Showing posts with label The Covers Series. Show all posts
Showing posts with label The Covers Series. Show all posts

Monday, July 12, 2021

The Covers Series: Singer-Songwriters Covering Singer-Songwriters • Volume I

The Covers Series: 

When your favorite band covers a classic tune, their version is their interpretation — their translation — of the music. Is it better than the original? That's up for interpretation.

Crawling to walking, walking to running. I always thought the term 'singer-songwriter' was backwards. Doesn't one first write a song, then sing it in front of an audience? Yes but, songwriting to singing only comes with much time and practice.

It's called singer-songwriter in that order because writing musicians always start by singing other people's songs.  Young songwriters have been always inspired by songwriters before them, giving budding tunesmiths the motivation and confidence to sing and play in front of an audience by initially using the voices of their heroes. 

All rock 'n' roll bands start as a cover band, crawling out of the basement or garage, then performing in a dive bar, club or community center to begin their journey. My favorite band, The Beatles did the same as you can see from this extensive List of songs covered by The Beatles

In the weeks ahead I'm planning to do a Beatles Covers • Vol. I post that will include both professional and amateur artists and groups performing Fab Four tunes. 

I'm also planning a Dylan Covers • Vol. I post. He's probably has the most covers of any artist or group simply because he is the great Bob Dylan who has been such a prolific songwriter since the early 60's, and is still going strong (along with Paul McCartney). I personally love young people performing the masters, it's such a wonderful circle of music.

Here in this Volume One, I would like to feature a mix of my favorite singer-songwriters performing covers, including covers turned into big hits of their own. 

Got you covered this week, enjoy my friends! 

  • Second Hand Songs - Search for an original song's author(s), and the song's cover versions.

Monday, June 14, 2021

The Covers Series: The Singer as Interpreter • Volume I

The Covers Series: 
“The elements of voice and style are braided together like twine.
― Linda Ronstadt

Why we love our favorite singers is that they uniquely bring their own interpretation to a song and deliver it from their heart and soul through their vocal excellence. 

Today's playlist is going to feature mostly individual singers from the 1940's - 1970's who are known for recording songs written by other people. It's a mixed bag of mostly pop ballads and songs from musicals that for me stand the test of time no matter the genre or era they were recorded. 

Here's a couple of gifted vocalists to get us started with the same song.

Fly Me to the Moon, originally titled "In Other Words", is a song written in 1954 by Bart Howard. It's been recorded by hundreds of famous singers but is associated most with Frank Sinatra's uptempo 4/4 version arranged by Quincy Jones and recorded with Count Basie's band by Sinatra in 1964.  He starts the song with the B verse to immediately immerse the listener, or as Frank would probably say, "Man that song really swings."


My favorite version of Fly Me to the Moon is actually Tony Bennett's more emotional phrasing, although Sinatra's version is simply fantastic. 

Think of Frank's version as the excitement of dating someone. Think of Tony's version as a relationship, an enduring romance with someone. Both are classics.

Tony's version is a good lead-in to what this Singer's Volume 1 playlist is going to feature, but not limited to, fond memories of songs from my youth. I also tried to get as many quality live versions as I could find to show that these artists could just flat out sing without any overdubs in the studio. You'll also notice I'm partial to female vocalists as I also feature my favorite singer of all-time, Linda Ronstadt. Enjoy this interesting mix of 100 songs my friends!

  • Second Hand Songs - Search for an original song's author(s), and the song's cover versions.

Monday, May 24, 2021

The Covers Series: Interpretation and the "Traditional Folk Song"

When your favorite band covers a classic tune, their version is their interpretation — their translation — of the music. Is it better than the original? That's up for interpretation.

Dave Van Ronk at the Gaslight coffee house in New York’s Greenwich Village in 1963

I got inspired to start this covers series after reading The Mayor of MacDougal Street, a memoir by folk singer, Dave Van Ronk

Dave Van Ronk was born in Brooklyn in 1936.  He moved to Greenwich Village in the late 1950's to be a Blues musician which evolved into him being a folk singer as "The Village" became the epicenter for the new folk revival. Early 1960's famous folk revival acts included The Kingston TrioPeter, Paul and Mary, and Joan Baez.

