Tag Archives: The Band

Top 15 Cover Songs of the Decade

It’s come to that time of the year/decade where innumerable lists will come out touting writer’s knowledge of music by saying what the best album, songs or artists of the decade/year are. Some are interesting reads, others are banal wastes of time & yet others are pretentious attempts at musical superiority while showing you have little knowledge about “real” music. It is this final category that Paste Magazine’s 30 best covers of the decade falls into.

Covers are a delicate subject with me. A cover song must be at least similar to the original. Otherwise, you’re not covering another artist’s song you’re simply saying you think they did a shitty job the first time around instead of paying homage. Jimi Hendrix did not cover Bob Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower” he dissected it & made it better. Dylan provided the blueprint for Hendrix & Jimi ran with it. Dylan himself has said as much:

It overwhelmed me, really. He had such talent, he could find things inside a song and vigorously develop them. He found things that other people wouldn’t think of finding in there. He probably improved upon it by the spaces he was using. I took license with the song from his version, actually, and continue to do it to this day…I liked Jimi Hendrix’s record of this and ever since he died I’ve been doing it that way…Strange how when I sing it, I always feel it’s a tribute to him in some kind of way.

Paste has a reputation for thinking they’re better than everyone with obscure references to obscure songs & praising them from the mountain top as being immortal & themselves as fore bearers to the band’s success. Their list is full of songs that hold little relevancy to anyone except the artists themselves.

It’s a bit disgraceful to see a list of songs with The Polyphonic Spree at #7 with Nirvana’s “Lithium” or Calexico at #8 with Stereolab’s “Peng! 33”. What? Really? Stereolab was an obscure band from the ’90’s that never found success in part because they were bad at making music. The Polyphonic Spree is a band from today that suffers from the same problem. I’m all for opening eyes with new artists. I try to introduce new artists to the masses on this blog regularly, but to indiscriminately toss out labels like “best of the decade” is hyperbolic to the core.

There are a few I agree with on the list, but none above number 9 (they are 28, 20, 18 – which may be the best on their list, 10 & 9). In large part I think Paste is, once again, showing they’re rightly regarded as a magazine strictly for the arrogant hipster, who thinks he knows more about music than you. It’s like saying Sgt. Pepper is too commercial of an album to be the best of all time or the “Godfather” is too widely known to be the best film of all time. Everyone has their opinion & rightfully so, but when an opinion is there to show you how shitty your musical tastes are then it becomes a practice in musical bullying & I think it’s an abhorrent practice.

Music is there to spark conversation, to create unity, to educate, not belittle (unless you’re talking about Gangster Rap). Every time I give an opinion on this blog (or any other place I write) I try to give it context, not to dumb down my point, but to educate in one way or another. I happen to know a lot about music, mostly because I have no life, but also because it happens to be my passion. I do not claim to be the end all be all of musical critics. I’m simply a conduit to better understanding for those that have lives or seek some better form of musical knowledge.

So here is my list of the 15 best covers of the decade with short explanations as to why I enjoy them & why they’re great in my opinion:

#15 – Love Vigilantes – Voxtrot (originally: New Order)

A classic ’80’s song that is faithful to the original without being a complete replica. While expressing the emotion that many families are feeling, it is apropos of the moment in which we live.

#14 – Girls Just Wanna Have Fun – Ben Gibbard from Death Cab for Cutie (Originally: Cyndi Lauper)

Another ’80’s song many consider trite pop, but Gibbard turns it into something much more. An anthem of parental & societal oppression. The audience laughs but if you really listen to the lyrics you realize that it is a plea to stop worrying about social mores that tend to pigeonhole people into groups that have no true bearing on who they really are. A beautiful interpretation.

#13 – You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere – Counting Crows (Originally: Bob Dylan)

Redone by many artists, this is faithful to the original from Bob Dylan’s Basement Tapes version with The Band. Marketa Iglova & Glen Hansard do a fairly competent version on the I’m Not There Soundtrack, but it really doesn’t compare to Adam Duritz belting this classic out.

#12 – The Long Way Home – Norah Jones (Originally: Tom Waits)

Tom Waits has that writing quality that makes everyone want to redo his songs. Norah Jones is a phenomenal songwriter in her own right & has the perfect voice for this Waits composition. There’s something to be said for a steel guitar & a Tom Waits song that just reeks of awesomeness.

