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Cover Me: The Stories Behind the Greatest Cover Songs of All Time Hardcover – October 3, 2017
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“Ray Padgett . . . offers up the inside track on the stories behind the 20 most iconic cover songs of all time, and the artists who turned them into classics.” —Parade
“Music publicist and blogger Padgett (covermesongs.com) delves into the world of the cover song by compiling interviews, archival photographs, and reproductions of disc labels to highlight 20 well-known tunes covered by artists ranging from Elvis Presley and the Who to Adele, giving each a chapter tracing the song's history, production details, and other versions when appropriate. His explorations of the reasons artists choose to record covers are astute, and while some of the original performers (perhaps more obscure to current listeners) were not always pleased to have their own versions superseded, others were honored that someone valued their work enough to take on this challenge. The especially useful bibliography cites both sources contemporaneous to the time of the first recordings as well as recent scholarship and relevant websites. VERDICT This engaging nostalgia trip is sure to appeal to discophiles and cultural historians. . . .” —Library Journal
“Fresh context and intriguing background to many of these songs. . . . Astute ruminations on evolving cultural perceptions of the cover’s place in the music canon.” —AV Club.com
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It's a must read for any music fan.
What Ray Padgett does in this book is explore in detail what he considers to be nineteen of the most significant cover versions of the modern (aka "rock") era: from Elvis Presley's "Hound Dog" (1956) (which radically altered the original Big Mama Thornton 1953 #1 R&B hit and became a world-wide phenomenon) to Adele's intimate and arresting debut album version of Bob Dylan's "Make You Feel My Love" - thus a time span of 52 years. No "copycat" covers allowed; just ones that possess something artistically very special about them: the more of a unique or personal stamp put on the song the better.
With one exception (to be mentioned later), one would be hard-pressed to disagree with any of Padgett's choices for exploration: The Beatles' "Twist and Shout" (with the Isley Brothers as its source); Aretha's "Respect" (whose creator Otis Redding respectfully declared, "From now on, it belongs to her"); Jimi Hendrix's "All Along the Watchtower" (the other, very different Dylan cover here); Joe Cocker's "With a Little Help from My Friends" (Paul McCartney loved that Cocker turned it into soul); Gladys Knight & the Pips' "Midnight Train to Georgia" (the Jim Weatherly song that started out as a plane to Houston until first covered by Cissy Houston, Whitney's mother); the Talking Heads' altered but no less memorable take on Al Green's "Take Me to the River," et cetera.
Two of the best chapters are about Devo's reworking of the Rolling Stones' "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" [Mick Jagger's initial reaction to it was priceless] and a near-death Johnny Cash's devastatingly moving and meaningful reading of Trent Reznor's (of Nine Inch Nails) "Hurt."
In my opinion, the exception, as far as being a good choice for a chapter is concerned, is "Weird Al" Yankovic and his polka medley covers. There is far more about "Weird Al"'s process than I would ever care to know. His fans should be delighted, though, but I found this chapter to be largely out of step with the others.
Unfortunately, there are some errors or inaccuracies in the book (besides a few merely chronological ones). To name but four:
1) On page 15, the author proclaims "the end of the answer-song era" to have been 1953, when in fact it notably continued into the sixties. I can easily think of three from 1962, for example: Jo Ann Campbell's "(I'm the Girl from) Wolverton Mountain" (answering Claude King), the Pearlettes' "Duchess of Earl" (in response to Gene Chandler's "Duke of Earl"), and "You Threw a Lucky Punch" (Gene Chandler's answer to Mary Wells' "You Beat Me to the Punch"). In 1965, Jody Miller won a Grammy for her #5 country / #12 pop hit "Queen of the House," a housewife's answer to Roger Miller's [no relation] multi-Grammy-winning classic "King of the Road." I know there were many more - enough to inspire a series of discs by Bear Family.
2) More of an odd (but hardly factual) statement (on p. 53): calling The Association's 1967 #1 hit "Windy" "justly forgotten." In reality, it remains a staple of oldies radio; and I would doubt there is anyone who was listening to pop music in the '60s who has forgotten - justly or otherwise - this record. Clearly the author was taking an irrelevant potshot at a song he doesn't like.
3) On page 107, the covers expert author, for some unfathomable reason, refers to the Rolling Stones' "Time Is on My Side" as a cover of a song by jazz trombonist/orchestra leader Kai Winding (!) instead of an Irma Thomas R&B record written by Jerry Ragovoy.
4) On page 154 (and again on p.156), we read that Brenda Lee's 1972 version of "Always on My Mind" "failed to chart" and "failed to make a dent," when in fact it had a ten-week Billboard country-chart run and peaked at #45. He then states that the song was "given a third life" by Willie Nelson, immediately after citing three previous versions (which would thus make it a fourth life).
These things can be a bit jarring to encounter but don't come close to diminishing my enjoyment of such an excellent book.
Significant cover versions such as these are plentiful - and more stories of this sort would no doubt be of interest - so I hope there will be a follow-up. Certainly, breakthrough Bob Dylan covers such as Peter, Paul & Mary's "Blowin' in the Wind" and the Byrds' "Mr. Tambourine Man" (the first Dylan song to reach #1 on the national pop charts) would be good candidates for further exploration. And a real favorite of mine fitting this category is Isaac Hayes' phenomenal reimagining of Bacharach-David's "Walk On By" (as well as its single and LP mate, Jimmy Webb's "By the Time I Get to Phoenix").