Rock & roll, from classic covers to stunning fan photos

By MIKE COTE
New Hampshire Union Leader
November 04. 2017 2:24PM
“Cover Me: The Stories Behind the Greatest Cover Songs of All Time,” Ray Padgett, Sterling, $32.95. 
Two new books target rock fans both obsessive and casual. While each begins the journey in 1956 with the release of Elvis Presley's “Hound Dog,” one digs deep to tell the stories behind the songs while the other spotlights concert photos taken by fans.

From the former camp comes Ray Padgett's “Cover Me: The Stories Behind the Greatest Cover Songs of All Time,” a book of essays that grew out of Padgett's Cover Me blog, which chronicles how songs both popular and obscure are interpreted, reworked and turned into hits. Padgett, a New York-based music publicist, based his 19 essays in part on interviews he conducted with people associated with each song. It's a gem for music geeks who buy CD and LP reissues as much to check out the new liner notes as listen to the tunes.

While it's easy to take issue with whether this batch is the “greatest” - there's nothing here by Ray Charles, for starters - Padgett offers a compelling mix of monster hits, including Jimi Hendrix's electric revamp of Bob Dylan's “All Along the Watchtower” and Whitney Houston's “Bodyguard” soundtrack version of Dolly Parton's “I Will Always Love You.” Padgett also presents critical favorites, such as Patti Smith's “Gloria,” a fiery remake of the Van Morrison-led Them classic, and Texas roots rockers the Gourds' take on Snoop Doggy Dog's “Gin and Juice,” a cover that went viral in the Napster file-sharing age but never became a mainstream hit.

Recording songs written by other writers, Padgett notes, was standard practice before the mid-'60s rise of the Beatles, who filled out their early albums with cover songs, most famously “Twist and Shout,” first recorded by the Isley Brothers and the Top Notes.

In the singer-songwriter age, covering other artists could hurt a musician's credibility: Talking Heads leader David Byrne was uncomfortable with the band's success with Al Green's “Take Me to the River,” worried it would pigeonhole the band.

While Devo had a top 10 hit with their original “Whip It,” the band's oddball cover of the Rolling Stones' “Satisfaction” became their early calling card. One of the most memorable anecdotes in “Cover Me” is Mick Jagger listening to Devo's “Satisfaction” for the first time as the band members wait for him to register his approval. Jagger sat stone-faced - until he got up and started strutting. “Satisfaction” won again.

While “Cover Me” is handsomely illustrated, “Smithsonian Rock and Roll” goes big on the artwork. The coffee-table book is the culmination of a project Smithsonian began in December 2015 when it called on rock fans to upload photos from their personal collections to rockandroll.si.edu. The oversized book features primarily crowd-sourced images making their big-time debut.

The book is arranged chronologically, beginning with Elvis and early blues and rock pioneers like Muddy Waters, Little Richard and Bo Diddley, and ending with modern acts Beck, Wilco, the late Amy Winehouse and Alabama Shakes.

It's packed with stunning images of nearly 150 rock artists in their natural habitat - on stage - and features classic rock giants the Beatles, the Who, the Rolling Stones and Aretha Franklin as well as critical favorites the MC5, the Ramones and the Velvet Underground.

Sadly, several of the featured artists have died since the project began, including Tom Petty, Chuck Berry, David Bowie, Prince, Glenn Frey of the Eagles and Walter Becker of Steely Dan.

Music industry veteran Bill Bentley, whose resume includes a stint as vice president of Warner Bros. Records, wrote the bios that accompany each entry. Bentley packs a lot of detail in these brief spotlights, offering a concise classic rock encyclopedia that can be opened and enjoyed at any page along the way.

mcote@unionleader.com


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