Cover songs can be a hot topic at just about any given time. We recently got to hear a somewhat underwhelming OneRepublic cover by Faith Hill, which Kevin recently reviewed. Other recent attempts include Sara Evans’ pop-country reworking of Rod Stewart’s “My Heart Can’t Tell You No,” as well as last year’s polarizing Beyoncé cover by Reba McEntire.
Since cover songs are so much fun to talk about, I thought I’d weigh in on a few well-known cover songs from the past few years – the good ones, as well as a few that we would rather forget. My criteria is simple: A good cover song should bring something new to the table, and the song should be treated in a way that is well-suited to the artist as well as the genre. This list focuses specifically on country covers of non-country songs.
Click the original artists’ names in parentheses to hear the original versions.
Rosanne Cash, “I Don’t Want to Spoil the Party” (The Beatles)
1989 | #1
Where it goes right: Rosanne’s last career hit was a cover from a Beatles tribute album, and it didn’t sound quite like one might expect. Though rarely one to use overt country instrumentation throughout most of her career, she delivers a brisk, upbeat take that’s layered in fiddling. I’ll take it!
Mark Chesnutt, “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” (Aerosmith)
1998 | #1
Where it goes wrong: It’s hard to imagine a worse pairing between song and performer. Mark Chesnutt, the revered neotraditionalist behind “Too Cold at Home” and “Going Through the Big D” covering a rock power ballad? It’s true – complete with apologetic steel guitar fills and a vocal smothered in autotune. The end result is so cheesy that you might as well slap it between two crackers. The fact that this is the top Mark Chesnutt iTunes download is very very sad.
Where it goes right: The Chicks give a well-known Fleetwood Mac favorite a stripped-down bluegrass treatment, which is a great fit for the nature-related imagery in the song’s lyrics. The Chicks elevate the song further with their gorgeous harmonies. As much as I love Fleetwood Mac, I have to say that this version tops the original. It’s one of the best cover songs I’ve ever heard, and one of the Dixie Chicks’ personal best moments, of which there have been many.
Sara Evans, “I Could Not Ask for More” (Edwin McCain)
2001 | #2
Where it goes right: Evans delivers a stunning and powerful vocal performance that holds nothing back whatsoever.
Where it goes wrong: The arrangement is a bit syrupy, and it’s essentially a pop cover of a pop song. Is a little fiddle or steel too much to ask for?
Where it goes right: The fact that Hill was unfamiliar with the Franklin and Joplin versions is telling. You can easily tell that she is making no attempt to emulate the style of another artist, instead giving a performance totally her own, while the songs’s melody fits well with the countrified arrangement.
Where it goes wrong: Again, the fact that Hill was unfamiliar with the previous versions is telling. Her performance lacks the fire and fury of Joplin’s version, which makes it easy to see why one might consider Hill’s performance to be a bit too sugary.
Alison Krauss, “Baby, Now That I’ve Found You” (The Foundations)
1995 | #49
Where it goes right: Krauss takes a forgettable Motown tune, and delivers a slowed-down mid-tempo version that much more deeply accentuates the emotions conveyed in the lyrics. In contrast, the original sounded like one big party, which is an ill-fitting treatment of a song about trying to stop one’s lover from leaving. The track is made all the more sweeter by Kruass’ angelic vocals, and by the expert instrumental backup of Union Station. The song went on to win Krauss a well-deserved Grammy for Best Female Country Vocal Performance.
Where it goes right: It’s extremely effective as a reinterpretation, as McEntire slows the song down to an emotional ballad, and tweaks the lyrics to fit her feminine perspective. Did I mention that she also gives a mighty fine vocal performance?
Where it goes wrong: The production is a bit watered-down, which was not unusual for Reba’s late eighties and early nineties output.
Where it goes right: Tillis could hardly have chosen a better song to countrify, as the lyric about a nervous encounter with an old flame fits right in with classic country music. She even tweaked the instrumental opening so as to be better suited for the steel guitar, which demonstrates her strong commitment to the country genre.
