Tuesday, September 28, 2010


That headline may be an assault on grammar, so I apologize for that. But tomorrow morning on SIRIUS XM OutQ's The Morning Jolt with Larry Flick (featuring co-host Keith Price), I'll be talking about the latest releases from original Genesis singer Peter Gabriel and the guy who took over after Peter left the band, Phil Collins. They have both released new albums this year, both "covers albums." 

Phil Collins' Going Back sees him revisiting some of his earliest influences, namely Motown (or mostly Motown).  He's not trying to prove anything - he has nothing to prove to anyone.  Between Genesis and his solo career (not to mention the other artists he has produced and drummed for), the dude has sold more records than nearly anyone. A couple of years ago, he went on what he called "The First Final Farewell Tour," and then he did the Genesis reunion, which was pretty much a one-off deal. He's been pretty public about saying that he is happy to sort of finish his music career (in my mind, the dude pays way too much attention to his many critics). I kind of felt like this album, while being a labor of love, was likely prompted by his record label. I bet he had another record left on his deal, and they figured he could do a Rod Stewart "Great American Songbook" type deal. (I've heard that Elton John's label asked him to do that, but he wouldn't.) Famous adult-contemporary singer + songs that everyone knows and loves = $$$! I guess that could happen here, but whereas Rod did famous songs, Phil mixed some very famous Motown songs ("Heatwave," "Uptight," "Papa Was A Rolling Stone") and lesser known ones ("Blame It n The Sun," "In My Lonely Room"). It's not "hits" from start to finish. The album is enjoyable, Phil sounds like he is having fun, and The Funk Brothers (bassist Bob Babbitt, guitarist Eddie Willis and guitarist Ray Monette, who played on many original Motown tunes) are having fun also. They don't really add anything to the originals, but I don't think Phil was trying to make a Big Statement, he was just having a great time and paying tribute. It's a nice album without any pretentions.

Which brings me to Peter Gabriel's Scratch My Back, which I've written about before, and we have talked about it before on Larry Flick's show. I'm a huge Peter Gabriel fan, but I didn't like it (the first time I didn't enjoy a non-soundtrack album from Peter). I wanted to revisit it because (a) I felt guilty about kind of slamming it, (b) I thought it made an interesting contrast with Phil's album and (c) I wanted to talk about some of the I'll Scratch Yours covers of Peter's songs by other artists. The album features Peter doing no guitar/no drums covers of NPR and hipster approved acts. Peter's plan was to have everyone who he covered, cover him. A few of them flat out said no, including David Bowie and Neil Young. And supposedly Radiohead doesn't want to scratch his back, either. Peter is very much "too hip for the room," so it is interesting to see him get dissed. Anyway, as much as I try, I really can't get into the album, except for two songs: his cover of The Magnetic Fields' "The Book Of Love" and Lou Reed's "The Power Of The Heart." They are both such lovely songs. I have heard the original "Book Of Love," and I think Peter's version is an improvement. I hadn't heard "The Power Of The Heart," I think it is a semi-recent Lou song, but Peter does such a beautiful version of it. I'll Scratch Yours has been coming out one single at a time, and some of my favorites are Stephin Merritt's "Not One Of Us" (he is the leader of Magnetic Fields) and Paul Simon's "Biko," which sounds like it was written for him.

I also wanted to revisit Santana's Guitar Heaven, even though we talked about it last week. Last week, I'd only heard "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" with india.arie and Yo-Yo Ma. This week I went to iTunes to get "Whole Lotta Love" with Chris Cornell and "Little Wing" with Joe Cocker. "Whole Lotta Love" is all right, but there's no vibe. It sounds like a studio band recorded the track and emailed it to Carlos for some leads and Cornell for vocals. I think it would have been cooler if it were Chris backed up by Carlos and his touring band, live in the studio. This sounds like something recorded for Transformers or some other summer popcorn flick. Which is fine, but it could have been so much better. I'm not a huge Joe Cocker fan, I think he oversings a lot, but I think he does OK on "Little Wing," but he is a really good song interpreter (by necessity, as he doesn't write songs). I haven't heard anything else from the album: I really don't want to hear singers from Bush or Stone Temple Pilots or Train or Daughtry.

I also want to bring up some older "covers" albums, and one of the earliest ones that I am aware of is David Bowie's 1973 album Pinups. Bowie had retired his "Ziggy Stardust" persona but was still working with guys from The Spiders From Mars, and this album was a tribute to the garage rock that all of those guys loved: The Kinks, The Who, The Pretty Things, Them and The Yardbirds. Fun stuff.

Maybe my favorite covers record ever is Chris Whitley's 2000 album Perfect Day. I've talked about Chris recently, but we focused on his classic debut, Living With The Law. Recorded on March 28 and 29, 2000 (just two days) to tape (not harddrive) with Billy Martin and Chris Wood of the jazz trio Medeski, Martin & Wood, it is unbelievably beautiful. I got to interview him when it came out, and we both marveled over the first song on the album, Bob Dylan's "Spanish Harlem Incident." He said that that song was so perfect, it almost made him want to quit. I'm not the dude who says that everyone does Dylan songs better than Dylan does, but I like Chris' version of that song best. The title track is a Lou Reed cover, which I believe Susan Boyle has covered for her next album. Good for her, people should hear Chris' version.

The Ramones' Acid Eaters was their second to last album. It seemed kind of weird: they were covering lots of '60s stuff, lots of it affiliated with hippie music, which The Ramones supposedly helped to destroy with punk rock. Well, that's the way history was written, but The Ramones made history, they didn't write it. They loved bands like Love and The Jefferson Airplane, and they paid tribute to the songs, Ramones-style.

Finally, Metallica's Garage Inc. One disc was a collection of their previously released covers, the other were new ones. They've always done a great job at putting their own spin on songs, and there's no better example of that than their cover of Bob Seger's "Turn The Page." But the whole collection is awesome.

This only hits the tip of the iceberg as far as great cover albums, but these are some of my favorites.

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