Standards II: some cover songs

two hours of cover versions & some thoughts on this non-selfish art

  • # of Tracks: 30+

  • Length: 2 hours & change

  • Themes: cover songs ~ a mildly funky 70s vibe ~ multiple songs from/by This Is The Kit, Los Lobos, David Bowie, Bob Dylan & Joy Division/New Order ~ yes, “Whitey on the Moon” is a great commentary on the billionaire space race

  • Link: spoti.fi/3yhpJsb (Spotify) — apple.co/3so6qfb (Apple Music)

"The greater the artist, the greater the doubt. Perfect confidence is granted to the less talented as a consolation prize." — Robert Hughes

This mixtape consists of cover songs aka interpretations aka recordings performed by artists who did not write the original songs they are performing. I think cover songs are one way for artists to address the above quote from Australian-born art critic Robert Hughes1. An artist doing a cover is not just putting their own ego on display; rather, for a brief moment they are a lens through which another artist’s light is refracted.

Cover songs are simultaneously a performance (look at me! look at me! I can breathe new life into this structure) and tribute (I defer the structures laid out by those who came before). A good cover song displays both artistic proficiency and a nod to creative ancestors. It’s a way for an artist to stand on the shoulders of giants,2 and acknowledge their sources, influences, and inspirations.3

There’s more yadda-yadda after the video if you want to hear my spin on a recent Tweet by Stuart Murdoch addressing the notion of art being “selfish.”

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The playlist includes songs such as…

Leon Bridges “Whitey on the Moon” — original by Gil-Scott Heron

Caroline Shaw & So Percussion “Lay All Your Love On Me” — original by ABBA

Miriam Makeba “For What It’s Worth” — original by Buffalo Springfield & this playlist includes a bonus cover of the same song from a newly released record by Los Lobos


More yadda-yadda…

Recently Stuart Murdoch, leader of the band Belle and Sebastian tweeted this:

This was how he summarized the crowdsourced responses:

I find this — Is art selfish or generous? — to be an essential question. It’s one that haunts me. The way my brain processes it is what prevents me from devoting more time to my own work, and to publishing it. (I tend to default to the answer “Yes, art is selfish.”)

But of course, one of the wonderful things about the arts is that there are few binary answers. In the arts the answer to every question is a shade of grey, an in-between answer. So I’m trying to work my way out of this perplex.4 One path out is the notion suggested by this Tweeter in response to Murdoch — that a practice which begins out of selfishness can, as a finished product, sustain the audience that consumes it.

I like to think cover songs are another way out. They’re a way for an artist to burnish the patina of their precursors, to not just celebrate the self5 but brighten the spotlight cast upon someone that already shines.

I hope you’ll spend some times with the cover songs I’ve lined up into this playlist for you.

1

Possibly the best known art critic of the 80s and 90s, he wrote for Time Magazine when that was the pinnacle of mass cultural influence.

2

The twelfth-century French philosopher, scholar, and administrator Bernard of Chartres is credited with the phrase “standing on the shoulders of giants.” But, in the spirit of the phrase, or at least the spirit of Britpop, let’s just pretend it was coined by Oasis. I’ll leave you with the opening track from the band’s album of the same name, a philosophically dense work entitled “Fuckin’ in the Bushes”:

3

While we’re on the topic of inspirations, I should let you know where the title of this mixtape came from. Per Wikipedia, a “standard” is “a musical composition of established popularity, considered part of the ‘standard repertoire’ of one or several genres.” There are a few of these songs on this playlist that are actually pretty obscure (Petey’s “California” comes to mind!) but for the most part these songs are amazing both as covers and in their original form. I will be posting a playlist of those originals as a subscriber-only mixtape in the next few days. This ‘free’ playlist is called Standards II because a few years ago, as part of my ongoing mixtape project, I posted a first Standards mixtape; eventually I’ll make that one available to paying subscribers of this Substack as well.

4

Credit to Lawrence Weschler who is the source of my use of the word.

5

There are exceptions to this — a big one being acoustic covers of rap songs. But I’ll leave that topic to others: Complex (2012) - Vice (2014) — and here’s a quasi-academic take (2018).