#11 – Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood – Cat Stevens/Yusuf Islam (Originally: Nina Simone)

While the Animals may have popularized this song, it was written for Nina Simone by Bennie Benjamin, Gloria Caldwell and Sol Marcus. The song correlates with Yusuf’s own struggles after he changed his name from Cat Stevens to Yusuf Islam & his subsequent inclusion on the Terrorist watch list in the early ’00’s.

#10 – Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want – She & Him (Originally: The Smiths)

Zooey Deschanel & M. Ward covered this song for the 500 Days of Summer Soundtrack perfectly. The echo behind Deschanel’s voice creates a haunting version while staying succinctly true to the original. You can almost hear the anguish in her voice as she desperately emotes Morrissey’s plea for a change in his luck.

#9 – Glory Days – The Avett Brothers (Originally: Bruce Springsteen)

The issue I’ve always had with this song is that instead of saying fastball at the beginning he says speedball. When I hear Bruce say “He could throw that Speedball right by you.” it always makes me cringe as a baseball fan & someone who had a lot of friends who did a lot of drugs. That’s my only complaint, though, I love the song & the Avett’s doing it with a banjo, a kick drum & a tambourine is magical.

#8 – The Weight – Gaslight Anthem (Originally: The Band)

The seminal song in the Band’s career is faithfully done by the Gaslight Anthem’s lead singer Brian Fallon. There’s a lot to be said for a man & his guitar. Fallon has that kind of voice that is suited for a song such as this. It’s a story song, almost in the same vein as The Beatles “A Day in the Life”.

#7 – Sunday Morning – Beck’s Record Club (Originally: Velvet Underground & Nico)

When Beck started his Record Club project it was considered a bit of a lark (especially when I read he considered doing Digital Underground’s album Sex Packets in it’s entirety), but when you hear this song you realize otherwise. I have never been a fan of Beck’s music. I’ve interviewed him a number of times, smoked out with him & find him to be a fascinating person, but musically I’m not evolved enough to enjoy what he does, though I do recognize his talent. Be that as it may I do love this cover so much. When stripped down Beck’s voice is incredible.

#6 – Dancing in the Dark – Pete Yorn (Originally: Bruce Springsteen)

Another Springsteen song covered by a talented musician. Pete Yorn’s first album spoke to me so much that I don’t think I listened to another album for a month after it came out. Yorn with a piano slowly singing this mournful song about escaping the everyday doldrums of life. It’s something we can all relate to, especially in this context.

#5 – I Don’t Wanna Grow Up – Cold War Kids (Originally: Tom Waits)

Hearing the Cold War Kids acoustically is a sound to behold. Hearing them sing Tom Waits’ song about having to accept responsibility as an adult & wanting to stay a child forever is a moment. It’s much like when the Beach Boys released A Beach Boys’ Party where they covered a few Beatles songs among others & made it a sing along. This recording, while much less hokey, has that feel to it.

#4 – The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carol – Black Rebel Motorcycle Club (Originally: Bob Dylan)

While not completely factual this song still does speak to the injustice that was still going on in 1960’s America. Lead Singer, Peter Hayes, expresses the difficulty in remembering all the lyrics before he starts actually singing noting it is a Bob Dylan song. He doesn’t sing it with tonal precision which makes it even that much better. What he does give it is slightly more melody than Dylan (as many often have). The harmonica in the Bridge is not overstated or too intense to overpower the audience.

#3 – My Oklahoma Home – Bruce Springsteen (Originally: Pete Seeger)

When Bruuuuuuce decided to make a tribute album with all Pete Seeger songs I never thought it would work. I love just about everything Springsteen touches, but even this seemed like a stretch to me. I was wrong. The true merit of an artist is the ability to reinvent oneself & make it work. Dylan did it, the Beatles did it & Springsteen did as well. This song about the Oklahoma Dust Bowl holds as much connotation in today’s current economic climate as it did 80 years ago. No one today speaks of the hardships of the blue collar society like Bruce & before him there was no one better than Pete Seeger & Woody Guthrie.