Travis Tritt, “Take It Easy” (The Eagles)
1994 | #21
Where it goes right: The Eagles were about the countriest rock band you’d ever meet, and did a great deal to influence the evolution of country sounds and styles, so they were a fitting candidate for an all-country tribute album. The centerpiece of the collection was honky-tonker Travis Tritt’s version of “Take It Easy” – an energetic performance that had even more body than the original, but that still felt reverent toward the legendary group’s classic version.
Where it goes wrong: To put it simply… reinterpreting a song does not mean simply “adding a banjo line.” The fact that Hall and Oates even sing background vocals on this track only adds to the overall feeling of pointlessness.
Where it goes wrong: If it made for an awfully cheesy pop song in the hands of Brian McKnight, it made a flat-out terrible country song when Mark Wills covered it a mere two months after the release of the McKnight version. It’s a record characterized by superfluous genre-pandering steel guitar fills, and a lead vocal that sounds more occupied with grooving to the beat than making any sort of emotional connection. The song peaked at #2, and then Wills tackled a Brandy song immediately afterwards. Seriously, dude?
Where it goes right: Covering an Elvis song is a tall order, to say the least. The fact that Yoakam’s version rivals the original, with its contemporized arrangement and knockout lead vocal, is hardly a small feat.
What’s your take on these tunes? What are your favorite cover songs? What are your least favorite cover songs?
After Jimmy Wayne’s strangely soft rock-esque single “I Will,” it seemed anything a bit more country and a bit less melodramatic would move him in a positive direction. Meet “I’ll Be That”: a catchy summer track that does just that.
It’s not a particularly interesting song, but by design, it’s not supposed to be. “I’ll Be That” serves its purpose as a pleasing sing-a-long with a decent hook, packed with sweet albeit unoriginal promises: “The one that’ll stand and fight for you/A safe place you can run to/The truth in the words ‘I do’/I’ll be that to you.” Stacked against the crop of male regulars on country radio, Wayne has one of the better, more soothing voices, so the song automatically gets an added boost. Of course, it’s a little difficult to pick Wayne’s voice out from the over-produced chorus, but as clamoring radio releases go, it could be worse.
The singles off Wayne’s second album, Do You Believe Me Now, have yet to cross over into an even moderately traditional country sound, so those still hooked on Wayne’s original stylings, a la the potent “Stay Gone,” should move along – nothing to see here. But if you can settle for an energetic, toe-tapping little number that may or may not be forgotten when the leaves start to change, “I’ll Be That” is worth a listen.
Miley Cyrus’ boyfriend, Justin Gaston, survived two rounds of NBC’s Nashville Star this past summer; the L.A. underwear model failed to turn his golden-boy good looks into a John Rich recording session.
If Gaston’s sniffing around Nashville for a musical muse, he shall look no further. He bears a striking resemblance to Jimmy Wayne, that emotive purveyor of power-pop country. The pair share an ability to trade in their pretty-boy carriages and a connection with Taylor Swift (Gaston’s the Romeo in “Love Story”; Wayne records for Valory, an imprint of Big Machine).
Wayne’s glorious fist pumps and gaudy wailing made the video for “I Will” such a mess. The audio portion of the package fares no better. “I Will” is in an overanxious rush to go nowhere, with crashing guitars and admissions of codependency. Wayne is a capable vocalist; proof positive was his debut single, “Stay Gone.” But he’s straining like an early ’90s Michael Bolton here. With the song climbing through the 30s of the airplay chart, one imagines that country music is making some room for paperback-romance poetry (“I will give up my life for you if you want it/Give you my heart, you already own it”). Radio will spin the record in between Geico commercials, but will I remember “I Will” six months from now? I won’t.
In this era of rampant piracy and economic recession, things aren’t looking good for the music industry. We don’t post too often about the business side of the music business here, as we tend to keep the focus on the music. But the reality is that these numbers matter. If Little Big Town’s second Equity album had performed as well as the first, the label might still be in business.
