When I wrote my “What Ten Covers Matter To You” piece on Cover Me, I chose from an initial list of more than 30. But there were more that felt left out, so here are another ten covers, making this a collection of Ten Covers That Are Meaningful To Me, But Not As Meaningful As The First List.
Again, alphabetically by title:
Hannah Becker—Baby, I Love You (Aretha Franklin cover)
I ended the first piece with an appreciation of my wife’s voice, and I’m starting this one with my daughter (my son will get his due shortly). It was clear, very early, that Hannah could sing, and sing quite well. Similar to her mother, she had a beautiful, pure voice. In high school, she took singing lessons at a local music school, Lagond, that focused on teaching students the art of performance. Hannah started working with a teacher, Amy, who believed that she could unearth a soul singer from our very white suburban daughter with the pretty voice. Turned out, she was right.
Like many organizations, there was a little clubbiness about the Lagond students and their families, many of whom had children who had performed together over the years. Hannah was a new student, who really didn’t know many of the others, but nevertheless was invited to perform at a benefit for the school. The other performers were excellent, and mostly known to the audience of parents, faculty and staff. Then, Hannah came out and sang her version of Aretha Franklin’s “Baby, I Love You,” and shocked the audience. I later overheard someone remarking at how good “Aretha Girl” was, and wondering where she came from. I don’t have video of that performance, but I do have it of her at a subsequent school showcase, where she again blew away the audience.
After leaving Lagond, Hannah seems to have moved away from the soul belting style, and back toward folk, which you can see here, with her college a capella group.
The Decemberists—Crazy On You (Heart cover)
When I was in high school, Heart was a favorite band. They rocked, and the Wilson sisters were beautiful. What else did a teenage boy in the 70s need? Over time, as they morphed into a more mellow band, I lost interest in them, but still loved their older hits, and whenever they covered Led Zeppelin.
I’ve written about my love of The Decemberists, while acknowledging their incredible pretentiousness. Back in 2009, when they were touring behind their Hazards of Love concept album, we went to see them at Radio City Music Hall. The bulk of the show was a performance of the album in its entirety, with guest vocalists Becky Stark of Lavender Diamond and Shara Worden (now Nova) of My Brightest Diamond. They ended the show with a few older songs and two covers—R.E.M.’s “Begin The Begin,” with Peter Buck, who had played with opening act Robyn Hitchcock, and an amazing cover of “Crazy On You,” featuring the two female singers channeling their inner Wilson sisters.
Nanci Griffith with Guy Clark, Jerry Jeff Walker, Steve Earle, Rodney Crowell, Jimmie Dale Gilmore and Eric Taylor—Desperadoes Waiting For A Train (Guy Clark cover)
Nanci Griffith’s Other Voices, Other Rooms and Other Voices, Too (A Trip to Bountiful) introduced me to many country singers and songwriters with whom I had limited or no familiarity. Despite the fact that “Desperadoes Waiting For A Train” had been recorded by Guy Clark, Jerry Jeff Walker, Tom Rush, Rita Coolidge, Slim Pickens and The Highwaymen, I was utterly unaware of this great song until I heard it on Other Voices, Too. And it is a great song, about the relationship between an aging cowboy and his young protégé. The version by Griffith and crew is wonderful, with all of those distinctive singers trading verses, and it led me to learn more about Guy Clark, an incredible songwriter, who sadly passed away last year.
Adam Becker and Friends—Evergreen (Django Haskins cover)
This one may be the most obscure song in the bunch. My son, Adam, started learning guitar, and one summer, he and three friends attended a guitar camp in Connecticut. There was a lot of guitar playing, and not much sleep, and they all came back better players. One of the instructors at the camp was Django Haskins, who had, at that time, released some albums, and has gone on to a steady, respectable career as a solo artist and with bands, notably The Old Ceremony. Recently, he recorded an album with Gary Louris of The Jayhawks, as Au Pair.
One of Haskins’ songs, “Evergreen,” with its lyrics about teenage life and longing, became a favorite of Adam and his friends, most of whom performed together in their high school musicals. They often played and sang it together at play rehearsals and cast parties, and at get-togethers in living rooms and basements, including ours. I loved hearing these talented kids, including Adam, little sister Hannah, and emerging pop singer Madeleine Dopico, sing this song. I wish I had a video–maybe someone will send me one….
Steve Hillage—Hurdy Gurdy Man (Donovan cover)
I don’t have a big story about this one. I just loved Hillage’s live, spacy prog version of the Donovan tune the first time I heard it at WPRB, and it turned me on to Hillage’s music. There’s more here about Hillage and the song (including a download link), and I don’t want to repeat myself (too much).
