My Third Blogiversary
|Me and my #1 fan 💕|
After 144 posts it’s a good time for some reflection, for me at least, on where this journey of writing about cover songs started and all the places in between. It all began over conversations with my dear friend Darren who after being regaled/bored with my stories about music suggested I write a blog. This chatty habit has tormented my lifelong pals and family for many years. During these three years, I have had a bit of growth, I’d like to think anyway. The quality of the writing has improved, and of course, the editing, since my oldest daughter began helping out. Although I make changes and more mistakes after she does her final edit!
While I have waffled a bit from time to time on stopping, I was inspired to continue through support from family and friends as well as some steady readership, averaging over 500 page views per week. It appears most people prefer not to subscribe, and my interpretation of the stats indicates many a return reader.
My wife always thinks the latest one is the best one yet and my youngest daughter, while she was at a long-term care home, read my posts at a weekly get together with a group of residents.
I certainly did not start out with the idea of fame nor fortune (not that I got there!), but I did hope some people might find the topics of interest. I am not the only person to blog about cover songs, nor am I the most qualified. However, I do write (for better or worse) in my own style, and apart from my researched facts, figures and YouTube inserts, there is a bit of a personal touch that you will not find elsewhere. It is a hobby, and as such, I have never included advertising, some may say you get what you pay for …
Bear with me while I recap some statistics, then I will talk a bit about some music. In April, there were over 4,500 page views (not unique visitors) and my blog surpassed the 100,000 mark! This compared to 66,000 last year. I have had growth in the number of different countries from 83 to 107, with the most recent ones being Cambodia and Kyrgyzstan. The all-time top post remains One Hit Wonders (Not!), followed by Old Country New Country, Sweet Soul Music, Rock Artists Sing the Blues and at #5 is the most popular post from the past 12 months, The Most Covered Pop Artists and Songs of All Time.
My choice of topics, though mostly driven by my music interests, has meandered across many genres and has taken me to some unexpected places and times. I have learned quite a lot and have been enlightened more than once on my own misconceptions. I have gained a new level of respect for people who are talented enough to write songs, play an instrument(s) and sing. Some of the best songs have come to life through the diligent work of non-performing members of the industry as well; producers, engineers and A&R professionals dogged efforts to discover and promote their artists. One cannot underestimate the influence of the DJ as well. Serendipity plays a part in everyday life and I have noted a great number of songs that have come our way by chance and/or unusual circumstance. I have written a bit about the story behind such songs as “The Sound of Silence”, “Like a Rolling Stone” and the cover of “That’s Alright” by Elvis.
I still find this fascinating: why do some songs continue to be re-recorded so many times? Why do we keep buying them? Prior to the Information/Internet age, most recording artists were ignorant of the number of times a song had been covered. If, for example, as the growth in the covers of Beatles’ songs indicates, it seems artists don’t really care that a song has been done a thousand times already. If we look at my favourite source for reliable information, Secondhandsongs.com, there are so many ways to examine the phenomenon of the cover song. I do find it odd, however, that I still run across comments from people who are down on artists who cover others songs. I’ll just remind them that of the 13 tracks on Bob Dylan’s first album, 11 were cover songs. The Beatles, during live performances prior to 1961/62, were singing mostly all covers of American Blues and Rock and Roll songs. In 1964, their fifth studio album Twist and Shout (including the title track) contained six cover songs. One of the best songs of all time is Aretha Franklin’s reworded cover of Otis Redding’s “Respect”. So, if the cover song is good enough for the greatest recording artists of all time, then they are good enough for anyone. As much as we need artists to create original songs, we revel in the familiarity of songs we know and love. My blog posts are full of more examples of truly great and memorable cover versions, and quite often, they are much better than the original, for example, Etta James and “At Last“.
Tracking the Cover Song
The cover song phenomenon really started picking up in the late 1950s, peaking at over 17,000 documented versions from 1959. The popularity grew to its highest point in 1967 with over 27,000 cover songs. There was a real valley in the 1980s and the early 90s, however, there was a quick resurgence to get to over 24,000 in 2011.
Here are the most covered “releases” of all time:
This includes a particular album or record (33 rpm, 78 rpm, CD etc.), and all of the info is taken from the mountain of work done by the folks at Secondhandsongs.com, current as of March 2021.
1. The White Album by The Beatles released November 28, 1968. There are at least 2,071 covers of the songs on this album.
2. Rubber Soul by The Beatles released December 3, 1965. 1,966 covers.
3. Abbey Road by The Beatles released September 26, 1969. 1,825 covers.
4. White Christmas by Bing Crosby released in August 1942 as a 78 rpm record with “Let’s Get the New Year Started” on the “B” side (only covered twice). 1,736 covers.
5. Meet Me in St. Louis by Judy Garland with Georgie Stoll and His Orchestra released November 2, 1944. It was sold as a set on three 78 rpm discs with a total of six songs. 1,726 versions.
6. Silent Night, Hallowed Night by the Haydn Quartet, released in May 1909 on a 78 rpm record. 1,660 covers.
7. Greatest Christmas Hits Billboard 1935-1954 by various artists released in 1989 as a Compact Disc (CD). Contained “The Christmas Song”. 1,504 covers.
8. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band by The Beatles released June 1, 1967. 1,385 covers.