It’s not all doom and gloom, as many artists go on to make their best music once they leave major labels. But this Christmas, you can guarantee that some artists and record executives will be bracing for the New Year, while others are embracing it.
Here’s a look at some totals for albums released in 2008, ranked by total sales (rounded to the nearest thousand):
Taylor Swift, Fearless – 1,519,000
Sugarland, Love on the Inside – 1,179,000
George Strait, Troubadour – 693,000
Alan Jackson, Good Time – 628,000
Toby Keith, 35 Biggest Hits – 530,000
Kenny Chesney, Lucky Old Sun – 479,000
Faith Hill, Joy to the World – 341,000
Lady Antebellum, Lady Antebellum – 337,000
James Otto, Sunset Man – 332,000
Rascal Flatts, Greatest Hits Volume 1 – 330,000
Darius Rucker, Learn to Live – 284,000
Julianne Hough, Julianne Hough – 260,000
Toby Keith, That Don’t Make Me a Bad Guy – 224,000
Jewel, Perfectly Clear – 203,000
Dierks Bentley, Greatest Hits: Every Mile a Memory - 195,000
Jamey Johnson, That Lonesome Song – 183,000
Heidi Newfield, What Am I Waiting For – 162,000
Jessica Simpson, Do You Know – 153,000
Brad Paisley, Play – 137,000
Kellie Pickler, Kellie Pickler – 129,000
Montgomery Gentry, Back When I Knew it All – 127,000
Tim McGraw, Greatest Hits Vol. 3 – 127,000
Emmylou Harris, All I Intended to Be – 119,000
Zac Brown Band, Foundation – 118,000
Randy Travis, Around the Bend – 89,000
Ashton Shepherd, Sounds So Good - 84,000
Jimmy Wayne, Do You Believe Me Now – 81,000
Trace Adkins, X – 72,000
Billy Currington, Little Bit of Everything – 65,000
While a number of artists from different musical genres entered into the country rodeo this past year, no Nashville newcomer was more successful than Hootie & the Blowfish frontman, Darius Rucker. His debut country disc, Learn to Live, topped the country album charts in its first week of release, in large part due to its lead single, the #1 smash, “Don’t Think I Don’t Think About It.”
Country Universe is offering a free copy of Learn to Live to our loyal readers. To be considered, leave a comment and tell us your favorite #1 country song of 2008.
Billboard #1 country songs in 2008:
Taylor Swift – “Our Song”
Brad Paisley – “Letter To Me”
Rodney Atkins – “Cleaning This Gun (Come On In Boy)”
Carrie Underwood – “All-American Girl”
Alan Jackson – “Small Town Southern Man”
Trace Adkins – “You’re Gonna Miss This”
George Strait – “I Saw God Today”
James Otto – “Just Got Started Loving You”
Brad Paisley – “I’m Still A Guy”
Carrie Underwood – “Last Name”
Kenny Chesney – “Better As A Memory”
Montgomery Gentry – “Back When I Knew It All”
Blake Shelton – “Home”
Alan Jackson – “Good Time”
Sugarland – “All I Want To Do”
Taylor Swift – “Should’ve Said No”
Keith Urban – “You Look Good In My Shirt”
Jimmy Wayne – “Do You Believe Me Now?”
Brad Paisley – “Waitin’ On A Woman”
Jimmy Wayne – “Do You Believe Me Now?”
Darius Rucker – “Don’t Think I Don’t Think About It”
Kenny Chesney – “Everybody Wants To Go To Heaven”
Toby Keith – “She Never Cried In Front Of Me”
Carrie Underwood – “Just A Dream”
Taylor Swift – “Love Story”
Entries will be considered until 11:59 p.m. on Sunday, November 23. Best of luck!