Van Ronk besides being a larger than life character to all that knew him, also became Greenwich Village's resident music historian who would experience first hand the transition from —"traditional folk songs" performed and passed down over the years — to the singer-songwriter movement starting in the mid-1960's. 

Like most things in life, music starts with copying. Musicians learn their craft by first learning songs written by others, often people they admire and want to emulate. 

As musicians develop their skills over time, they progress from playing someone's original song to building from it — adapting and adding lyrics and/or composition to create a new version of the song, and thus the phrase, "Steal like an artist." What famous musician hasn't said in an interview at some point, "Yeah, I took that lick from________," as both traditional and contemporary popular songs serve as the musical foundation to become completely new songs.

In the 20th century, the term, "cover" gained usage as sheet music became published to the masses, recorded music was sold on records, and copyright law was implemented. 

However, passed down traditional folk songs without an original author were an easy choice with no permissions necessary to record a song, and with the added benefit of not paying out any royalties. 

Here's one such famous example of a traditional song passing through several hands, The House of the Rising Sun. Now this traditional song has been recorded by many artists, starting with Roy Acuff in 1938, then Woody Guthrie (1941), Josh White (1942), Lead Belly (1944), Pete Seeger (1958), Joan Baez (1960), Nina Simone (1962), and even Dolly Parton (1981) to name a few. 

But in giving Dave Van Ronk his due (from someone many have never heard of), he revived the song with his own arrangement and began performing it in the coffee houses of Greenwich Village around 1960. It is Van Ronk's arrangement that you've possibly heard by Bob Dylan on his self-titled first album in 1962 (Dave called him Bobby), and then most famously by The Animals version in 1964. 

So let's start with Dave Van Ronk's version first and picture a very animated performer singing his crowd favorite to a bunch of drunken patron's in a hole in the wall club in The Village.  

Now let's hear Bob Dylan's version, building off of Van Ronk's arrangement.

And now, the rock 'n' roll #1 Billboard hit (also based on Van Ronk's version ) by The Animals, who were influenced by Bob Dylan.
Side Note- The Animals' keyboard player Alan Price took song credit (Traditional, arrangement by Alan Price) and got all the songwriting royalities for their #1 hit which in fact started the bickering and breakup of the original group shortly after.

And, here's a film clip from the Bob Dylan documentary, No Direction Home that brings this song full circle, and gives an often uncredited Dave Van Ronk, a little satisfaction.

Traditional folk songs from centuries past to contemporary popular songs have a rich history performed by people as Dave Van Ronk would say are, "best known for interpreting material written by others." 

This series in the weeks, months and even years ahead, will explore covers from amateur to famous song "interpreters," and also, the singer-songwriters themselves paying homage to the writers that influenced their work, and put food on their table. 

Twenty Year Old Bob Dylan
in his first apartment in NY.
Photo by Ted Russell
Many of the famous stars we know and love started from humble beginnings. Struggling artists, often without much money, performing covers in bars, cafes, restaurants, and small venues for tips and little pay, just trying to scratch out a living. Young artists like Bobby Dylan, slowly slipping in his own material and honing his craft like all the ones before, standing on the shoulders of the traditional folk song. Now Dylan is one of the giants, if not thee giant, with an untold number of individuals, artists and bands covering his songs everyday. 

The circle of song is unbroken, like the musical iterations of an infinite Slinky®.

In 1964, Bob Dylan performed his new song, Mr. Tamborine Man at the Newport Folk Festival, leading the transition from traditional to contemporary folk. (Note- Happy 80th Birthday today Mr. Dylan!)

A year later in 1965, The Byrds would arrange and electrify Mr. Tamborine Man into jingle-jangle Folk rock as popular music would evolve into new cycles of songs interpreted from the foundations of folk.

My peers and I could not get enough. Rock 'n' roll with all its influences was here to wash our souls.

Hey, Mr. Tambourine Man, play a song for me
In the jingle jangle morning I'll come following you