, though he was viewed with disdain by some, his approval ratings were routinely in the 60s.

On the economic front, the unemployment rate began the year at 3.4 percent and ended at 3.9 percent. Everyone who wanted one had a job, just about. Inflation, on the other hand, was a source of concern: When Nixon took office, it was already high at 4.4 percent, and it continued to inch higher each month. 

When it came to foreign affairs – specifically, the Vietnam War – this very month marked two significant events: the first U.S. troop withdrawals from Vietnam occurred on the 8th; and, on July 25th, the “Nixon Doctrine” – aka the Vietnamization of the war – was announced. The plan was for the U.S. to turn over the defense of South Vietnam to the South Vietnamese.

In the Philly region, it was an atypical summer’s day, topping out at a mere 78 degrees (Fahrenheit). The Phillies didn’t take advantage of the cool weather, however, as starting pitcher Bill Champion failed to live up to his surname in a 6-1 loss to the Chicago Cubs at Connie Mack Stadium.

Among the movies playing in the theaters: Hook, Line & Sinker, True Grit, The Wild Bunch, and Easy Rider, which was released on July 14th. As I’ve noted before, however, this was the era when it could take a movie six or more months to make it to your local cinema.

Aside from the moon transmission, TV was basically in yesteryear’s DVR mode – rerun season. It’s when folks caught up on episodes they had missed.

In the world of music, June and July 1969 saw the release of a few notable – and not-so-notable – albums, including Roberta Flack’s First Take, Elvis Presley’s From Elvis in Memphis, Fairport Convention’s Unhalfbricking, Tim Buckley’s Happy Sad, The Doors’ Soft Parade, and Yes’ eponymous debut. 

And with that, here’s today’s Top 5: July 20, 1969 (via Weekly Top 40; the chart is for the 19th).

1) Zager and Evans – “In the Year 2525.” The next time a baby boomer laments the state of today’s music, point them to this song. And laugh. Because on July 20th, 1969 – less than a month before Woodstock – this “prophetic” song was the No. 1 song in the land.

And for you Gen-Xers feeling smug right now, here’s R.E.M. covering it:

2) Blood, Sweat & Tears – “Spinning Wheel.” Holding steady at No. 2 for a second week is this jaunty philosophical ode, which was penned by BS&T singer David Clayton-Thomas. 

To again leave the pop charts for a moment, earlier in the year Peggy Lee released an effervescent rendition of the song that reached No. 24 on the Easy Listening charts…

3) Three Dog Night – “One.” Dropping from No. 5 to No. 6 is this song, which I first heard in the mid-1970s on a commercial for a mail-order compilation. The song was written and originally recorded by Harry Nilsson, who released it in 1968.

And – yes, this is a trend – Aimee Mann recorded “One” for the For the Love of Nilsson tribute album in 1995. It also appeared on the soundtrack for Magnolia.

4) Elvis Presley – “In the Ghetto.” Elvis continued his comeback with this classic song written by Mac Davis that tackles poverty. (Sad to say, 50 years later, it remains as relevant as it was then.)

A few decades years later, on the 1998 Lilith Fair tour, Natalie Merchant – accompanied by Tracy Chapman – sang the song.

5) Jackie DeShannon – “Put a Little Love in Your Heart.” One of the week’s “power plays” is this catchy plea for love, which jumps from No. 55 to 48. FYI: Jackie co-wrote it.

And, finally, Dolly Parton recorded a wonderful version of the song for her 1993 album Slow Dancing With the Moon. Here she is singing it a few months earlier on the CMA Awards… 

In my Top 5 on Sunday, I mentioned about Weller that “there’s a whole host of covers to be had via the YouTube rabbit hole.” His willingness to share and pay tribute to his inspirations in concert and/or on vinyl is just one of the many cool things about him – and some of those recorded efforts, such as “Stoned out of My Mind” by the Jam, rate among my favorite sides of his.

Anyway, today at work, I began wondering if he’d covered John Lennon’s “Well, Well, Well” – but, if he ever did, it’s not on YouTube. There are tons of Fab-related tunes, however…

1) “Ticket to Ride” –

2) “All You Need Is Love” –

3) “Sexy Sadie” –

4) “Birthday” –

5) “Don’t Let Me Down” (with Stereophonics) –

6) “Come Together” –

And here are his spins on two JL classics…

7) “Instant Karma” –

8) “Love” –

And, just because, here are his takes on two Neil Young songs…

9) “Birds” –

10) “Out on the Weekend” –

And one bonus: Circling back to Sunday’s Top 5, which featured Bob Dylan’s cover of this classic Dion single, here’s Weller’s take…

11) “Abraham, Martin & John” –

It’s early morn on Thanksgiving Day as I write and, all through the house, not a creature is stirring – aside from the feline who’s stalked me since his breakfast at dawn. Just now, he poked his head up beside me and bellowed a mew. It’s his version of “please, sir, may I have some more?” but instead of “sir” it’s “serf,” and he’s added and subtracted a few other words, too. “Serf, I want seconds. Now!”