#2 – The Drugs Don’t Work – Ben Harper (Originally: The Verve)

Ben Harper has a way of making songs better as with this Verve song about as Richard Ashcroft put it:

There’s a new track I’ve just written […] It goes ‘the drugs don’t work, they just make me worse, and I know I’ll see your face again’. That’s how I’m feeling at the moment. They make me worse, man. But I still take ’em. Out of boredom and frustration you turn to something else to escape.

Harper brings a subtle vulnerability to this track as if he were actually speaking this to a loved one. The Verve version was a little more gruff, but beautiful nonetheless. Richard Ashcroft is a highly underrated lyricist & never was that made more evident than in this version.

#1 – Long, Long, Long – Jim James (Originally: The Beatles)

Earlier this year Jim James of My Morning Jacket, quietly released a 6 song EP under the moniker Yim Yames covering some of his favorite George Harrison songs. It went mostly unnoticed by critics as it was released primarily online, but it was perhaps the best thing recorded all year. This is one of my favorite Beatle songs from the White Album & James captures the essence of the track with the echoed brilliance of the vocals. If ever a cover song moved me I can not remember when one did it like this one. It is not merely faithful to the original, but luminous in it’s own right.

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Buy Me a Flute & a Gun That Shoots

Throughout these, my older years (I’ll be 33 on Monday), I have incurred a longing for the twang of country music. Let’s be realistic, though, Taylor Swift, Carrie Underwood & the like are far from the country music our fathers grew up with. No I’m talking Johnny Cash, Hank Williams & Willie Nelson style country. Something with a steel guitar & a little accent just get’s me going, love it. So how do I reconcile this with my love of rock music?

Should I have to? In a sense, I shouldn’t. They are not as diametrically different as one would think. It’s safe to say that the Alt-Country movement that is flourishing today is an offshoot of those country artists with an injection of Classic Rock infused into it.  The best is when an artist who isn’t typically country decides to “go country” for an album. Bob Dylan did it, Bruce Springsteen, The Rolling Stones & the Beatles even dabbled with a few songs.

That twang is the sound that many artists were raised on & for some reason country music has gotten away from it. It has developed a pop sound that has less to do with the quality of the music but more with the look of the artist as a fresh crop of blond hair/blue eyed young ingenues make their debut on the country circuit which no longer involves seedy dive bars with chicken wire. Here’s a few songs by artists that played the twang to devastatingly great effects.

You Ain’t Going Nowhere – The Byrds

Jackson – Johnny Cash & June Carter

Evangeline – The Band & Emmylou Harris

Act Naturally – The Beatles

Dead Flowers (Acoustic) – The Rolling Stones

Chin Up, Cheer Up – Ryan Adams

Grey While Gone – The Small Sounds

Roadworn & Weary – Supersuckers

Tennessee Stud – The Little Willies

One More Night – Bob Dylan

Oh Mother Dear We’re Not the Fortunate Ones

I have a love/hate relationship with cover songs. There are some that are as good if not better than the originals, i.e. “All Along the Watchtower” by Hendrix (Originally by Bob Dylan), but then again there are those that fall flat, i.e. “Downtown Train” by Rod Stewart (Originally by Tom Waits). So it’s kind of a crap shoot on what you’re gonna get. There are a million covers that everyone has heard so I decided to compile a list of songs that, while well known, are not always covered.

It is quite something for an artist to do someone else’s work & create his own interpretation of it. There are times when an artist has one hit & that hit happens to be someone else’s song, see The Lemonheads cover of Simon & Garfunkel’s “Mrs. Robinson” which was Evan Dando’s Mea Culpa though it wasn’t his song. In this case it’s because The Lemonheads are bad at music. Here are some covers that I think you may enjoy, because I did & I’m a music genius, when talking about other people’s music. I pretty much can only play “Suicide is Painless” (The Mash Theme) on guitar.