9. Help! by The Beatles released August 6, 1965. 1,353 covers.
10. Jingle Bells by the Edison Male Quartette released in 1898 on cylinder (which contained a single song) 1,281 covers.
Further down the list, I picked out the ‘pop music’ releases:
#12 The Beatles Revolver with 1258 covers
#14 The Beatles A Hard Day’s Night with 1152 covers
#20 Bob Dylan’s second album, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan with 910 covers
#27 Carole King and Tapestry with 789 covers
#29 Simon and Garfunkel’s Bridge over Troubled Water, 763 covers
The Beatles, with seven of the top 15 releases, have another three in the top 100. This number matches what I reported from The Beatles with 7 out of 15 of The Most Covered Pop Singles. It is perhaps more of a coincidence than you may think. Comparing the non-Beatles’ songs, all of them are different on each list. The Beatles’ song titles from The Most Covered Pop Singles do not necessarily match the above list either. “Yesterday” is the #1 Single which was on the album Help from 1965, while the #1 for “releases” is from The Beatles (White Album) which came out in 1968. Similarly, the #2 Single “Eleanor Rigby” is from Revolver released in 1966, while the #2 for “releases” is “Rubber Soul” from 1965.
Considering Judy Garland’s release is from a movie (so not as an ‘original’ album), nevertheless, this places Carole King as the second female artist with her #27 placement. Next, we have Billie Holiday at #43, then with two more women after that for a total of only five in the top 50. In the next 50, including Joni Mitchell’s Blue at #67, there are only three more women in the top 100. Just an observation on my part.
The artists with the most tribute songs/albums are (not surprisingly):
#1 The Beatles with 661
#2 Elvis Presley with 355
#3 Duke Ellington with 208
#4 George Gershwin with 194
#5 Bob Dylan with 192.
Les Feuilles Mortes
I have posted on the Most Covered Pop Songs and Artists, which was me sort of cherry-picking to the exclusion of songs from Plays, Movies and Christmas songs. If we look at the top 10 and only exclude Christmas songs, I have written about all of them with the exception of the top non-English song, “Les feuilles mortes” (Dead Leaves). Originating from a composition for a Ballet written by Joseph Kosma, lyrics were later written by Jacques Prévert for his critically designated ‘flop’ of a French film titled Les portes de la nuit released in 1946. With only fragments of the song used in the movie itself, one of the stars was Yves Montand. He recorded the whole song (reportedly) in 1946 and it was later released as a single in 1949. I have found a few references including a quote from the famous French singer and actor Cora Vaucaire that she was the first to do the song, recording it and releasing it in 1948. On discogs.com, I did find the 78 rpm record from the French label Le Chant Du Monde, catalog number 1536, it is dated 1948-50 so I’m inclined to believe her claim. Secondhandsong.com has her first recording in 1965 on an different label. Often referred to as just “the french song” it is one of the most important songs to come from France, so I did go to some length to try and get things right! Most will only recognize the song’s English translation, unlike the great Édith Piaf singing French on her original song “La Vie en rose” or her version of “Non, je ne regrette rien” that I recall from a commercial for chocolates and more recently in a spot for an insurance company.
Regardless, French Pianist and Jazz Historian Philippe Baudoin said it is “the most important non-American standard”. Many agree, judging by the hundreds of versions of the English translation (called “Autumn Leaves“) written by the great Johnny Mercer, they even surpassed the number of French covers of the song. Johnny Mercer would change the lyrics to suit the English language so there’s not a direct translation of the original. But it is the instrumental version that gets the most attention, making up over half the 1,200 plus covers. Dizzy Gillespie was the first to record the song as an instrumental in 1950 with the Johnny Richards Orchestra. Along with Oscar Peterson, the two liked the song so much they recorded it four times. Here is the version with Oscar and Dizzy Gillespie, released in 1975. I was surprised to see some of the names on the instrumental list, for example: here is the actor Dudley Moore playing some impressive Jazz Piano with his Trio in 1965. Another comedic actor, Harpo Marx was an amazing harpist Autumn Leaves (1957). And, any excuse to get in some fingerstyle guitar, here is Lenny Breau from 1981.
All combined, this puts the song as the third most covered (non-Christmas) song of all time after “Summertime” and “Over the Rainbow”. The first English vocal version of Autumn Leaves, by the way, was by the great Jo Stafford released in 1950, and I found references to her performing the song live in 1949. Not unlike the instrumentals, I found some interesting names that recorded the English vocal version: The Coasters (1960), The Everly Brothers (1962), Manfred Mann (1966), Willie Nelson (1983), Eric Clapton (2010) and Bob Dylan (2015). This forlorn song seemed a fitting combination with Leonard Cohen’s “Dance Me to End of Love”, released in 2020 by Argentinian Jazz singer, Karen Souza. Many artists agee this is an important song and it continues to be covered several times a year.
I want to thank my subscribers and the regular visitors to my blog. I have a few loyal readers via Facebook as well. It’s always fun to see a new country pop up on the pageview stats and interesting to see visitors go back and look at ten or more of my past posts. I see no end to the possibilities for topics, it’s just a matter of finding the motivation to do the work. I’ve paid for the website for another year so I’ll continue to post as long as people keep reading!
*Note to my subscribers: As of the end of July 2021, the system will no longer be able to automatically send you my latest post. The feedburner widget that is responsible for this function will be discontinued. I do have your email already and that list will be deleted. However, if you still wish to receive my posts please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Put “Blog” in the subject line and “add” in the body of the email. I will send my new posts only to those who confirm they want it, if you don’t wish to receive them then you are not required to do anything, once the widget is decommissioned you will stop getting my blog sent to you. I will not be able to add new subscribers without a direct request. I will post the latest edition on Facebook as always so you can pick it up there or just go to the website. Regardless, I hope you will still check it out on occasion. Thanks and my apologies, but it is beyond my control.
Edited by Richelle Dafoe