I jest, of course.

Thanksgiving is, as its name makes clear, a time for giving thanks, and there’s much to be thankful for this year, as there is every year, even though – as a whole – 2017 will go down in the history books as one of the all-time worst. It sometimes feels as if horrors from a parallel universe are bleeding into ours.

But here’s one reason (of many) to give thanks: Tomorrow, sisters Jessica, Camilla and Emily Staveley-Taylor, aka the Staves, release a new album, a collaboration with the chamber sextet yMusic titled The Way Is Read. The three tracks they’ve released to promote the project are breathtaking. “Silent Side,” which they shared last week, is aural beauty personified:

Their show at the World Cafe Live in March, I should mention, was a highlight not just of this year’s concert slate, but of all my years’ concerts. It was akin to stepping through a portal to a magical, mystical land where everything’s groovy and everything’s alright. In other words, it’s in the running for the Old Grey Cat’s esteemed Concert of the Year Honors.

One of the things I like about them, aside from their songs and vocals, is their knowledge of music past, which they obviously use to inform their music present. One can hear it in the borrowed tunes they sometimes sing – as I’ve written before, a well-chosen cover song is like a glimpse into the soul of the singer(s); and the sisters’ picks, which range from the sublime to silly, are illuminating.

Here’s today’s Top 5: The Staves – Borrowed Tunes.

1) “After the Gold Rush” (Neil Young)

2) “These Days” (Jackson Browne)

3) “A Case of You” (Joni Mitchell)

4) “I’m on Fire” (Bruce Springsteen)

5) “Long Time Gone” (Dixie Chicks)

And two bonuses…

6) “Helplessly Hoping” (Crosby, Stills & Nash)

7) “Afternoon Delight” (Starland Vocal Band)

maniacs_stipe_1993

There’s something magical when, in concert, an artist covers a song long associated with another act. Some fans hate such moments, I’m sure, wanting instead for another song from the artist’s own catalog; I understand that point. I do. But, for me, such moments offer a glimpse into the artist’s soul in a way their own songs don’t. Maybe they choose the song because they love it; or maybe they choose it because it’s cheesy fun. Either/or is fine by me. Here are five favorites from YouTube, including a few from my own YouTube channel:

1) 10,000 Maniacs with Michael Stipe – “To Sir With Love.” From MTV’s Inaugural Ball in 1993. “To Sir With Love” is just one of those songs for me; it brings back a flood of memories from just about every era of my life. Chief among them: September 17, 1992, when the Maniacs closed their set at WXPN’s Five-Star Night with the Lulu classic; it was sheer magic. This performance with Michael Stipe, on the other hand, is sheer goofy, contagious fun. (This clip also features the song that followed, when Stipe joins in on the Maniacs’ own “Candy Everybody Wants.”)

2) Garland Jeffreys with Marshall Crenshaw and Jonathan Edwards – “Waiting for the Man.” Since Reed’s passing, Garland has paid tribute to his old pal, whom he met in college in the early 1960s, with a cover of this classic Velvet Underground song at just about every show of his I’ve seen. This great performance hails from September 2015 at the Ardmore Music Hall in the Philadelphia suburb of Ardmore, Pa., where he was part of a round-robin concert with Marshall Crenshaw and Jonathan Edwards.

3) Susanna Hoffs – “When You Walk in the Room.” Susanna’s rhythm section had another commitment, so this November 2012 concert was just her, guitarist Andrew Brassell and a roadie on tambourine/percussion; and, as this song shows, the result was wondrous. She sang a few covers throughout the show, including the Beatles’ “All I Got to Do,” but this spin on the classic Jackie DeShannon song (which was a big hit for the Searchers) was my favorite.

4) Rumer – “American Dove.” This rendition of the Laura Nyro classic hails from Rumer’s first-ever concert in the U.S. in October 2011, at the World Cafe Live Upstairs in Philadelphia. We were two of about 50 folks in attendance.

5) Diane Birch – “Heavy Cross.” What’s amazing about this mesmerizing 2010 performance, which hails from French TV show? Everything.

And… one bonus.

Neil Young with Booker T & the MGs – “All Along the Watchtower.” In the early 2000s, Neil hit the road with the legendary Stax group. Their rendition of the Dylan-Hendrix classic is best summarized with three words: Crank it up!