Okie From Muskogee (Merle Haggard) – James Taylor

Girls Just Wanna Have Fun (Cyndi Lauper) – Ben Gibbard from Death Cab For Cutie

Thunder Road (Bruce Springsteen) – Matt Nathanson

Jealous Guy (John Lennon) – Donny Hathaway

When the Levee Breaks (Led Zeppelin) – Jeff Buckley

The Weight (The Band) – Gaslight Anthem

I Want it That Way (Backstreet Boys) – Ryan Adams

Bang, Bang (Nancy Sinatra/Sonny Bono) – The Raconteurs

Two of Us (The Beatles) – Aimee Mann & Michael Penn

Suspicious Minds (Elvis Presley) – Pete Yorn

You Ain’t Going Nowhere (Bob Dylan & The Band) – Joan Baez

Chim Chim Cher-ee (Dick Van Dyke & Julie Andrews) – John Coltrane

Top 250 Albums of All-Time 179-170

#179 – Houses of the Holy – Led Zeppelin

If I & II were their blues album, III was their folk/acoustic album & IV was the Celtic album then Houses of the Holy is Led Zeppelin’s foray into psychedelic music as witnessed with tracks like “No Quarter”, “The Ocean” & “The Rain Song”. This was also the first Led Zeppelin album not to be self titled & is regarded by critics as one of their finest albums. It stands out as one of Jimmy Page’s finest performances & shows off Robert Plant’s writing style as it had progressed dramatically even since IV.

No Quarter – Led Zeppelin

The Ocean – Led Zeppelin

#178 – In Rainbows – Radiohead

Is it one of the best albums of 2007 or 2008? Let’s see it was released in 2007 for a pay-whatever-you-want price on the band’s website, but was released on CD in 2008 & was given the Grammy for Best Alternative Music Album in 2009. Regardless, In Rainbows is universally hailed as one Radiohead’s finest albums. It has what Thom Yorke called “Seduction songs & Yorke also said, “the lyrics are quite caustic-the idea of ‘before you’re comatose’ or whatever, drinking yourself into oblivion & getting fucked-up to forget…there is partly this elation. But there’s a much darker side.”

Jigsaw Falling Into Place – Radiohead

Weird Fishes/Arpeggi – Radiohead

House of Cards – Radiohead

#177 – Cheap Thrills – Big Brother & The Holding Company

Big Brother obtained a considerable amount of attention after their 1967 performance at the Monterey Pop Festival and had released their debut album soon after. By early 1968, they began work on what was the most eagerly anticipated record of the year. The album’s overall raw sound effectively captures the band’s energetic and lively concerts. The album was released in the summer of 1968, one year after their debut album, and reached number one on the Billboard charts in its eighth week in October. It kept the number one spot for eight (nonconsecutive) weeks while the single, “Piece of My Heart,” also became a huge hit. By the end of the year it was the most successful album of 1968, having sold nearly a million copies. The success was short-lived however, as Janis Joplin left the group for a solo career in December, 1968.

Piece of My Heart – Big Brother & the Holding Co.

Summertime – Big Brother & The Holding Co.

#176 – Dire Straits – Dire Straits

The debut album by Dire Straits introduced Mark Knopfler to an eager American audience searching for a new sound with the awful taste disco left in people’s mouths in 1978. With their bluesy, lounge sounds Dire Straits captivated audiences with such hits as “Down to the Waterline”, “Six Blade Knife” & their gigantic hit “Sultans of Swing”. Dire Straits played a more conventional style, albeit with a stripped-down sound that appealed to audiences also weary of the overproduced stadium rock of the 1970s. In their early days, Mark and David Knopfler requested that pub owners turn down their sound so that patrons could converse while the band played, an indication of their unassuming demeanor. Despite this oddly self-effacing approach to rock and roll, Dire Straits soon became hugely successful, with their first album going multi-platinum globally.

Six Blade Knife – Dire Straits

Sultans of Swing – Dire Straits

#175 – The Low End Theory – A Tribe Called Quest

The Low End Theory is the second album by A Tribe Called Quest & further showed the Jazz/Hip-Hop stylings of Tribe led by Q-Tip & Phife Dawg’s lyrics which were on a myriad of subjects including: date rape, violence in hip-hop, jazz & exploitation of musicians by promoters. They set the style for artists such as the Roots, Common & even Kanye West with their jazz samplings & heavy beats. When the album was first brought to the studio heads, they hated the album and thought it was not very good at all. People such as Barry Weiss (the former president of Jive, now the Chairman of the Zomba Label Group division of Sony Music) told them that it would be a commercial and critical failure. However due to the label’s faith in Q-Tip and the rest of the group, the album was released mostly unchanged and it has since achieved worldwide critical acclaim.

