Rick McNulty hosts Left of the Dial on Fridays 7-11pm and Uptown Saturday Night on Saturdays, 7-10 pm. Follow him on Twitter @Rick_Daddy
What makes for a good cover? What makes somebody’s version of someone else’s song interesting? I think it’s the art of taking the familiar and obscuring it in such a way that it becomes a different experience. Think of Picasso making copies of his realistic Blue Period paintings by instead using his eccentric Cubist methods. Same painting, but a totally different experience.
A good cover reveals a good song. If the original is well-written and has a solid foundation, you can cut it in an entirely new fashion or a different genre and a good song will always stand up. It’s like the songwriter left a blueprint and all it takes is a good contractor to embellish the original plans to make something just as impressive.
We’re not talking about just copying a song note for note, like Gus Van Sant remade Hitchcock’s Psycho shot for shot. Who needs that? A good cover changes the arrangement or the timbre–the feel of a song–and shapes it into something new so the performer can make it their own.
Below are the playlists from the all-covers shows I recently hosted. The first is from Left Of The Dial, where you’ll hear covers done in all different styles. There’s every genre here from bluegrass to punk and from electronic to rockabilly.
The second playlist is for Uptown Saturday Night where I focused exclusively on R&B and Soul artists covering hits and remaking them in their own image. One of my favorites is Solomon Burke repurposing “Proud Mary” as a story about his black ancestors who worked on the riverboat as it rolled down the Mississippi River. You’ll also hear Aretha, Etta, Brother Ray, James Brown, and a host of other soul singers infuse familiar pop hits with a massive amount of soul. Put any one of these songs on a mixtape or a playlist, and you have a party on your hands. [Note that several tracks from this show are not available on Spotify or are simply out of print and undigitized as of 2018.]