Posts Tagged ‘The Everly Brothers’

Pop Goes Country – A Cover Song Report Card

Tuesday, November 15th, 2011

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!

Grade:  B+

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.

Grade:  D

 

Dixie Chicks, “Landslide” (Fleetwood Mac)
2002 | #2

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.

Grade:  A

 

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?

Grade:  B

 

Faith Hill, “Piece of My Heart” (Erma Franklin, Janis Joplin)
1994 | #1
faith hill piece of my heart video Pictures, Images and Photos
(Watch the video)

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.

Grade:  B-

 

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.

Grade:  A

 

Reba McEntire, “Cathy’s Clown” (Everly Brothers)
1989 | #1

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.

Grade:  B+

 

Pam Tillis, “When You Walk In the Room” (Jackie DeShannon)
1994 | #2

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.

Grade:  A

 

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.

Grade:  A

 

Conway Twitty, “The Rose” (Bette Midler)
1983 | #1

Where it goes right:  Nowhere.

Where it goes wrong:  Everywhere. (Can you say bad karaoke?)

Grade:  D

 

Jimmy Wayne, “Sara Smile” (Hall and Oates)
2009 | #31

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.

Grade:  D+

 

Mark Wills, “Back at One” (Brian McKnight)
1999 | #2

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?

Grade:  C-

 

Dwight Yoakam, “Suspicious Minds” (Elvis Presley)
1992 | #35

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.

Grade:  A

 

What’s your take on these tunes?  What are your favorite cover songs?  What are your least favorite cover songs?

100 Greatest Men: #80. The Everly Brothers

Tuesday, October 4th, 2011

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rs.jpg” alt=”” width=”160″ height=”159″ />100 Greatest Men: The Complete List

Their fraternal harmonies saturated stations across the radio dial in the fifties and early sixties, and today they’re best remembered as founders of both rock and country music as we know it.

Brothers Don and Phil Everly were born two years apart in the late thirties, and grew up listening to music that transitioned out of the depression and into the second world war. Their father, Ike, was a traveling musician and had his own radio show out of Shenandoah, Iowa.

They started as part of the family act, but as they got older, they became a duo. Through the help of Chet Atkins, they received a record deal at Columbia, which faltered after one failed single. Still, Atkins encouraged them to stay at it, and helped them get a publishing contract in Nashville.

Their publisher, Acuff-Rose, introduced them to the higher-ups at Cadence Records, and when they signed with the label, the hits came quickly. Hits like “Bye Bye Love”, “Wake Up Little Susie”, “Devoted to You”, and “Bird Dog” made a big impact on the radio, reaching the upper ranks of the pop and country charts in America. Their Rockabilly sound reached all the way around the world, as the duo had big hits in the United Kingdom and Australia.

As format walls hardened, the band signed with Warner Bros., where they had their last big pop hits with “Cathy’s Clown” and “When Will I Be Loved.” Interestingly, though the songs didn’t crack the country charts back then, both would later be covered by female country artists who took them all the way to #1. When Reba McEntire sang “Cathy’s Clown” and Linda Ronstadt sang “When Will I Be Loved”, they sounded just as country as anything else at the time, if not a bit more.

Throughout the sixties, their fortunes faded at radio, and a feud broke the duo apart in the seventies. But before they temporarily called it quits, they released the landmark 1968 set Roots, a critically acclaimed set that was one of the earliest examples of the country-rock that Ronstadt and the Eagles would mainstream in the years that followed.

The Everly Brothers were among the first group of acts inducted during the inaugural year of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986. Since then, they’ve been inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame and received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.

Essential Singles:

  • Bye Bye Love, 1957
  • Wake Up Little Susie, 1957
  • All I Have to Do is Dream, 1958
  • Take a Message to Mary, 1959
  • Cathy’s Clown, 1960
  • When Will I Be Loved, 1960

Essential Albums:

  • The Everly Brothers, 1958
  • Songs Our Daddy Taught Us, 1959
  • It’s Everly Time, 1960
  • A Date With the Everly Brothers, 1961
  • Roots, 1968

Next: #79. Hank Locklin

Previous: #81. Eagles

100 Greatest Men: The Complete List

Classic Country Singles: The Browns, “The Three Bells”

Sunday, January 3rd, 2010

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height=”160″ />The Three Bells
The Browns
1959

Written by Dick Manning, Bert Reisfeld and Jean Villard

The structure of “The Three Bells” should be familiar to any listener of contemporary country music. A genre that prides itself on its simplicity is ambitious enough to tell an entire life story in under four minutes. It’s an approach that has created several classic singles like “Where’ve You Been” , “Time Marches On” and “How Can I Help You Say Goodbye.”

One of the most significant historical examples of this structure comes from The Browns, who had a massive crossover hit with their 1959 single “The Three Bells.” It’s a simple tale. The church bells ring three times throughout the course of Jimmy Brown’s life: on the day of his baptism, the day of his wedding, and the day of his funeral. The preacher has words of wisdom for each occasion, ones that would be familiar to any Christian churchgoer, Catholic or otherwise.