Jazz (We’ve Got) – A Tribe called Quest

Vibes & Stuff – A Tribe Called Quest

#174 – Heartbreaker – Ryan Adams

Ryan Adams’ debut album after he left Whiskeytown. When it starts off you notice the dramatic contrast to the work he did with Whiskeytown. Whiskeytown was much more country, mellow where as there is definitely more of a rock twinge to Heartbreaker. That isn’t to say however that the country influence still doesn’t filter through. “Winding Wheel” is a perfect example with the acoustic guitar & a banjo to go along with the brushes being used on the drums. “To Be Young (Is To Be Sad, Is To Be High)” was featured in the movie Old School & on Gap commercials as well.

Damn Sam (I Love a Woman That Rains) – Ryan Adams

Winding Wheel – Ryan Adams

#173 – The Last Waltz Soundtrack – The Band

The Last Waltz was the last time all five members of the band would share the same stage together. Richard Manuel would hang himself ten years later & they would never have a chance to gain the form they showed as Bob Dylan’s & Ronnie Hawkins backing band & then as an act all their own. Perhaps their best performance was their final one. Made as a film by none other than Martin Scorsese, The Last Waltz gathered some of the finest musicians around to bid farewell to an influential rock/blues band. Never before had Canada provided such brilliant musicians & dare I say hasn’t since.”It Makes No Difference” is perhaps one of the finest live recordings ever done. It is Rick Danko at his finest. His voice quivers just slightly as you feel the pain in this beautiful break-up song.

It Makes No Difference – The Band

The Weight – The Band w/ The Staple Singers

#172 – Louder Than Bombs – The Smiths

The album was released as the American counterpart to their recent British compilation The World Won’t Listen and consisted of all singles and nearly all B-sides that had not at that point been available in the States, either on single or album, with a few other tracks added. The title is borrowed from a line in Elizabeth Smart’s extended prose poem “By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept”.The album was intended to substitute for both The World Won’t Listen and their 1984 compilation Hatful of Hollow as these had not been released in the United States. This is why the non-single track “This Night Has Opened My Eyes” from Hatful of Hollow was included.

Ask – The Smiths

Panic – The Smiths

#171 – My Aim Is True -Elvis Costello

Costello (born Declan MacManus) had been performing in clubs and pubs in Liverpool and London since 1970 and had created some demo tapes, but he had had little success in obtaining a recording contract. When Stiff Records was founded in 1976, Costello submitted his demos there and found some interest. Costello called in sick to his day job (as a data-entry clerk) in order to rehearse and record the album with Clover, which was cut in a series of six four-hour sessions for about £1,000.

Costello stayed at his day job as the first two singles, “Less Than Zero” and “Alison”, were pre-released without much success. Finally, the label decided to release the album in the summer of 1977, and he was asked to quit his job and become a professional musician. Stiff Records would match his office wages and gave him a record advance of £150, an amp, and a tape recorder. Three weeks after its release, Costello was on the cover of a music paper. He described this situation as being “an overnight success after seven years.”

Alison – Elvis Costello

Watching the Detectives – Elvis Costello

#170 – Nashville Skyline – Bob Dylan

If John Wesley Harding was Bob Dylan dabbling in country music then Nashville Skyline was his complete immersion in the genre as he reinvented himself yet again. Previously a Folk revolutionary, Dylan grew tired of being seen as the epic protestor that people conceived him to be & wanted to try something new. “I wasn’t the toastmaster of any generation”, Dylan wrote, “and that notion needed to be pulled up by its roots.” Sometime during that session, country legend Johnny Cash stopped by to visit. A friend and label-mate of Dylan’s as well as an early supporter of his music, Cash had been recording next door with his own band. The two wound up recording a series of duets, covering Dylan’s “One Too Many Mornings” and “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” as well as Cash’s own “I Still Miss Someone.” None of these were deemed usable, but Cash returned the following day to record more duets.

Lay Lady Lay – Bob Dylan

Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You – Bob Dylan