The Drum Machine That Helped Open Paul’s Boutique

When you talk about drum machines and Paul’s Boutique, there are two things that even casual listeners can probably hear. The first is that you don’t hear a lot of drum machines on the album. A big part of the record’s legacy is its sampled beats, assembled into intricate, polyrhythmic collages by The Dust Brothers and Matt Dike.

But Matt Dike thought it was less a song than an opportunity. “When I heard it,” he told me, back in 2005, “I knew they were in trouble.”

Sam Cooke In Action: Don’t get caught in the oldies trap!

Macbeth, of course, is a literary oldie. It’s an oldie that still informs our world. Vaulting ambition and all. I mention Macbeth and the idea of relevant oldies for a reason. Sam Cooke is often dogged by the oldies label. Oldies are a genre, right? You hear “Wooly Bully” and “At the Hop” and, yes, Cooke’s “You Send Me,” on the oldies station in the car, and all seems right with the world. These songs are where they should be. You’re having a nice Sunday drive with the windows down in early autumn.

Becoming a Voracious Listener with Sam Cooke

Guest post by Colin Fleming Take the Sam Cooke path and be a VL (Voracious Listener)—it will serve you well in every aspect of life. Hello 33 1/3-ians! I’m back for guest blog entry number two, with this dossier of supplementary Sam Cooke materials. Let’s get to it! Do you remember the age you were when you first got into a given artist or work of art that you care about a lot? I bet you probably do. And you can pinpoint what it meant to you at that moment.…

The Love and Tragedy of Henry Lee

Santi Elijah Holley on the story behind Nick Cave and PJ Harvey’s ballad duet For young Americans living under the specter of the Cold War and imminent nuclear annihilation, where the ideological divide between younger and older generations was growing wider and wider, an obscure collection of bluegrass, country, folk, blues, and gospel music was a surprising choice as a countercultural “bible.” But that’s exactly what Greenwich Village folksinger Dave Van Ronk called the Anthology of American Folk Music, the six-LP collection of eighty-four songs that had originally been recorded…

The Legend of the Bad Man Stagger Lee

Santi Elijah Holley on the history of murder ballads In a saloon in St. Louis, Missouri, an African American man named Billy Lyons was shot dead by an African American man named Lee Shelton, also known as “Stagger Lee,” following a dispute over a Stetson hat. This murder was otherwise unremarkable—it was one of five murders in St. Louis on that Christmas night in 1895—but the cold-bloodedness of Shelton’s killing and the callousness with he walked away from Lyon’s prone body quickly spread by word-of-mouth, with each successive narrator creating…

The Ten Most Historically Important Tribute Albums

Ray Padgett on the covers that shaped the tribute album as we know it today I write about a lot of tribute albums in my book; in the index, the “tribute albums” section runs almost three pages. Most of them I like, and my team at Cover Me is finalizing a separate list of the 50 Best Tribute Albums Ever, to go up next week (and even capping it at 50 required a lot of painful cuts). But there’s another way to look at the history of tribute albums other…

What did Leonard Cohen himself think of the covers on I’m Your Fan?

Ray Padgett on how Cohen viewed the tribute albums he inspired From Judy Collins in the ‘60s through I’m Your Fan and Jeff Buckley in the ‘90s through today, covers have played an enormous role in exposing audiences to Leonard Cohen’s songs. “I was born with the gift of a golden voice,” he sang on “Tower of Song,” and everyone knew it was a joke; in concert, the audience would dutifully laugh and clap at that line every night. It took others to spread his songs far wider than he…

Why I Wrote a Book About I’m Your Fan

Ray Padgett, a leading expert on cover songs, on his 33 1/3 about Leonard Cohen and the power of the tribute album Bob Dylan got me into cover songs. But it wasn’t one of the million covers of his own songs that did it, nor was it a cover he performed himself. It was a cover he DJ’d. For a few years in the 2000s, Dylan hosted an XM Radio show called Theme Time Radio Hour. In one of the first episodes, he played a version of the George Gershwin…

Quite the Scandal: The Velvet Rope Tour Poster

Ayanna Dozier on a tour poster that sparked sexist backlash During early press for The Velvet Rope, Janet emphasized that a tour would follow the album, leaving the public to anticipate a cornucopia of images and media text that would extend the listener’s experience with the album. While the press were on alert for the tour dates and the promotional images to follow, nothing could have prepared them for the official poster to announce the Spring 1998 tour. The image was shot by her then husband, René Elizondo Jr. for…

Sex Before and After The Velvet Rope on janet. and All for You

Ayanna Dozier on Janet Jackson and Black women’s sexuality In the infamous Rolling Stone interview that accompanied the promotion of 1993 album, janet., Janet got “real” about sex. In conversation with interviewer David Ritz, Janet discussed the confusion that some of her fans might have about the way in which she addresses her sexual liberation on that album, especially as this was the same woman who infamously suggested “to wait awhile, before we go too far.” She states in that interview that at the age of twenty-seven the album was…