Los Lobos—La Bamba (Ritchie Valens cover)
My love for Los Lobos (and their covers) is well documented (despite the occasional weak live show). To me, the fact that they are not in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame completely undermines that organization’s credibility, because few artists have produced so much amazing music for as long (40+ years!) as this band from East L.A.
For all of their great music over the years, the band has exactly one No. 1 hit—their cover of Ritchie Valens’ “La Bamba” from the biopic of the same name. And exactly one other top 25 song, “C’mon Let’s Go,” another Valens cover from the film. They don’t always play it live, but they often do, and the crowd always loves it (and they often insert a cover of “Good Lovin’” in the middle).
“La Bamba” raised the band’s profile for a while and gave them some popular success, but caused the band to suffer a creative crisis. Rather than follow up their big hits with more of the same, they released an album of Mexican folk music, and struggled with what their identity would be going forward. They chose a path of experimentation, musical fusion and integrity over trying to churn out hits. And good for them.
Brian Eno—The Lion Sleeps Tonight (Solomon Linda/The Weavers/The Tokens cover)
I was utterly unaware of Brian Eno before I entered the Holder Hall basement studios of WPRB in 1979. I had heard some Roxy Music, but had no idea of Brian Eno’s role in that band. I quickly learned that there was a subset of PRB staffers who considered him to be a musical god, so I began to learn about him. He is remarkably interesting and influential in the music world, even if he doesn’t really consider himself a musician. To this day, I’m a fan of his four mid-70s rock oriented albums, and his production of great albums by U2, Talking Heads, Devo and others (but not Coldplay. I hate Coldplay.) The ambient music, I can take or leave, for the most part (which may be exactly what ambient music is supposed to be about).
Back in the day, radio stations used “carts,” which were tape cartridges that would be jammed into a cart player slot, sort of like an 8-track tape, and were usually used for commercials, public service announcements and other similar things.
At PRB, we had a cart of Mr. Avant Garde Genius Brian Eno singing the pop folk song “The Lion Sleeps Tonight,” in his typical uninflected style, with strange, synth-heavy backing music. It seemed so unexpected, and so charming, that I fell in love with it.
Dexy’s Midnight Runners—Seven Days Too Long (Chuck Wood cover)
OK—maybe this is the most obscure song—Chuck Wood, a soul singer, released this song, and there is little else known about him. In any event, when I first heard this song, again in the Holder Hall basement, on Dexy’s Midnight Runners’ debut album (the one before they became famous and often mocked), I had no clue that it was a cover. I immediately became, and remain, a big Dexy’s fan. I’ve defended them, and this song, in more detail in the pieces linked in this sentence, so check them out.
801-TNK (Beatles cover)
More Eno! 801 was a band created by Roxy Music guitarist Phil Manzanera, initially to play three concerts, the last of which was recorded and released in 1976 as 801 Live, an album that received enormous critical acclaim. Another WPRB discovery, it was an album that I played regularly on the air, and it featured a few songs from Manzanera and his Quiet Sun fusion project, a few Eno songs, and a couple of covers, including one of The Beatles’ “Tomorrow Never Knows.”
The original is a psychedelic classic, while 801, featuring, among others, Eno on vocals and synths, Manzanera’s typically processed guitar, Simon Phillips on drums and Bill McCormick on prominent bass, turned it into more of a straightforward prog rocker. As someone who has never been the hugest Beatles fan (it’s more a respect than love relationship), the cover led me to go back and renew my acquaintance with the original.
Jefferson Airplane—Wooden Ships (Crosby Stills & Nash sort of cover)
This one is sort of cheating. My longtime love for the Airplane has also been well documented. I was first aware of “Wooden Ships” in the perfectly great Crosby, Stills & Nash version. When I later heard the Jefferson Airplane version, on Volunteers, I liked it better, and still do (although my wife disagrees). I was confused at the time as to why Paul Kantner didn’t get a credit on the CS&N version even though he co-wrote the song, and only years later learned that it was because of some legal issues—the kind that seem to regularly plague musicians. I believe that later editions of the CS&N version now credit Kantner.
So, in reality, both versions are originals, although the CS&N version was released about six months earlier, and became more well known. I’m not really sure why I like the Airplane version better, maybe just out of contrariness and music snobbery, but there is an edginess to the Airplane version that, I think, fits better with the lyrics.