That the character shares the same name as lead singer Jim Ed Brown and takes place in a little country town might lead you to believe that this was a song of Nashville origin, but it actually began its life and its worldwide success in France as the story of Jean-François Nicot. Originally written in French, “Les Trois Cloches” was an international hit for Édith Piaf, the songstress that was recently immortalized in the film La Vie En Rose. The Browns, composed of siblings Jim Ed, Maxine, and Bonnie, had been performing the song since seeing it Les Campagnons de la Chanson performing an English-language version on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1952.

When they finally went into the studio to record it in 1959, The Browns thought they were at the end of their recording career. They had just told RCA that the family act was breaking up, despite having enjoyed moderate success since 1954 with eight top fifteen singles. What was intended as their swan song became their signature instead, catapulting them into nationwide fame. Not only did it spend 10 weeks at #1 on the country singles chart, it also topped the pop chart for four weeks and even reached #10 on the R&B chart.

“The Three Bells” came at a time when country music was enjoying its first major crossover success, topping the pop chart a few weeks after Johnny Horton (“The Battle of New Orleans”) and a few weeks before Marty Robbins (“El Paso.”) Robbins, Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash and The Everly Brothers dominated both the pop and country surveys, Guy Mitchell scored a #1 pop hit with his covers of “Heartaches By the Number”, and even two of the big pop stars of the day – Conway Twitty and Brenda Lee – would ultimately find their way to country music and make it their permanent home.

Meanwhile, The Browns would fare better on the pop chart with their next two singles, but continued to be a presence on country radio until the sisters retired. The man who sang lead on the definitive three act country song would have three acts to his own career. After The Browns came to an end, Jim Ed Brown launched a successful solo career, with his 1967 hit “Pop a Top” becoming a bona fide classic later resurrected by Alan Jackson. As the solo hits began to wind down, he reinvented himself as one half of a duo with Helen Cornelius. Their 1976 debut collaboration “I Don’t Want to Have to Marry You” took Brown to the top of the singles chart for the first time since “The Three Bells”, and earned them both the CMA award for Vocal Duo in 1977.

“The Three Bells” has crafted quite a legacy of its own, with versions released by everyone from Ray Charles, Alison Krauss, and Roy Orbison to Sha Na Na, Nana Mouskouri and Andy Williams. For modern country fans who haven’t encountered this classic yet, the structure will be instantly familiar.

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The Three Bells
The Browns
1959
Written by Dick Manning, Bert Reisfeld and Jean Villard

The structure of “The Three Bells” should be familiar to any listener of contemporary country music. A genre that prides itself on its simplicity is ambitious enough to tell an entire life story in under four minutes. It’s an approach that has created several classic singles like “Where’ve You Been” , “Time Marches On” and “How Can I Help You Say Goodbye.”
One of the most significant historical examples of this structure comes from The Browns, who had a massive crossover hit with their 1959 single “The Three Bells.” It’s a simple tale. The church bells ring three times throughout the course of Jimmy Brown’s life: on the day of his baptism, the day of his wedding, and the day of his funeral. The preacher has words of wisdom for each occasion, ones that would be familiar to any Christian churchgoer, Catholic or otherwise.
That the character shares the same name as lead singer Jim Ed Brown and takes place in a little country town might lead you to believe that this was a song of Nashville origin, but it actually began its life and its worldwide success in France as the story of Jean-François Nicot. Originally written in French, “Les Trois Cloches” was an international hit for Édith Piaf, the songstress that was recently immortalized in the film La Vie En Rose. The Browns, composed of siblings Jim Ed, Maxine, and Bonnie, had been performing the song since seeing it Les Campagnons de la Chanson performing an English-language version on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1952.
When they finally went into the studio to record it in 1959, The Browns thought they were at the end of their recording career. They had just told RCA that the family act was breaking up, despite having enjoyed moderate success since 1954 with eight top fifteen singles. What was intended as their swan song became their signature instead, catapulting them into nationwide fame. Not only did it spend 10 weeks at #1 on the country singles chart, it also topped the pop chart for four weeks and even reached #10 on the R&B chart.
“The Three Bells” came at a time when country music was enjoying its first major crossover success, topping the pop chart a few weeks after Johnny Horton (“The Battle of New Orleans”) and a few weeks before Marty Robbins (“El Paso.”) Robbins, Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash and The Everly Brothers dominated both the pop and country surveys, Guy Mitchell scored a #1 pop hit with his covers of “Heartaches By the Number”, and even two of the big pop stars of the day – Conway Twitty and Brenda Lee – would ultimately find their way to country music and make it their permanent home.
Meanwhile, The Browns would fare better on the pop chart with their next two singles, but continued to be a presence on country radio until the sisters retired. The man who sang lead on the definitive three act country song would have three acts to his own career. After The Browns came to an end, Jim Ed Brown launched a successful solo career, with his 1967 hit “Pop a Top” becoming a bona fide classic later resurrected by Alan Jackson. As the solo hits began to wind down, he reinvented himself as one half of a duo with Helen Cornelius. Their 1976 debut collaboration “I Don’t Want to Have to Marry You” took Brown to the top of the singles chart for the first time since “The Three Bells”, and earned them both the CMA award for Vocal Duo in 1977.
“The Three Bells” has crafted quite a legacy of its own, with versions released by everyone from Ray Charles, Alison Krauss, and Roy Orbison to Sha Na Na, Nana Mouskouri and Andy Williams. For modern country fans who haven’t encountered this classic yet, the structure will be instantly familiar.
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