2017, Books, Music, Non-Fiction

Cover Me: The Stories Behind the Greatest Cover Songs of All Time (2017) by Ray Padgett

This is not “The Stories Behind the Greatest Cover Songs of All Time.” I don’t know how you would figure out what songs those were and it’s really entirely subjective.

What this is, rather, is the story of 19 different covers, most of which are different enough from the originals, and famous enough, to certainly be considered as among the “Greatest Cover Songs of All Time,” even if I might not agree with all the entries, as I think not all of these are interesting enough and I feel as though there are a bunch I would have included instead. (I’d say at least eight of these I would probably include on my own list.)

Padgett’s strength is storytelling, and there are a lot of really interesting music industry stories behind these songs. If you’re at all interested in how the music industry works, this book is actually really illuminating in how it illuminates the process in ways you wouldn’t imagine. For example, you may be surprised how many of these songs were afterthoughts or worse, how often the artist didn’t intend to record this specific song, or how they didn’t like the song at all. (The most amazing of those stories, for me, is the Pet Shop’ boys Elvis story, which is utterly ridiculous and hilarious.)
There’s not a lot of musical analysis, which probably suits most readers fine. I would prefer a bit more of a breakdown as to how the music got changed in each song, but that would probably be too nerdy for most people.

The one thing I found weird about the book is the lack of any discussion of jazz, save one or two mentions. This is very odd because much jazz, if not a small majority of it, is based upon interpretative music, i.e. covering songs. I can’t decide whether jazz is ignored because it would be way too much of a rabbit hole – it would be a whole other book – or whether it’s just because Padgett doesn’t listen to jazz. Anyway, it doesn’t matter – this is a book clearly about popular music – but it’s weird that he acknowledges classical music but not jazz.

Anyway, if you like stories about the music industry, you will find this book pretty interesting and entertaining. I’ not sure it will convince you that these are the 19 “Greatest Cover Songs of All Time,” but if it gets you into the idea of interesting covers, that’s good enough.

7/10

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