I write this as a nod to The Immortal Jukebox. His post “An Archangel, a Journey, a Sacred River and a Spiritual” started me thinking about recent craze of covers that has been front and centre the last 10 years. Though he did not start the ‘cover craze’, Rod Stewart and his American Songbook Anthologies can claim some responsibility for more contemporary artists jumping in the songbook pool.
Though covers are not new, as the Immortal Jukebox noted, there have been some notable releases that indicate that some that can pull off what I deem to be the true test of an artist; take a song written and released by another and make it their own. At the end of the post I’ll reveal what I consider the best cover I have ever heard, and it won’t be Robin Thicke’s cover of Marvin Gaye.
Eric Clapton has two very good compilations, with each being dedicated to a single great guitarist. In 2004 “Me and Mr. Johnson” featured Slowhand does a mean Robert Johnson and last year he brought a few friends together for the excellent “The Breeze: An Appreciation of JJ Cale”
I give a nod and a tip of the hat to T Bone Burnett and his team of producers for their work on the soundtrack for “Across the Universe”, a movie telling a story using over 30 titles from the songbook of the Beatles – they gave each song a new life with a great arrangements that took the Fab Four classics in a new direction successfully. We should not compare this at all with Bee Gees/Peter Frampton effort of 1978’s “Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band where only Earth, Wind & Fire and Aerosmith received good reviews for their renditions of “Got to get you into my life” and “Come Together”.
More recent efforts from Canadian stars Bryan Adams and Diana Krall highlight what happens when you get to do the music you want to, and when you don’t.
Adams “The Tracks of My Years” features only Number songs from the 60’s and 70’s. He does a decent job, but it might not have been the music he wanted. Published stories on the collection indicate that Adams wanted to go in a harder vein and that Producer David Foster really pushed for #1’s only. Stand out tracks for me are ‘I Can’t Stop Loving You’ and ‘God only Knows’. The best cover here though is the photo of Bryan Adams as a 16 year old on the front of the CD jacket. The only thing that has changed about this guy is the length of his hair!
Diana Krall’s’ “Wallflower” has our Queen of Jazz doing her best Krall version of some wonderful songs and doesn’t try to replicate the original. In what is a kind of weird coincidence, David Foster produced this collection as well AND Bryan Adams (he also sings with DK on the CD) photographed Ms. Krall for the CD. Every track is outstanding here. Her version of ‘Desperado’ features haunting sound-alike vocals of Don Henley – it sent shivers up my spine. ‘Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word” and her take on the Carpenter’s ‘Superstar’ are features on this collection were almost all are single worthy. She ends the CD with ‘Don’t Dream it’s Over’, this makes me sad because from first to last track Diana is not trying be anyone else Diana Krall and it works.
And now…my favourite cover of all time…
This song first came out in 1984, and at that time I really like it, this song was also covered by Don Fogelberg. It wasn’t until 1991 when the song was covered by the Barenaked Ladies that it really connected as a great song! BNL made the song theirs with their unique musical arrangement with a video to go along with it. BNL’s version of ‘Lovers in a Dangerous Time’ appeared in a Bruce Cockburn tribute Lp “Kick at the Darkness”. I still see the video of the band in the back of a pick-up truck driving around Scarborough Ontario on a cold day in winter when I think of that song. To me what the Ladies did is so rare, they took a song that was recognizable by the originating artist and with a made it their own with an arrangement that now made it recognized as a BNL classic.
Here’s the video the Barenaked Ladies made for ‘Lovers in a Dangerous Time”.