With all due respect, this is the most unintentionally hilarious video of the year. The song is so fiercely un-country that it makes “Bob That Head” sound like Bob Wills, and the screen adaptation exacerbates that problem by setting the story at an upscale fashion shoot, of all places. What does it say that the same genre that once gave us “Coal Miner’s Daughter” now implores us to sympathize with a pretty upper-middle class girl who lacks the self-confidence to sex it up for the camera? I guess I’ll let you decide.
In any case, the awkward little details of this video are really too enjoyable to spoil, but suffice it to say that the concept seems utterly disconnected from the song, the direction does nothing new (note the Flattsian “dozens of golden spotlights behind the singer during the chorus” effect), and the dialogue…well, just watch it.
Altogether, the piece suggests that one of Jimmy Wayne’s greatest distinctions as an artist – his penchant for musical catharsis – may also become his greatest liability. I dug the unabashed emoism of “Do You Believe Me Now” (at least in its video incarnation), but this is just way too much drama for no good reason. Wayne has talent and passion to spare, but he needs handlers who will sit down with him and help him find the right way to channel those gifts; here, he just comes off as an indiscriminately energetic pretty boy.
Jimmy Wayne is one of the comeback kids of 2008 after a long, hard road to country music success. Once he arrived in Nashville, he had minor songwriting success before landing a record deal two years later. But after the release of his self-titled debut disc and four subsequent Top 40 hits, record label affairs caused Wayne to move from Dreamworks to Valory Music, subsidiary of Big Machine.
Do You Believe Me Now is the first release from Jimmy Wayne in almost five years. In that time, the landscape of country radio has changed, but the lead single from the project (the title track) has just achieved Top Five status on the Billboard charts. It’s a realistic look at losing the battle of a lover’s heart, and Wayne gives it a convincing turn.
But the first track also highlights the detriments that make this album just average. Nothing about the song is traditional, much like the album. This is all fine and good, but the production detracts from a decent batch of songs. The performances are convincing, and the lyrics are interesting enough at times, but the production bleeds through most of the album. It’s the single biggest problem on Do You Believe Me Now. In an effort to put forth a polished, mainstream country album, Wayne (along with producers Mark Bright, Joe West and Dave Pahanish) has crafted music that, in most cases, fails to complement the songs. In turn, the whole album loses any sort of identity or distinction, even when the songs are worthy.
Some of the songs speak of love lost, including “I Will,” the pledge of undying devotion even after the last goodbye is said, but a great many settle into inspirational territory. “Brighter Days,” a plea to a drifting lover to find faith and hope even when life is hard, seems like a Keith Urban reject. Same goes for the preceding track, “I’ll Be That.” And “I Didn‘t Come Here to Lose,” loosely based on his experiences while striving for a country career, is meant to empowering, but loses its sting among the buoyant musical atmosphere.
It’s no surprise that the song quality picks up with “No Good for Me,” a duet with Patty Loveless. One of the most non-traditional settings ever for a Loveless vocal, the mid-tempo number explores the back-and-forth of many a relationship: “We make up, and we make love/It’s a habit/I’m the addict/And you’re my drug.” The pair blend well together on a genuinely honest performance of a seemingly simple lyric, but Loveless is mostly responsible for elevating the track. It’s followed by “True Believer”, a positive number penned by Liz Rose and Lori McKenna that is a solemn vow to keep composure through love’s tests and trials. It’s understated and highly effective, both lyrically and musically.
Two true-to-life tracks are the highlights of the albums due to their interesting stories, even though they both could stand a more rootsy musical treatment. “Kerosene Kid” is the portrait of a child’s hardscrabble life, drawn from Wayne’s difficult upbringing. The last song, “Where You’re Going” is an autobiographical tune about Wayne’s time as a delinquent dropout. Both are deep reflections on a troubled background, and Wayne would do well to follow this muse more often. Most of the rest of Do You Believe Me Now? simply caters to country radio, and the production value overshadows even the most potent messages on an album that will please most Jimmy Wayne fans, but will likely fail to attract a new audience. Wayne is an above-average singer with an above-average set of songs, but the equation just never quite adds up.