Sunday, November 23, 2008

10 Cover Classics

James Taylor's released another sad and tired CD (one of the 'five for $5 at' at iTunes! this past week) and the talent appears to recede further than what was once his hairline. However, the scope of the CD is cover songs and we thought we'd pick ten of the best covers you may not be familiar with or may have forgotten.

1) "If You Could Read My Mind," Barbra Streisand.

This Gordon Lightfoot song appears on Streisand's Richard Perry produced Stoney End. Rebecca recently turned Marcia on to Streisand and Dona told her she had to either purchase Stoney End right away or purchase this track off iTunes. Marcia loved it and Dona was the topic of an e-mail last here from a reader who felt she didn't share enough so we'll turn it over to Dona.

Dona: I love this song and grew up with Gordon Lightfoot's version. When we moved here [C.I.'s], Ty was already established here and had his room just perfect, and Ava and Jess had been out here almost as long so their room reflected them. Jim didn't give a damn about decorating our room and I just forgot about it until I had a late night freak out over the blank walls and the lack of any personal detail. At which point, I was whining to Ava and C.I. about how I wished Jim and I could pull together something pop-culture and blah, blah, blah, whine, whine. At the end of my long rant, C.I. said I could pull out photos from X number of photo albums and frame and hang those, plus there were vintage posters rolled up and not being used, etc. Ava said, "We'll make it 'funky'." She rushed off to the music room and came back with multiple vinyl albums she judged 'funky' to play on Jim's turntable while we worked on the room and two of them were Stoney End and Barbra Joan Streisand. At some point, C.I.'s putting Stoney End on the turntable and asks, "You want to hang up these posters too?" C.I. had the original posters for Stoney End and Barbara Joan Streisand and I said, "YES!" So that's what our room is -- Jim and mine -- some vintage photos and posters -- including an Airplane [Jefferson Airplane] concert poster, the Streisands and a lot of posters and photos of the [San Francisco] Giants. And those who feel the flip to CD and then MP3s is wonderful, you really need to know about the sort of things that used to come inside the vinyl albums. The Barbara Joan poster is almost as tall as I am and it is wider than I am. The song itself is three minutes and fifty-eight seconds of perfection. And if you've never heard it, you can click here for a YouTube video of it which features rare footage from Up The Sandbox and the filming of Up The Sandbox. The track has become one of my all time favorites by Streisand or by anyone and I felt that way the moment it came over the speakers of Jim's turntable. I was hollering, "Play that again!" When I go on the road with Kat, Wally, Ava and C.I., I always make sure I have this track in some format. And if that was enough 'sharing,' let me know and I'll try to do better.

2) "Dedicated To The One I Love," the Mamas and the Papas.

This huge hit, number two on the charts, first appears on the album Deliver and is a remake of a hit single by the Shirelles though the two versions have very little in common other than the lyrics and basic melody. John Phillips worked overtime on this arrangement, creating new time signatures and one of the most intricate vocal arrangements the group did. Michelle Phillips does the softly sung opening and there's magic from that first note. She and Cass Elliot cook on sections like "There's on thing I want you to do, especially for me" with Cass owning "And it's something that everything needs."

3) "All Along The Watchtower," Jimi Hendrix.

There's a song in there, who the hell knew? And all the pale and preening Dylan cover artists can forget trying to 'explore' the 'meaning' in this song via their own interpretations, Hendrix revolutionized it and made it so damn much more than it ever was. YouTube it here.

4) "Here Comes The Sun," Nina Simone.

The title track to Simone's 1971 album found her in tackling the George Harrison-penned Beatles classic and making it all her own. (On the same album, you have to hear her versions of "O-O-H Child" and "Angel of the Morning.) Long considered an immediate classic, it got a bump in the nineties via the Bridget Fonda starring Point of No Return soundtrack. Here for video.

5) "Just My Imagination," Rolling Stones.

A hidden treasure on Some Girls that still stands as one of the best covers the Stones ever did.

Click here to catch it performed live via YouTube.

6) "Sweet Jane," Cowboy Junkies.

Many strong vocals have been done on this Lou Reed song over the years including a blistering duet by Maria McKee and Bono; however, Canada's Cowboy Junkies didn't add heat, they added ice to create a sound that was fresh and convincing. To hear it is to think this is how the song should have always been performed. Video click here.

7) "What A Fool Believes," Aretha Franklin.

In 1980, the Queen of Soul was recovering from the Atlantic years and more than anything else off her Aretha album, this track -- with its intricate interplay of vocals -- demonstrated there was only one Aretha and she was still unchallenged. It remains one of the strongest vocals she did at Arista. Click here for video.

8) "Spanish Harlem," Laura Nyro and Labelle.

1971's Gonna Take a Miracle found Laura and Labelle (Patti LaBelle, Nona Hendryx and Sarah Dash) teaming up for an album of cover songs. Among the ones covered was this one that it seemed Aretha had already nailed. Click here for video.

9) "You Know I'm No Good," Artic Monkeys.

Amy Winehouse's Back To Black masterpiece may be only two years old but already Artic Monkeys have successfully re-interpreted one of the gems. Click here for live video. And because we love Amy, here's her performing the song live and acoustic.

10) "I'm No Angel," Cher.

The song was written for Gregg Allman but no one performed it better than Cher -- click here for the living proof on YouTube.
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